The Maiden’s Tower, which seemingly floats in the Bosphorus off Asia, is one of the more popular symbols of the city. Once a Byzantine tollbooth and later an Ottoman lighthouse, it’s most famous for a legend involving a princess and a prophecy that she would die from a snakebite. Her father exiled her to the tower in the hope of protecting her but, alas, the prophecy could not be avoided—a snake made its way to the island, either in a bouquet of flowers or a basket of grapes (depending on the version of the tale).
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Maiden's Tower Up Close
The Maiden's Tower sits in the middle of the Bosporus straight in Istanbul. You can get a view of it from either side of the water, but the best view is to be had from the ferry. Insiders tip: this picture came from the Princes Islands ferry. Definitely take a day trip to one of these islands and enjoy the relaxed escape from Istanbul!
Ask an Istanbulite to recommend a place for a romantic interlude or special occasion and they'll usually say, "Go to Kız Kulesi" (Maiden's Tower or Leandros Tower). It's the iconic medieval tower that rises up from the Bosphorus, just 200 meters from the shores of Üsküdar in Asia.
Historical accounts of the island date back to 341BC, but the most famous story of them all goes back to Byzantine times. A soothsayer predicted that an emperor's daughter would be mortally wounded by a venomous snake. The emperor, defying fate, sent his daughter to a place where snakes don't exist—the tower in the Bosphorus. But fate proved stronger than man, and a snake wriggled its way to the castle in the bottom of a fruit basket. The prophecy proved true.
A more romantic tale involves the mythological Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, and her lover, Leandros. Each night Leandros would swim to Hero in a tower to enjoy their forbidden love affair—until one stormy night when Leandros lost his way and drowned. Devastated by the death, Hero took her own life.
Fast-forward to today, and the tower is perfect for special occasions and intimate dinners between luckier modern-day romantics. Dine downstairs before canoodling in the Bosporus breeze upstairs.
Ferries from Kabataş and Salacak to the tower are pricy, but consider it an entry fee to a unique historic site. Salacak is a 20-minute walk south of Üsküdar port, following the seaside.
On the banks of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, my friends and I enjoyed countless midye dolma, which are steamed mussels stuffed with rice and spices and served with a squeeze of lemon. A favorite snack for many, we made these a whole meal on more than one occasion. These large drums of perfectly stacked and enchantingly fragrant, glistening blue and black shells dot the shoreline of the Bosphorus around each ferry terminal and bus stop. The story behind the young men who collect, cook, and sell them, mostly Kurds from mountain towns, is a fascinating (and fairly recent) history described here by Maggie Schmitt in The Atlantic.