The Maiden’s Tower, also called Leander’s Tower, or Tower of Leandros, is near Istanbul, Turkey. It is situated on a very small island at the Bosphorus Strait’s south entrance, about 650 feet from the Üsküdar coast. It was built during the medieval Byzantine period. Today, the first floor of the tower has a restaurant and the top has a cafe.
The tower was originally built by Alcibiades, an ancient Athenian general in 408 BC to regulate the movements of Persian ships in the strait. At that time the Maiden’s Tower was situated between Byzantion and Chrysopolis. Later, it was rebuilt in the form of fortress by Alexius Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor in 1110 AD. It was slightly modified and restored many times by the Ottomans, particularly in 1509 and 1763.
Since the early 1700’s the tower became more of a lighthouse. Its surrounding walls were refurbished in 1731 and 1734. In 1763, the tower was rebuilt with stone. The tower was used as hospital during the cholera epidemic in 1829, and Sultan Mahmud II restored it in 1832. It was restored again in the 1940’s, by the harbor authority. Many of the parts that were made from wood were destroyed and later rebuilt with concrete materials. In 1943, large rocks were positioned all around the tower. Gas storage tanks and wood barns were also removed from the areas around the tower.
In 2000, the tower was opened to visitors and it has become very popular over the years. At the top of the tower, visitors can enjoy wonderful views of Istanbul. Tourist boats make several excursions to the tower every day.
Legends of the Tower
The Maiden’s Tower has two very famous legends. The most popular one is about a sultan who had a beautiful daughter. An oracle predicted her death and stated that a snake bite would kill her when she turned eighteen. The sultan had the tower built in Bosphorus Strait to keep her safe from snakes. She went to live in the tower and only her father visited her. On the day of her eighteenth birthday her father brought her a fruit basket for a present. When she reached into the basket to get a piece a fruit, a poisonous snake in the basket bit her and she died.
The Leander’s Tower name comes from another tale about a young maiden. This one is about the Greek myth of Leander and Hero. Hero was Aphrodite’s priestess who resided in a large tower at Sestos, near Hellespont. A young man, Leander from Abydos, fell deeply in love with the maiden. He would swim across Hellespont every night to see her. Hero would put a lamp on top of the tower each night to help guide his way.
This routine continued on through summer, but one stormy night, Leander lost his way in the sea when the wind blew out the light at the top of the tower, and he drowned. Consumed with grief, Hero jumped out of the tower and died.