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THE HISTORY OF THE MAIDEN’S TOWER, THE PEARL OF THE BOSPHORUS, FROM PAST TO PRESENT

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The Maiden’s Tower is an inseparable part of the silhouette of Istanbul. This structure has inspired many poems and has been featured in many movies. As the symbol of Üsküdar, the Maiden’s Tower is one of the monuments remaining from the Byzantine era until today. The Maiden’s Tower is also called Leander’s Tower by European historians. In his Seyahatname (Book of Travels), Evliya Çelebi described the Maiden’s Tower: “It is a high, four-corner, artistic tower in the sea within an arrow’s shot from the land. Its height is exactly 80 ells. Its surface area is two hundred feet and it has ground level doors on two sides.” The tower was used as a customs station in the Byzantine era, as a tomb in the Greek era, and as a place for quarantine, exile and as a defense castle in the Ottoman period. However, it has never lost its purpose of guiding ships over the years. On the other hand, the history of the Maiden’s Tower is full of stories. Let’s have a look at those stories…

 

The Love of Hero and Leander

In olden times, there was a temple in Üsküdar dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. A priestess called Hero was performing her duties in this temple. One of her duties was taking care of the doves in the tower. Regular rituals used to be carried out around the temple every spring. Those who were seeking love used to pray to Aphrodite at her shrine. During one of those rituals, Hero, who was seeking love, met Leander from the opposite shore. After meeting Hero, Leander started to visit the tower every night. The tower witnessed the love of these two young lovers every single night. Rumor has it that on a stormy day when Leander came to visit, a jealous priest switched off the lanterns in the tower. Leander lost his way in the storm and darkness, and drowned in the waters of strait. Unable to bear the pain of losing Leander, Hero threw herself into the waters of the Bosphorus...

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Battal Ghazi

Another story is about Battal Ghazi and an Ottoman Governor’s daughter who was living in the tower. Attempts by Battal Ghazi to besiege Istanbul failed. After this, he set up camp on the shore right in front of the Maiden’s Tower and waited for seven years. Rumor has it that the real reason that he stayed for seven years was that he fell in love with the daughter of Üsküdar’s Governor. Knowing this and becoming afraid, the Governor of Üsküdar locked his daughter in the tower with his treasures. After his expedition to Damascus, Battal Ghazi and his soldiers entered the tower and rode away with the daughter and the treasures. The colloquial expression “The one who took the horse has already passed Üsküdar” (meaning “Early bird catches the worm”) comes from this story...

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The snake and the emperor’s daughter

The Byzantine emperor had a daughter and commissioned the scholars of the country to raise his daughter. However, one the scholars told the emperor that his daughter would be bitten by a snake when she turned 18. The king was shaken by this information, thus he ordered the tower on a small island to be constructed and he placed her in the tower to protect her life. Despite of all these measures, after she turned 18, the emperor’s daughter was bitten and poisoned by a snake hidden inside some grapes that were sent as a gift. Upon the happening of this event, the emperor understood that destiny is inevitable. But still, thinking that she would be eaten by snakes under the soil, he had his daughter’s body embalmed and put inside a brass tomb. Later on, the tomb was placed on one of the high walls of Hagia Sofia...

 

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