Dominating the skyline of Istanbul stands a medieval architectural marvel that has been one of the most captivating sites for travellers in Turkey. Have you heard about the Galata Tower? It’s more than just a cylindrical stone wall.
The tower holds stories that every traveller should know before visiting. Here are some of the fascinating things you should know about the lesser-known iconic location in Turkey.
Where is Galata Tower Located?
Galata Tower is located in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Turkey standing tall in the middle of the Karaköy quarter. We were able to find our way to the Galata Tower from the north of the Golden Horn junction. During the daytime, it looks majestic against the modern buildings, and at night the tower is lit up, giving it a distinct European fairytale exterior. The tower overlooks the glistening Bosphorous, so from the top of Galata, you will be able to witness a view like none other.
Location of Galata Tower on Map
What is Galata Tower Used for Today?
Before we get deep into the topic, let’s know what Galata Tower is used for today. After all, it is best to know before you go if you need to plan your holiday within a tight schedule. While the outer appearance is the most captivating attraction, there is awe inside too.
Did you know that there is a museum inside the Galata Tower? Occupying the 4th and the 5th floors, visitors can witness ancient artefacts and other historical monuments belonging to the Neolithic, Byzantine and Ottoman periods.
That’s not all. The top floor of the tower is converted into a classy restaurant with stunning views of the cityscapes.
The Name of the Tower
The name of the tower Galata derives from its geographical location where Galatians (an ancient Greek tribal community) once camped. However, the tower’s origins have no relation to this. Some believe the initial structure was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 527 A.D as a lighthouse, while most others believe that it was constructed by the Genoese colony who arrived in the region during the 1300s.
The Genoese have Italian roots and were well known for trading back in the day. Historians believe that they renovated this stone structure to safeguard themselves from invaders.
History of Galata Tower
Based on records, the tower had played a crucial part in the military campaigns during the Ottoman era. Not only was it a surveillance tower back in the late medieval period, but Galata was also used as a fire watchtower during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
During this time, it was also used as a tower for prisoners who were assigned to work at the naval dockyard. It is said that Galata Tower was destroyed partially by an earthquake in the 1500s but was restored back multiple times throughout the centuries.
Height of Galata Tower
If you have not seen the Galata Tower up close, you probably would not believe that this is Istanbul’s second tallest man-made ancient structure. Standing 67 metres tall in height, the Galata Tower used to be the tallest building in Istanbul until 1749 when the Beyazil Tower was constructed.
One of the main reasons for its military value was the tower’s height, which played a major role in providing clear views of the Bosphorus.
The Story of the Birdman
While we were on tour, we learnt about one of the most iconic historical events in the Ottoman period that took place here. In fact, on top of the tower to be precise. Named the Birdman, in 1632, Ottoman aviator Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi was said to have flown from the top of the tower to Doğancılar Square in Üsküdar with wooden wings attached to his arms.
In a time when engines or motors were not discovered, such achievement was celebrated. Unfortunately, we also got to learn that a few years following this groundbreaking scenario, the Birdman was exiled to Algeria due to political conflict, where he died pretty young.
When you’re on top of the tower, you would see a small plaque commemorating this individual. Make sure to keep an eye on it.
The Galata Architecture
Standing 67 metres tall, the Galata Tower is admired by architects around the world for its Romanesque architecture and uniquely built, steady and magnificent outlook. Galata Tower’s semi-circular arches characterize medieval architecture you can find across Europe. The tower has a total of nine stories and 146 stairs to the top.
The walls of Galata Tower are said to be 12 feet thick in certain places. One can imagine how strenuous it would’ve been building the tower. When it comes to travelling up the tower, you don’t have to stress yourself. Elevators are fixed to the seventh floor, so you have to climb up just two more flights.
Restaurant in Galata Tower
Yes, you guessed right. There is a restaurant on top of Galata Tower. The Galata Restaurant is for fine dining with early reservations and fancy Turkish delicacies. It’s usually busy during lunch hours when many pocket business meetings take place. If you’re a traveller, you will have to book in advance and make sure to reserve a window-side table.
The views are absolutely gorgeous during the daytime. When it comes to the food, we wouldn’t recommend nor insist you try it. There are certainly countless restaurants and street vendors in Istanbul and around other cities in Turkey who would offer better traditional fusion meals for cheaper prices. But if you’re looking for the experience, there’s no harm in trying out the Galata Tower restaurant.
Can you Visit Galata Tower?
By now, you already know the answer to this. Yes, you can visit Galata Tower. The museum in the tower is open seven days a week from 8.30 a.m. till midnight. Usually, during the on-season, the queues are quite long. Fortunately, before our visit, we booked the tickets in advance, so it helped us save time. If you’re travelling during the high season, make sure you book your tickets in advance. That way, you can minimize the queue hassle.
Best Time to Visit Galata Tower?
The Galata Tower is open all year round unless during public holidays, so you can simply decide, hop on the nearest bus and head over to the site. However, as we mentioned before, the queues can get harsh and drain you out under the blazing sun. That’s why it’s best to visit early in the morning – well at least by 8.30 a.m. when the gates open for visitors.
You may not be able to catch the sunrise from the top of the tower, but you can definitely witness Istanbul at dawn on your way to the destination.
Is Galata Tower Free to Visit?
Similar to other historic places across the world, Galata Tower charges a fee for visitors. So no, it’s not free for visits. But we assure you it’s completely worth visiting. The ticket cost is usually below $10, and you get to explore the entire scope of the tower apart from the private restaurant, which is on the topmost floor.
Visitors are urged to try the restaurant as the view from there is the pinnacle of Galata Tower. From the window side, you can see the gorgeous panorama of Fatih, Eminonu, Uskudar, Taksim, and the Marmara Sea Bay.