The Maiden’s Tower is located 150-200 meters off the shore of the Salacak district in Üsküdar. Although it is not definite as to when the Maiden’s Tower was built, the tower’s architectural style is said by some sources to be from around 340 BCE.
Previous names of the Maiden’s Tower were Damalis and Leandros. Damalis is the name of the wife of the king of Athens,Kharis. When Damalis died, she was buried on the shore, and the name Damalis was given to the Tower. It was also known during Byzantine times as “arcla” which means “a little castle.”
After the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Turks, the tower was pulled down and a wooden tower was constructed in its place. The wooden tower was destroyed by a fire in 1719. It was rebuilt from stone once again by the head architect of the city, Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Paşa. The cone-capped part of the tower was taken away and a kiosk fitted with glass replaced it. A lead-covered dome was later added to the kiosk. Rakım Efendi, a famous calligrapher, added an inscription with Sultan Mahmut II’s signature on marble and placed it above tower’s door. A lantern was added to the tower in 1857, and in 1920, the tower’s light was a converted into an automatic lighting system.
The Maiden’s Tower has been used for many different purposes over time, such as a tax collection area from merchantman, a defense tower, and a lighthouse. During the cholera epidemic in 1830, it was used as a quarantine hospital and radio station. During the Republic Period, it was again used as a light house for a little while. The tower was handed over to the Ministry of Defence in 1964 and then to Maritime Enterprises in 1982. It has undergone renovations and presently functions as a restaurant open to the public owned by a private company.
The legends of the Maiden’s Tower
The Legend of Leandros
According to this legend, a young man named Leandros falls in love with a nun named Hero who is faithful to Afrodit. However, as a nun, falling in love with someone is taboo for Hero. Hero lives in the Maiden’s Tower. Every night, Hero builds a fire in the tower so that Leandros may find his way to her by swimming to the tower. Thus, they meet every night. One night, however,the bonfire started by Hero is put out by a storm, That very night, Leandros loses his own way in the cold waters of the Bosphorus and dies. When Hero hears of what happened to Leandros, she cannot endure the pain and commits suicide.
The Princess Legend
Once upon a time, a soothsayer makes the prediction to the King that his daughter will die as a result of a snakebite. Thereupon, the King has a castle built in the sea in order to protect his daughter. Time passes and the girl grows up in the castle. However, the prediction made by the soothsayer was inevitably comes true as a snake hiding a fruit basket carried to the princess bites and kills her.
The Battalgazi Legend
A man named Battalgazi falls in love with the daughter of the tekfur, a Christian ruler of a town or a locality. However, he does not bestow his daughter to Battalgazi, and to protect her, places her in the tower. Battalgazi attacks the tower and abducts the girl. He mounts his horse with the tekfur’s dauhgter and rides away very quickly. There is an expression, “he who takes the horse got by Üsküdar” which comes from this legend.
Translated by Mr. Irfan KOKSAL