The legendary Maiden’s Tower of İstanbul reopened as a monument and a museum on the centenary of the Republic of Türkiye after meticulous restoration works and several improvements.
Kız Kulesi, or Maiden’s Tower, an iconic structure off the coast of İstanbul’s Asian side, has opened its doors again with the completion of the restoration process started by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2021. The tower, which is situated on the Bosporus Strait, will now function as a monument museum.
The Maiden's Tower was initially constructed in the fifth century BC on an islet about 20 meters from the present-day coast of Üsküdar as a customs checkpoint to manage ships traveling through the Bosporus and collect taxation. On this tiny islet, the Eastern Roman Emperor Manuel Komnenos ordered the construction of a defence structure in the 12th century. An iron chain that extended from the tower to another tower on the Historical Peninsula took control of the Bosporus' entry and departure.
After the conquest of İstanbul in 1453 by Sultan Mehmed II, a wooden tower was built here and served as a watchtower, a lighthouse and a quarantine site in the upcoming centuries. In the Republic era after being used by the city’s port authority for a long time, the tower was handed over to the Turkish Ministry of Defense in 1964 and then to Maritime Enterprises of Türkiye in 1983. Serving as a radar station and storehouse during this period, it later functioned for a while as a restaurant, accessible only via boats from Üsküdar's shore.
Situated in the middle of the Bosporus as a beautiful girl displaying İstanbul's beauty, the Maiden’s Tower has also a few legends adding to its fame. The first tells the story of a king and his princess daughter. After a soothsayer had predicted that the princess would die from a snake bite, the king built the Maiden’s Tower on the rocks off Salacak to protect his daughter. However, the princess couldn’t avoid her fate eventually and was bitten by a snake that entered the castle in a basket of fruits. Another legend says that Leandros fell in love with Hero, a nun of Aphrodite living in a tower. Leandros swam every night to see Hero following the light of the tower. However, the tower’s light was put out by a storm one night. Leandros lost his way and drowned in the Bosporus. Overwhelmed by grief and loss, Hero also committed suicide.
As one of the iconic landmarks on İstanbul’s skyline, the Maiden’s Tower requires constant maintenance due to its location in the middle of the sea and weather conditions. In this context, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry initiated a restoration project titled “The Maiden’s Tower Opens Its Eyes Again” in 2021. The project was carried out under the supervision of the Ministry and under the consultancy of expert academicians and architects, including Professor Zeynep Ahunbay and Han Tümertekin. As part of the latest restoration, all concrete additions have been removed from the tower’s main structure which did not exist in its historical documents. Additionally, the tower and the island it stands on have been supported with stakes and seismic isolators. The roof over the courtyard of the Tower has been removed and replaced with a wooden one prepared in line with the original form. The courtyard and the outside floors have also been restored to the original material determined in the historical records.
Locals and visitors of İstanbul have always watched this elegant structure from the city’s multiple locations. Now that it has been reopened as a museum, visitors will be able to watch the beautiful İstanbul from the Maiden’s Tower’s point of view.
Legends about Maiden’s Tower
The iconic symbol of Istanbul, the Maiden's Tower, has been the subject of many legends through its rich history. Let’s take a look at these:
- The first of the legends about the tower tells the story of a king and his princess daughter. According to this story, the king, who was warned by a fortune teller that his daughter would die due to a snake bite, had the Maiden's Tower built off Salacak to protect his daughter and placed the princess there. However, the princess, who could not escape her fate, died after being poisoned by a snake hidden in the fruit basket sent to the tower.
- Another legend is based on the love of Hero and Leandros. Leandros swims every night to see Hero, a priestess at the Shrine of Aphrodite in Sestos, on the west side of the Dardanelles. However, one day, when a storm broke out, the light of the light in the tower went out, and Leandros lost his way and drowned. Unable to cope with pain and loss, Hero also commits suicide by throwing himself into the water. Actually, this legend, which took place in Çanakkale, was adapted for the Maiden's Tower in Istanbul by European travellers in the 18th century. For this reason, the Maiden's Tower is also known as the Tour de Leandre or Leandre Tower.
- Another famous legend about the tower is about the Turkish warrior Battal Gazi. Byzantine Tekfur (independent or semi-independent minor Christian rulers or local Byzantine governors in Asia Minor and Thrace), who sees Battal Gazi stationed across the city, hides the treasures of Battal Gazi and his daughter in the Maiden's Tower. But Battal Gazi both captures the tower and saves his daughter and treasures. It is said that Battal Gazi continued on his way by crossing Üsküdar on his horse. In fact, it is rumoured that this event is the source of the famous Turkish expression “The one who took the horse passed Üsküdar”.
- Another legend is about the love of Galata Tower and Maiden's Tower for each other and their inability to meet because of the Bosporus between them. According to the rumour, Hezârfen Ahmet Çelebi tried to fly from Galata Tower to Üsküdar with eagle wings one day. Seeing this situation as an opportunity, Galata Tower begs Hezarfen to deliver the letters he has written to the Maiden’s Tower for centuries. Although Ahmed Çelebi takes the notes and jumps from the Galata Tower, the strong wind scatters the letters all over the Bosphorus. Still, Maiden's Tower realises how much Galata Tower is in love with her then. Although these two lovers can’t meet, they continue to live their passion by looking at each other for centuries. At the opening, which took place after the restoration of the Maiden's Tower was completed, this legend was referred to with a special light show. In the show, Galata Tower and Maiden's Tower could speak illuminated Morse code and say "I love you" to each other.
