Istanbul: The Galata Tower

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Galata Tower

Climbing to the Top of the Galata Tower

Before I got to Istanbul, I had never heard of the Galata Tower. My knowledge of famous Istanbul historical sites was limited to the Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. When two of the returning Turkish staff members at my summer camp organized a trip to the Galata Tower during our first week of orientation, I decided to see what it was all about.

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Galata Tower as seen from the Bosphorous

The Galata Tower is a medieval cone-capped stone tower located in the Galata/Karaköy neighborhood, near Taksim. It was originally constructed by Emperor Justinian in 580 AD, but it was destroyed during the Fourth Crusade and rebuilt by the Genoese in the 1300’s. At nine stories high, it was the city’s tallest structure when it was built. Today, it still dominates the European Istanbul skyline (from the Bosphorous) and serves as a great landmark to help you get your bearings in this enormous city.

The tower has served many purposes throughout the years: from a jailhouse to a dormitory for the military band to a fire-observatory tower. It was also the starting point for an intercontinental flight that took place in the 17th century. Using artificial wings, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi successfully made it from the Galata Tower to Üsküdar on the Asian side.

Due to various fires and earthquakes, the tower had to undergo many restorations. After a final restoration in 1990, it was opened to the public for tours.

Visiting the Galata Tower

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View of Istanbul from the Galata Tower

I went up the Galata Tower just as the sun was beginning to set. I wanted to climb up the stairs, but my friends were tired, so we took one of the elevators instead. That evening, the tower was packed with tourists, so we had to wait at the top inside a waiting area before we could walk along the observation deck outside. The wait was a little tough due to the heat, so I would recommend going to the Galata Tower early, or going on a day when it is not so hot outside.

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View of the Golden Horn from the Galata Tower

Eventually, we had our chance to walk outside along the observation deck. The views of the city were spectacular! I could see the blue Bosphorous Strait sparkling under the sun’s pink and orange sunset rays. I spotted the historically important Galata Bridge, which connects the Karaköy district of Istanbul to the Eminönü/Sultanahmet regions, as one of my Turkish friends pointed out the Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapı Palace.

However, the thing that amazed me the most was when the call to prayer started to play from the minarets of hundreds of mosques in the area as the last rays of the sun began to disappear. Although the call to prayer usually happens at set times of the day, each muezzin (the man who calls Muslims to pray from the minarets) starts the call at a slightly different time, so it almost sounds like a musical round (when one person starts singing a song and the next person starts the same song a few seconds later as the first continues, and so on…). From nine stories above Istanbul, the sound of hundreds of muezzins reciting the call to prayer gave me goosebumps.

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At the top of the Galata Tower

Although the entry fee for the Galata Tower is a little high (17 TL or approx. $8.00), the 360° view of the Golden Horn region of Istanbul and its surroundings is worth every penny. (Rumor has it the tower is 1/2 off on Mondays!) Going up the tower right before sunset was a phenomenal experience that I would recommend to any visitor to Istanbul.

 

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