Üsküdar is a district on the Anatolian (Asian) side of the Bosphorus Strait. It’s “integrated” with famous, historical Maiden’s Tower. Tourist boats go directly to Maiden’s Tower, but with covid restrictions, visitors aren’t allowed on the tiny islet. I took a ferry to interesting Üsküdar on the way to view the tower.
Üsküdar is one of Istanbul’s oldest residential areas. It was “founded in 7th century BC by Greek colonists, decades before the development of Byzantium on the opposite shore”. The city was an important “staging post in the Greek and Persian Wars“. During the Ottoman period, it was “one of only three communities outside Constantinople city walls”.
Maiden’s Tower is near Üsküdar’s busy waterfront promenade, always teeming with fishermen and happy locals enjoying a stroll in the main square or along the boardwalk. Üsküdar offers formidable attractions, including fountains, mosques, madrasas, hammams, historical cemeteries, palaces, and wooded areas. The district has several unique neighborhoods. I didn’t make it to all points of interest, but enjoyed walking the shoreline and exploring the portside area. Bosphorus views from Üsküdar are incredible! It’s another exotic Istanbul jewel that warrants more than one visit!
Üsküdar neighborhoods and attractions, include:
Fethi Pasha Grove – a beautiful park overlooking the Bosphorus
Çamlıca Hill – a hill with one of the best views of Istanbul
Historic Hammams – Şifa Bath built during the 15th century, Valide Atik Bath built in 1583, Ağa Bath built in 1610, and Bulgurlu Bath built in 1618 for His Holiness Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, and Çinili Bath built in 1648,
Mehmet Naci Aköz Kite Museum – first and only kite museum in Turkey, and one of 18 in the world
Küçüksu Palace – a summer palace in Üsküdar’s Küçüksu neighborhood used by Ottoman sultans for country excursions and hunting
Beylerbeyi District north of Üsküdar is considered one of the most beautiful spots of the Bosphorus. Located just below the Bosphorus Bridge, Beylerbeyi Palace is a symbol of the area and one of the most magnificent palaces in Istanbul. It has western style Ottoman architecture on the exterior, classical Ottoman architectural inside, and a stunning garden with rare trees and plants.
Çengelköy and Kandilli
Çengelköy, an upscale Bosphorus district toward the Black Sea, is a special area where you can get a feeling for “traditional Bosphorus life”. It has a famous pastry shop. Beyond Çengelköy, Kandilli District is noted for green hills, magnificent mansions, an Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, and Adile Sultan Palace. It’s on my escape list for a hot summer day in Istanbul.
Situated near the entrance to the Bosphorus, off Üsküdar’s shoreline, Maiden’s Tower is “one of the most important and popular monuments and symbols of Istanbul”. The alluring tower is from the medieval Byzantine period. It was a defense garrison during the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. During the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, it was a watchtower for the Ottoman Turks. Other uses include lighthouse, customs checkpoint, and quarantine station. When open to visitors, the towner has a café, museum, and restaurant.
There are many fascinating legends about the tower. Built in 1763, it was restored in 1832 by Sultan Mahmud II, restored again in 1945 by the Istanbul Port Authority, and “most recently in 1998 for the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough”.
Legend of the Emperor’s Daughter
One of the most popular Turkish legends about the tower is that “an emperor built it to protect his much-beloved daughter”. An oracle “prophesied that she would be killed by a venomous snake on her 18th birthday”. In an effort to “thwart his daughter’s early demise by placing her away from land to keep her away from snakes, the emperor had the tower built in the middle of the Bosphorus”. The princess was placed in the tower and visited only by her father.
“On her 18th birthday, the emperor brought the princess a basket of exotic sumptuous fruits as a birthday gift, delighted that he was able to prevent the prophecy. Upon reaching into the basket, however, an asp that had been hiding among the fruit bit the young princess and she died in her father’s arms, just as the oracle had predicted. Hence the name Maiden’s Tower.”
Legend of Hero and Leander
The older name for the tower – Leander’s Tower – comes from another story about a maiden, the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander. Hero was a “priestess of Greek goddess Aphrodite who lived in a tower at Sestos, on the edge of the Hellespont (Dardanelles)”. Leander, a “young man from Abydos on the other side of the strait, fell in love with her and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her”. Hero lit a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.
“Succumbing to Leander’s soft words, and argument that Aphrodite, as goddess of love, would scorn the worship of a virgin, Hero allowed him to make love to her. This routine lasted through the warm summer. But one stormy winter night, waves tossed Leander in the sea, breezes blew out Hero’s light, and Leander lost his way, and was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well.”
Some think the name Maiden’s Tower might have its origins in this ancient love story. Due to the “vicinity and similarity between the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, others think Leander’s story was mistakenly attributed to Maiden’s Tower”.
Love Story of Galata Tower and Maiden’s Tower
Another legend describes a love story between Galata Tower on the European side and Maiden’s Tower. The two were separated by the Bosphorus Strait, preventing them from uniting.
In July, I leave Istanbul for Athens and have been researching interesting ways to get there. Traveling by ferry requires multiple coastal and island connections, and with covid, it isn’t feasible. After giving it my best effort, I decided to take the easy, safe (boring) route and fly. It’s a short 1.5-hour flight and Aegean Airlines has less-stringent covid restrictions than Turkish Airlines. I was shocked to find out their checked luggage allowance is 50 lbs., and you can even pay a little more for up to 70 lbs.! I was planning for the usual 44 lb. limit. It means I won’t have to chuck things or mail another package back to Oregon.
Greece is now allowing visitors to enter their border with proof of covid vaccination, so I cancelled my appointment for another PCR test. They do require completion of a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) 24 hours before departure – similar to the form needed to enter Turkey.
I spent hours trying to access the Greek PLF form online. The Greek government website wouldn’t allow me to register and every other method I used also failed. One horrifying message after a search, said I wasn’t allowed to enter Greece at all :o(. I ended up paying a UK travel firm to coordinate with Greece. Magically, and within a few hours, they emailed approval! The day of my departure, the Greek Government with send a QR code for scanning at the airport. Hope it works!! Transitioning between countries is always stressful, especially with covid…
I have a little over a week left to explore Istanbul and will cherish every minute spent in this incredible city! Although I’ve visited several times, each time is its own unique experience, always educational, exciting, and challenging to describe in words! I’ve tried to post about a few places visited, but they’re a small sampling of my experiences during this time in Istanbul. Sad, that just as you get into the local “swing” of things, it’s time to leave.