- Located in the middle of the Bosphorus as a beautiful girl displaying the beauty of Istanbul, Maiden's Tower has also appeared in many TV series and movies. In addition to numerous Turkish TV series, Maiden's Tower has appeared in various scenes of important global productions. These productions include the famous James Bond films “The World Is Not Enough” and “From Russia with Love”, and the 2007 action movie “Hitman”.
Information about Maiden's Tower’s restoration process
The restoration of the Maiden's Tower, one of the iconic structures of Istanbul dating back to 410 BC, was started in September 2021 by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The general purpose of the restoration work was to clear the annexes that were added to the building later and that were not suitable for the original character of the building and to restore it to its original details. The restoration was done under the supervision of experts in the field Prof. Dr. Zeynep Ahunbay, Prof. Dr. Feridun Çılı and Han Tümertekin.
Restoration activities were initiated in line with the reports prepared by Istanbul Technical University and Fatih Sultan Mehmet University, the opinions of the advisory board, and the projects approved by the Istanbul No. 6 Cultural Heritage Preservation Board.
All the historical information about the Maiden's Tower, all the actions taken in the restoration works and all the detailed information and reports about the data obtained were shared with the public on the website www.kizkulesi.gov.tr.
The restoration of the Maiden's Tower was carried out on an island area of approximately 1800 square meters on the ground of the historical building and environment. The restoration work took 570 days within the scope of the 1st and 2nd stages.
Restoration works, carried out with a staff of 150 people, were carried out against the challenging conditions of the island with expert technical personnel, construction equipment and sea vehicles.
The Maiden's Tower, which has undergone many repairs throughout its long history, was renewed with wooden materials in 1944. The floor coverings and cone structure were later renewed using concrete materials. The salts and other chemicals used in the concrete and cement of this restoration damaged the structure, brought additional loads and caused cracks.
After the 1999 earthquake, steel cross-reinforcement elements were made on the tower’s outer walls, and in the 2000s, roof additions for the restaurant function of the building were added. For all these reasons, the truth emerged that the Maiden's Tower would be completely damaged in a significant earthquake.
Restoration works carried out in this direction were started by using the data of the end of the 18th century, which contains the most information and documents that have survived to the present day.
The tower and castle section additions were removed, bringing the building to its original state. For example, the walls of the castle with protrusions were unearthed. In the dismantling operations in this direction, 16 tons of steel and 500 tons of reinforced concrete were removed from the original structure. With the removal of the additions in the building, the Maiden's Tower was transformed into its original form during the reign of Mahmut II.
In order not to damage the tower in a possible earthquake or ground movement, integrated steel-concrete piles were built around the island, reinforced concrete support beams around the building and reinforced concrete pavement were used to strengthen the primary rock around the island by taking support from piles anchored to the primary rock.
Additionally, the static problems of the building were determined with the help of chemical analyses, georadar imaging systems, laser scanners etc., and the strengthening methods were determined. For example, the original walls, in which cavities were observed during georadar works, were strengthened by the injection method.
The historical main walls of the building were reinforced with invisible braces made of stainless steel.
The part of the flagpole starting from the balcony floor to the upper level of the dome and the balcony floor was made of metal.
The wall and dome on the metal balcony flooring were created with wooden carriers following the original. The wooden coverings of the walls were completed, and decorative elements were added. The dome was covered with its original material, lead.
The copper realm on the flagpole was repaired, and a secondary lightning rod was installed next to it.
Wooden terraces, walkways and wooden stairs that provide access to the tower were built in the courtyard for visitors.
In addition, it was determined that the waves damaged the fillings that were previously made around the island, are insufficient today, and created cracks. Here too, piling work was carried out around the platform. The points where the piles are located, and those close to the building were filled with rubber insulators.
The clean water and electricity lines going to the Maiden's Tower were renewed.
Approximately 75 m³ of spruce and 25 m³ of exotic wood were used in the woodwork, 40 tons of stainless steel and 35 tons of galvanised steel were used in the steel works, as well as 1350 m² of joint and mortar manufacturing, 15 tons of lead, 1200 m² of Bilecik beige landscaping, 132 tons of sand and hydraulic lime. 156 tons of landscape seating units, 171 visual lighting devices, a wastewater biological treatment unit, a generator and fire extinguishing systems were installed.
- Within the scope of the works, 250 tons of existing field coating and 2000 tons of reinforced concrete, existing field concrete, were dismantled. 18000 tons of temporary filling was made with 13000 tons of filling reinforcement. A total of 200 pieces of 5200 meters of bored piles, each with an average length of 26 meters, 1500 tons of pile iron, 3800 m³ of seawater-resistant C40 concrete, and 375 tons of ribbed iron were used.