One of the most iconic images of Istanbul surely has to be the Kız Kulesi Üsküdar, known in English as Maiden’s Tower, Tower of Leandros, Leander’s Tower or Bosphorus Tower. It is found on a small natural islet in the Bosphorus, just off the shore of Asian Istanbul.

The first tower here was built by an Athenian commander during the 5th century as a way of controlling ships passing the Bosphorus, and collecting taxes, a function that continued into Byzantine times, when a chain was stretched from it to the historic peninsula. In Ottoman times, it started to be used as a lighthouse.

There are several myths and legends associated with the tower. The Leander’s Tower legend or The Lovers of Maiden’s Tower tells of two starcrossed lover; a priestess of Aphrodite named Hero, and a young man named Leander. They fell in love and each night, Leander would swim from the mainland to the island to see Hero, who would light a fire in the top of the tower to guide his way. One treacherous night, the wind blew out her light, so Leander lost his way and drowned. When his body washed to the tower, Hero decided she couldn’t be apart, and took her own life to be with him.

Another myth tells of a Byzantine Princess, whom an oracle had foretold would be bitten by a serpent and die before she turned 18. Terrified, the Emperor (her doting father) sent her to the tower to protect her until she turned 18. Celebrating this birthday, her father visited her bearing a basket of fruit, but unbeknownst to him, a serpent lay concealed within and bit her, causing the tragic prophecy to come true.

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