galata tower

Galata Tower – Things to Know Before Visiting

Galata Tower is called “The Eye of Istanbul” as it sees most parts of the city with its balcony on the top. Locating at the end of Istiklal Avenue which is the most visited and crowded shopping street of Istanbul, Galata Tower is a must-see historical heritage of Turkey. Every day, thousands of tourists visit the tower causing very long queues in front of it.

A Brief History of Galata Tower

File:Galata Tower.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Galata Tower is 69 meters high and was built in 1348 by the Genoese in the Galata city-state. So it is almost a 650-year-old tower. At that time, Galata was a different city with its city walls which some remnants of the wall can be seen today near Galata Bridge.

The tower was built as a part of the city walls fortifications to keep an eye on the whole city. Galata Tower was originally known as Christea Turris meaning ‘Tower of Christ’. Galata peninsula was given as a gift to the Genoese for helping the Byzantium Empire to recapture Istanbul from the Crusaders in the 13th century. Later on, the Genoese became the biggest trade partner of the Byzantium people until the Ottomans conquered both Constantinople and Galata.

Overall, this area has been settled for 2000 years. It is said Emperor Justinianus of the Byzantium Empire built a tower in the place of Galata Tower in the 500s. Later on, when the Galata Tower was built, the older one was knocked down.

When Sultan Fatih Mehmet II conquered Istanbul, terrified people of Galata saw what happened to Istanbul and wanted to save the city from destruction. Therefore, they handed over the city keys to the Ottomans, and today Galata is a part of Istanbul. However, until the early 20th century, this part of the city was still densely populated with Christians and Jews.

There are numerous churches and synagogues in different locations. Particularly, the Beyoglu area was famous as the nightlife center for the elite of Istanbul. Even in the 17th century, Evliya Celebi referred to Beyoglu as the taverns of Istanbul.

In the late period of the Ottoman Empire, many foreign embassies, commercial banks, European companies, and shops all opened in this part of the city, so the trade center shifted from the Grand Bazaar to Istiklal, Beyoglu. Gradually, this area symbolized the modernity of the West and became the center of the European part of Istanbul.

What does Galata mean?

The word Galata comes either from “Galaktos” in Greek which means milk or “Calata” in Italian which means the stairway. Galatas meant milkmen as this area was a grazing place for shepherds during the Byzantium Empire.

What was the Galata Tower used for?

Romans, Venetians, Genevans, and Ottoman Turks have used the tower for different purposes. Until the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmet, there was a big cross on top of the tower; after 1453, it was taken down.

During the period of Sultan Suleiman (1520-1566), the tower became a prison. In the late 1500s, an observatory was established to observe the stars. In 1700, it was used as a fire tower but ironically, the tower itself burnt down by the fire.

In the early Republic Era, the tower was renovated for the last time and today it is a museum.  

The Story of Hezarfen

The story of Hezarfen is very famous all around Turkey and is a favorite story of children. Hezarfen means “the person who knows everything,” and in the past, very knowledgeable people would be called with this title. Ahmet Çelebi was one of them who was eager to learn to fly. He lived in the 17th century in the period of Sultan Murat IV.

After years of meticulous calculations and studying birds’ flight patterns, Hezarfen crafted his own wings to soar from the Galata Tower. According to myth, he donned his wings, took flight from the Tower, gracefully glided across the Bosphorus, and gracefully touched down in Uskudar. However, it is important to note that these accounts are purely legendary.

What to do in Galata Tower?

  1. Panoramic View: The most popular activity at Galata Tower is to ascend to the observation deck and enjoy the stunning 360-degree views of Istanbul. From this vantage point, you can see many of Istanbul’s major landmarks, including the Bosphorus Strait, the Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque.
  2. Dining: The tower hosts a restaurant and café on its upper floors. These provide an excellent opportunity to enjoy Turkish cuisine or sip coffee while admiring the city’s panoramic views.
  3. Photo Opportunities: Galata Tower is a fantastic spot for photography. Whether you’re taking pictures of the tower itself from the narrow cobbled streets of the Galata district or capturing the view from the tower’s balcony, there are countless opportunities for amazing photos.
  4. Cultural Performances: In the evening, the restaurant often hosts Turkish night shows. These typically include performances of traditional Turkish music and dance, such as belly dancing, and can be a fun and culturally enriching experience.
  5. Explore the Neighborhood: Once you’ve visited the tower, don’t miss out on the chance to explore the surrounding Galata district. This area is known for its bohemian vibe and is home to many art galleries, boutiques, and cafés. The area also boasts several historic buildings and churches worth seeing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Galata Tower worth visiting?

Absolutely. Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks and offers visitors an unmatched 360-degree view of the city from its observation deck. From there, you can take in the splendid vistas of the Bosporus, Golden Horn, and many other historic sites. Apart from the view, the tower’s rich history and architectural significance also make it a must-visit site for any trip to Istanbul.

What is special about Galata Tower?

The Galata Tower is special for a variety of reasons. Historically, it dates back to the 14th century and was built by the Genoese as part of the defensive wall surrounding their district of Galata directly opposite Byzantium (now Istanbul).

Architecturally, it’s a striking medieval stone tower that stands out in Istanbul’s skyline. Its panoramic views from the top are unmatched and offer breathtaking perspectives of Istanbul. The tower also houses a restaurant and café on its upper floors, allowing visitors to dine with an exquisite view.

Is Galata Tower the oldest tower in the world?

While Galata Tower is one of the oldest towers in Istanbul, it is not the oldest tower in the world. The structure dates back to the 14th century, making it over 700 years old. However, there are other towers globally, such as the Tower of Hercules in Spain and the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, that are older.

What time should I visit Galata Tower?

Galata Tower has varying hours, but the best time to go depends on your preference. Morning/early afternoon offers great city views, while evenings showcase dazzling night scenes. Expect crowds, especially during peak tourist season, so early visits could save you from long queues.