- Mika Vepsalainen
Galata Kulesi Museum - Fantastic Views over Istanbul in an Ancient Defence and Fire Tower
Updated: Apr 19
Join us for a tour in the Galata Tower, or the Galata Kulesi in Istanbul. In addition to some interesting history explored at the museum you will get one of the best overviews of central Istanbul from the top floor open air terrace.
Emperor Justinian I had a tower erected in Galata in 508 AD, during the Byzantine period in Constantinople. The original tower was destroyed during the Fourth Crusade but the Genoese replaced it with the current tower during an expansion of their colony in Constantinople in 1348. They called the Romanesque style tower Christea Turris (the Tower of Christ) while the Byzantines referred to it as the Megalos Pyrgos, the Great Tower, and great it was: at the time the 66.9 metre high Galata Tower was the highest building in Constantinople.
After the Genoese colony disappeared and the city walls were pulled down in 1453, the tower was used as a prison till the 16th century. Damaged in an earthquake in the 1500's, it was repaired by Architect Murad bin Hayreddin III.
The legend has it that a certain Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi, strapped on wings, made the first intercontinental flight from the tower's roof across the Bosphorus in 1638, landing in the Doğancılar Meydanı in Üsküdar on the Asian side of the city. The story was recounted by the Ottoman travel writer Evliya Çelebi but frankly, one might question the authenticity.
After the tower was repaired during the Selim period, a bay window was added to the upper floor. In 1831, there was yet another fire after which sultan Mahmut added two more floors. The top of the tower is now covered with the famous cone-shaped roof cover.
From 1717, the Ottomans used the tower to look out for fires at this side of town while another tower, the Beyazıt served for the same on the Old Istanbul side. In 1794, during the reign of Sultan Selim III, the roof of the tower was made of lead and wood. An umpteenth fire damaged the building in 1830’s.
During a storm In 1875 the tower's conical roof was destroyed and the tower remained without its iconic symbol for the rest of the Ottoman period. It was only reconstructed 1965 - 1967 when the tower's wooden interior was also replaced with a concrete structure.
After all the fires and subsequent rounds of restoration, the building up to the third floor has today a Genoese character while the upper floors have been constructed in an Ottoman style.
In 2020 the Tower was restored once again and opened as a museum and this is where we step in. Buy a ticket and take the lift to the top floor where the 360-degree views of Istanbul from the observation desk will truly take your breath. The panoramic views from there are famous and can be seen in many picture books featuring the Bosphorus or city views from Istanbul. One of the oldest towers in the world and one of the symbols of Istanbul, the Galata Tower was included in the temporary UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013.
Remember to also enjoy the neighbourhood around the Galata Tower. It used to be known for the Turkish hüzün that could be translated as sadness, melancholy and gloominess, all together. If you have read Orhan Pamuk's wonderful memoirs "Istanbul: Memories and the City" you know how beautifully he described it. As a historical curiosity, the father of the famous philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Isaac lived in Galata while working as a watchmaker of the royal palace 1705 - 1711.
There is no café in the museum but the area is full of fantastic Turkish cafés and restaurants to enjoy. There is a small museum shop and a loo inside the tower.
This museum is not very good for the handicapped or persons coming with prams. First, you need to come up steep stairs to get to the lifts and then you will see the best of the museum and Istanbul, if you take the lift up and stroll the stairs down around the museum wall enjoying the views on the way down.
Galata Kulesi Museum (Galata Kulesi Müzesi)
Bereketzade, Galata Kulesi, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey