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Galata Tower

Updated: May 19, 2023

My guide and I parted ways after visiting the Galata Mevlevi House Musuem—she to see her mother-in-law, and I to check out Galata Tower. I was sad to see her go. She was a good friend and a fabulous guide while I was in Istanbul. We still keep in touch through WhatsApp from time to time.

But alas, I was now on my own. The afternoon was becoming windy and overcast. The sky threatened rain. But Galata Tower was just a 10-minute walk downhill from the museum, and I was not going to miss it. When I arrived, I was pleased to see only a short line. I paid my fare and took the elevator to the top floor (well, as "top" as you can go before taking stairs). And believe me, it was worth every step and penny.

But before I share what I saw, let's take a brief look at the tower's history:

The history of Galata Tower is as old as Istanbul itself. Or Constantinople. Or Byzantium. It's been through numerous renditions over the years. It is, perhaps, the original "Never ever ever ever ever give up" story.

The First Tower.

Galata's first tower was built by the Genoese around 507 A.D. during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The Genoese called it Christea Turris ("Tower of Christ" in Latin) while the Byzantines called it Megalos Pyrgos ("Great Tower" in Greek). The tower was an important landmark that marked the north end of the great chain, a literal chain that the Byzantines used to block invading ships at the mouth of the Golden Horn. Unfortunately, this first tower was destroyed in 1204 during the Crusaders' Sack of Constantinople.

A remake of the chain that the Byzantines used to block invading ships. It's bigger than it looks!

The Second Tower.

In 1348, the Genoese rebuilt the tower. The new tower was made of stone and about 66 meters tall, making it the tallest structure in the city at that time. The new tower served a similar function as its predecessor, until . . .

On September 10th, 1509, the new tower was heavily damaged during the Marmara Sea Earthquake. The earthquake destroyed roughly 1,000 homes and killed more than 4,500 people. Much of the city's urban infrastructure was destroyed. According to one source, when the earthquake hit, the walls of Galata Tower "shattered."

Galata Tower in 1854. Image source: Harvard Fine Arts Library

The Third Tower.

Galata Tower was rebuilt for a third time during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. At that time, the tower was used to hold prisoners who were sentenced to work at the Kasımpaşa Naval Dockyard. In the mid-1500s, the astrologer Takiyüddin Efendi converted it into an observatory, but then at the end of the 16th century it was once again used as a prison.

In the 17th century, the tower was used briefly by the Ottoman military band, and then it became a fire lookout in 1717, and then it was destroyed by a fire in 1794. It was restored yet again during the reign of Sultan Selim III, and restored yet again after another fire in 1831. This time, Sultan Mahmut not only restored the tower, he also added two additional floors and a conical-shaped tip.

For a time, the tower was again used as a fire tower, but since the 1960s, it has served as a tourist attraction only. From the top, tourists have a spectacular 360-degree view of the city.

(And here comes the photo dump.)

I was very glad to have a new iPhone 14 on this trip. Its camera is far superior to my old phone's!

The Bosporus and Golden Horn.

Beyoğlu and Karaköy.

Hagia Sophia.

The Blue Mosque.

Sueleymaniye Mosque.

Topkapi Palace (across the water)

Looking northwest.

A less zoomed-in view of the northwest.

Sueleymaniye Mosque.

Ataturk Bridge and Galata Bridge.

From left to right: The Golden Horn, Ataturk, and Galata Bridges over the Golden Horn.

Golden Horn Bridge (left) and Sueleymaniye Mosque (far right).

Sueleymaniye Mosque.

This guy had no fear.

To be honest, I consider myself lucky to have visited on a cloudy afternoon in late November. The observation deck was quite crowded even then, and it was harder than these images make it seem to get pictures without people (or seagulls) in the way.

Lovely Outside and In.

Once I'd taken in as much as I could from the outside of the tower, I proceeded to explore its interior. And believe me, it is lovely both outside and in.

The ceiling of Galata Tower.

Room with a view.

Relics from the past.

The stone and brick were mesmerizing.

Begging for a look.

Other Stories.

Interestingly, there are more stories associated with Galata Tower than those that have to do with its tumultuous history. In the 17th century, for example, the Ottoman Hezârfen Çeleb attempted to fly from Galata to the Asian side of Uskudar almost six kilometers away. Apparently he worked on his project for years, and, according to an account written by Evliya Çelebi, he was successful. Around this time, people also began climbing the tower using ropes. Competitions were held regularly, with people climbing the sides of the tower and then using the ropes to slide back down.

How would you like to climb that?

Galata Tower from the water, as seen earlier that day.

In Sum.

When I finally left the tower, I left with a heart full. I had experienced a very busy three days in Istanbul, and I wouldn't trade any of them for the world. On the way back to my AirBnb, I took Istiklal Street, a busy shopping area in Istanbul. Below is a short video from that journey.

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Very interesting!


May 18, 2023

Hi Jessica,

You’ve shared some magnificent photographs. I can’t help but like the one with the gull the most.

What an amazing history to the tower and testament to the generations of people who wanted to keep a tower for whatever reason.

I hope the current tower is now resistant to natural disasters and has a fire alarm and management system installed!

Jessica Cyphers
Jessica Cyphers
May 19, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Gary! The view was amazing from the top, and that gull had a big personality, for sure. (Many people were laughing at him.) And yes! I hope the current tower is resistant to natural disasters, as well. Turkey had that big earthquake not long ago, but it was far enough away that I don't think most of Istanbul was affected.

Thanks as always for reading and commenting!

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