Interesting history and legends of Galata Tower

Although the exact date of construction of the Galata Tower, which was once called the Tower of Christ, is not known, it is estimated that it was built in the early 500s AD. The tower, which is the oldest and most important work of the historical Galata region; Romans, Venetians, Genoese and Ottomans used it for different purposes.

Before giving information about the Galata Tower and its legends, let’s get to know the region…

Galata in Roman and Genoese periods

Galata district was recorded as the 13th of 14 districts of Istanbul during the Roman period and was divided into districts within itself. It is not known exactly when the first settlement started, but it seems certain that it was before the Romans.

It is written that when Constantine the Great died in the 4th century, he wanted to be buried in Galata. It was probably an important place at that time as well. In the 6th century, Justinian, one of the Roman emperors, organized Galata. In the 13th century, a Genoese (Genoa) colony was established here. With the settlement of the Genoese, Galata became an autonomous region under the control of the Roman Empire. The Venetians, who were as good at shipping as the Genoese, also came here and traded through the ports here.

The Genoese, who came to Galata in the 1200s, at a time when Rome was weakening, surrounded the region with walls. However, they took the warnings seriously and later demolished some of the walls, but they did not back down and built stone buildings in the same places, this time very often. They built the famous Galata Tower, which is the main subject of our article, for surveillance purposes, on the highest place of the historical region. As they call it, the Tower of Jesus…

Galata Region in the Ottoman period

Galata Tower in Ottoman period. Photo: HagiaSophiaTurkey

For the Ottomans, this place became an outer neighborhood just like it was during the Roman period. This was one of the 4 districts of Istanbul (Suriçi, Eyüp, Üsküdar and Galata kadıs) administered by qadi. So he had a separate qadi. After the conquest in 1453, the Genoese preserved their right to settle and trade here. Young Fatih knew well how much the Genoese and Venetians would benefit, who handed over the region to him after the conquest of Istanbul.

Still, the Ottomans kept some distance towards Galata. Until the 1800s, both the state and the people did not see the Galata district “for itself” very much. As a matter of fact, according to researches, 80% of the population of the region was Christian in the 1600s. In Galata, which is divided into settlements within itself; There were 70 Greek, 18 Muslim, 3 Frankish, 2 Armenian and 1 Jewish quarters.

It is written that Taksim and beyond were a forest covered with fig trees, and the area around Sütlüce – Kasımpaşa was a farm area full of milk-producing animals. Still, this was a region mostly known for its taverns and embassies. In the following centuries, Pera (Beyoğlu) shone with its hotels and banks.

The world’s oldest 3rd metro line is also located here. The tunnel line, which was opened on January 14, 1875 and goes from Karaköy to Istiklal, has a length of 575 meters.

Galata Tower (Jesus Tower)

According to estimates, Galata Tower was first built by the Romans in 507, but it gave its current shape in 1348 by the Genoese. Its height is about 70 meters and its diameter is about 10 meters. Its weight is estimated to be 10 thousand tons.

The Genoese placed a large Catholic cross on the tower, which is thought to have been built by Anastasius I. The cross on the top of the tower, which was known as the Tower of Christ before the Ottomans, was brought down by Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han.

Evening view of Galata Tower. photo: Propertyturkey

After the conquest of Istanbul, Galata Tower was used for different purposes during the Ottoman Empire. It suffered serious damage in the earthquake that occurred in 1509, which the people of Istanbul called the “Little Apocalypse”. It was repaired by Hayrettin, one of the important architects of that period. It was turned into a prison during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. The prisoners working in Kasımpaşa shipyard were kept here for a while. Towards the end of the 1500s, an observatory was established here by Takyüddin Efendi. However, Sultan Murat III later closed the place, saying, “There is no good in dealing with the stars” because of the people’s reproach that “looking under the skirts of angels”.

In the first quarter of the 18th century, the Galata Tower began to be used as a watchtower against the endless fires of Istanbul. Unfortunately, by a twist of fate, the tower itself burned down at the end of the same century. Oriels were added to the Galata Tower, which burned down again after half a century, during the reigns of Selim III and Mahmut II. We also know that in a storm in Istanbul in 1875, its roof was blown away. Galata Tower, which underwent another restoration during the Republican period, today serves as a restaurant and a viewing terrace.

Galata Tower legends

There are 2 prominent stories among the legends of the Galata Tower: The legends about marriage and the Maiden’s Tower. But before moving on to these, I would like to point out that perhaps we have another new legend.

Prof. Dr. İlber Ortaylı recently explained that the event of Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi’s flight from Galata Tower to Üsküdar was just a legend. It’s a really assertive statement about a piece of information that we thought was true until today. However we can’t dismiss it because it was İlber Hodja who voiced it.

The oldest Galata Tower legend

Perhaps the most interesting legend among the legends of the Galata Tower is the oldest. According to this legend, the Romans believed that if a man and a woman first ascend to the Galata Tower together for the first time, they will surely get married. But if one of the couples has climbed the tower before (it doesn’t matter with someone else or alone), this talisman will be broken.

The legendary love of Galata Tower

The legendary love of Galata Tower and Maiden’s Tower.

This legend, on the other hand, is a more fairy-tale-like story. Accordingly, Galata Tower and Maiden’s Tower are in love with each other. But it is also impossible for them to meet due to the inexorable strait in between. Their longing is increasing day by day.

Then one day, Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi climbs the tower, about to fly from Europe to the Anatolian side. Not resisting the insistence of the Galata Tower, he took the letters that the tower had accumulated for centuries and took wings. He leaves them at the Maiden’s Tower as he approaches the Salacak beach. The letters blown by the wind reach the Maiden’s Tower with the help of the waves. The letters blown by the wind reach the Maiden’s Tower with the help of the waves. Realizing that her love is not unrequited, Maiden’s Tower becomes more beautiful after the letters. In this way, Galata Tower understands that her love is not one-sided. These feelings that the two have for each other enable them to challenge each other for centuries.

The story of the Galata Walls

Finally, I would like to talk about the Galata walls, about which there is little information and which are no longer in place. Three of these walls, which were called the Christos Walls in their own time, are on the land side and one is on the sea side. Entrances and exits to the neighborhood were made through 12 different gates. The fact that 9 of them are in the direction of the sea supports the fact that Galata is a full port city.

The Galata walls, which are thought to be around 14 kilometers from beginning to end, are estimated to have a height of 10 m – 12 m. Its last remains are known to have been demolished in 1864.