top of page

Galata Tower

Updated: May 19

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).