Towers are the tall, inspiring witnesses of Istanbul's historical journey. We visit Galata and Beyazıt Towers which overlook the city, and the Maiden Tower which hails the ships passing it by.
Crowned by nature with the Bosphorus, Istanbul is one of the most attractive cities of all times. This city, bestowed upon generously by history and nature, is also a meeting place for masterpieces of architecture from Hagia Sophia to Topkapı Palace, Süleymaniye Mosque to the Grand Bazaar. It’s also home to three towers that stand out on this list, saying, “We’re here too!” Laden with interesting stories, these towers have been featured in novels, poems, news, and art events. One person to praise their beauty was Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, the poet of colors, who wrote, “Speak of Istanbul, and towers come to mind / If I paint one, the others are jealous / Maiden Tower ought to know better - she should marry the Galata Tower / And give birth to little towers.”
I head to Beyazıt Square to visit Beyazıt Tower, a fragile structure in the Historical Peninsula and the first of these three, which resemble the finest lines of a poem. Built to monitor fires and to alarm the fire brigades, the tower adopted its current structure in 1828 and is an indispensable part of the silhouette of this city of seven hills.
Back then, when there was a fire, the guardians atop the tower would alarm the fire brigades to rush towards the location of the fire by lowering down a basket from the tower during the day and lighting a lantern at night. Centuries have passed, and big city fires have become a thing of the past due to the decreasing number of wooden structures. Now, the 85-meter-tall tower informs Istanbul of the upcoming weather conditions.
The color of the light at the top of the tower signifies a weather report for the locals. If it’s blue, it's good news - the weather will be nice tomorrow. Red means snow, green means rain, and yellow means fog. The tower overlooks the city from the square and the hill, behind the monumental arched gate of Istanbul University. In the distance, you can see the Sea of Marmara surrounding the Historical Peninsula, the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and its coast while a bit closer are monuments such as mosques, Beyazıt Square, and the Grand Bazaar.
After climbing down the tower, I relax at the peaceful courtyard of Bayezid Complex built by Sultan Bayezid II. Then, I follow the rustling of book pages and find myself at the Secondhand Book Market. Situated between the Fesçiler Gate of the Grand Bazaar and Beyazıt Square, the market transports bookworms to another world. Even if for a short while, I go on a journey into the history of Istanbul in front of a stall filled with old engravings of the city and maps of the Historical Peninsula.
My stroll towards Galata takes me to the city’s important historical landmarks, most notably, the Grand Bazaar. Its illuminated stores selling gold, jewelry, carpets, and souvenirs present me with many attractive objects. Suddenly, pigeons take off from the stairs of the New Mosque in Eminönü. By the time I arrive at Galata Bridge, I give in to the delicious scent of fish and enjoy a fish sandwich, an Istanbul culinary tradition. From here, Galata Tower, the bridge's namesake, looks more alive surrounded by pigeons and clouds.
I walk across the bridge, listening to the whistling of ferries and watching the fishermen, to the entrance of Bankalar Street in Karaköy. I stop by the historic Minerva Inn (currently known as Kasa Galeri), which dazzles with its Art Nouveau façade, to see one of the current exhibitions. Accompanied by a view of Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar, Galata Bridge, and an art gallery, I find myself climbing the high and winding steps of the Camondo Stairs, the most romantic stairs in the city, linking Bankalar and Banker Streets.
Wandering around Galata makes you feel as if you’re walking amidst the district's cherished memories. I feel moved by the ever-present spirit of the Genoese neighborhood, which centuries ago used to be surrounded by ramparts. The moment I see the Galata Tower rising above stone walls and narrow streets, time turns into an abstract concept. For centuries, people either observed the stars or the blue of the Bosphorus from this tower, and now, we watch the modern face of Istanbul under its cone-capped top. I take the elevator to the top of the tower, which dates back to the sixth century, to enjoy a magnificent vista of Istanbul. I cannot help but think about Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi, who is believed to have designed a pair of wings and to have soared from Galata Tower to Üsküdar on the other side of the city. I take the elevator down to the exit. The restaurants around the tower are crowded with people. As an accordion player fills the square with tunes, I turn into Küçük Hendek Street for a small break at the Federal Coffee Company which serves coffee blends with special spices in a setting harmonious with the spirit of Galata. I cannot remain indifferent to their suggestion of a portion of dessert made fresh daily with the freshly brewed coffee. I finish my break here to catch the Üsküdar ferry from Karaköy.
As the gentle breeze of the Bosphorus caresses the white wings of seagulls, the ferry draws closer to Üsküdar Pier. I walk by the seaside passing the passengers rushing past colorful flower stalls and the Ahmed III Fountain built in the Tulip Period. By the time I arrive in Salacak, I realize that in my quest to explore these three towers I have been on a spectacular tour around Istanbul. Standing before me is the Maiden Tower, which has always been mysterious to me. I hop on one of the small ferries to reach the tower. Situated between two continents, it was built to crown the uniqueness of the Bosphorus, like the protagonist of a mysterious tale.
The moment I step onto the small islet, I enter the story of Hero and Leander, the tower's two tragic lovers. The story goes that beautiful Hero left the tower to attend a ceremony held in the name of the goddess Aphrodite and fell in love with a young man named Leander. The lovers started to meet in secret. Leander swam from the coast to the tower every night to meet his love. However, on a stormy night, the lantern Hero lit to guide Leander blew out and Leander was lost forever among the waves. Upon receiving the bad news, Hero threw herself into the waters of the Bosphorus. As I watch the flock of lightning-fast shearwaters from the tower’s balcony, I feel as if the love of Hero and Leander surrounds the coast of the tower in the guise of foamy waves. Right then, the Maiden Tower whispers another story to me. A Byzantine emperor’s daughter was imprisoned in the tower because of a prophecy which foretold that she would die at a young age from a snakebite. To avoid the prophecy's fulfillment, the emperor tried to keep her safe in the tower built in the middle of the sea. However, destiny could not be prevented. Hidden in a basket of grapes sent from the palace to the tower, a snake brought about the princess's untimely demise.
As another day ends in the city of legends, I stop by the small souvenir shop inside the tower and buy myself a bookmark in the shape of the Maiden Tower. The sun begins to turn red in the horizon and I observe a busy preparation for dinner guests at the restaurant here. I head back to Salacak to watch the changing colors of Istanbul stretched behind the tower in the many colors of the evening. The steam of the hot tea I’m drinking sitting on the coast melts into the blush of the setting sun as Istanbul, perched between two continents, greets a new night.