A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW OF ANCIENT ISTANBUL | Darrin Henry
Wandering the maze of bustling streets around Old Istanbul and the ever thriving Outer Harbour region of the city, the nipple-like Galata Tower – or Galata Kulesi in Turkish – caught our eye. It poked up from the sea of buildings that rolled up the hillside.
Clicking the Istanbul map on our phones, Sharon and I learned it was one of the most famous towers in the world. That did it! We this had to be one of our places to visit in Istanbul so set off on a determined, “let’s walk to that tower” mission.
On this trip so far we had already played street football, toured inside the Hagia Sofia and been down into the Basilica Cisterns. Earlier today I had fallen victim to a little scam while shooting street photography.
One Hot Day In Istanbul
A useful thing we found on our Istanbul sightseeing adventure, especially around the Golden Horn harbour area, everything is a lot closer than it first appeared, so walking turned out to be the best way to explore.
It was a hot day, the Istanbul temperature peaking at 30 degrees Celsius. In fact, every day on our 2017 summer visit was a hot day.
The narrow streets that zig-zagged up the hill between the buildings provided some shady relief from the heat. The little shop and café scene along the way was so interesting it distracted us from the climbing effort, and in no time we were at the top with the chunky Galata Tower, blocking off the alleyway ahead of us, or so it seemed.
Galata Tower History Goes Way Back
So, what’s the Galata Tower story all about then?
According to the big posters inside the tower, it was originally constructed of wood by the Byzantine emperor, Anastasius Oilozus, in 528AD. As a lighthouse.
It was reconstructed using stone in 1348 by the Genoese, as Christea Turris (Christ Tower).
Like many other historic buildings in the city, the Galata Tower Istanbul, has suffered severe damage from earthquakes over the years.
Its use changed down the centuries from lighthouse, to defence, to being an astronomical observation point by the Turkish astronomer, Takiuddin. The observatory was closed in 1579 and the tower was used to house “forsa” which means Christian prisoners of war.
Today it’s a major attraction on the Istanbul tourist map. An opportunity for a bird’s eye view of the city of Istanbul.
The Best Views in Istanbul
The Galata Tower entrance fee was 25TL (£5.25 GBP or $6.98 USD).
We joined the long queue waiting to get in, but it moved quickly and soon we were inside purchasing our tickets. Can’t say we weren’t just a teensy bit disappointed when we realised there was a lift to take us up, after we had psyched ourselves for climbing the stairs in the Galata Tower. Mind you, we willingly accepted the ride and didn’t make any effort to find the stairs!
The lift deposits you three floors below the observation balcony. There were stairs for that final part of the ascent.
There was only one doorway to access the balcony and it was quite a squeeze as the incoming visitors met the outgoing. There were many apologetic smiles exchanged as we all seemed to be getting in each other’s way.
If you’re claustrophobic don’t go onto the balcony. It’s quite narrow. Everyone is required to keep moving in the one direction – clockwise as it turned out.
Despite hold-ups to the shuffle as people stopped to snap their Istanbul pictures or pose for selfies, everyone was quite patient waiting for the rotation to get going again.
The Bosphorus View From Galata Tower
From a photography standpoint, and considering the Istanbul weather in June was harsh at midday, it would have been better doing the tower a lot earlier or much later in the afternoon.
Even so, the views across one of the most historic European destinations were superb. You can easily see why rooftop chase scenes are so popular in films, when they have these types of cities for locations. I could just imagine Liam Neeson in Taken, snarling his way through a scene, somewhere far below.
The 360-degree sights include the Bosphorus view, the Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia Museum, the Blue Mosque, Spice Market, the Galata Bridge and across to the Asian side of the city. A real historical places in Istanbul feast. You can see the constant flow of tour boats coming in and out of the bay.
Just inside the observation balcony there’s a café, just in case the sight-seeing leaves you in need of refreshments. And there’s also the Galata kulesi restaurant one floor below. Within the Tower there’s also a helicopter simulation experience for 10TL.
All in all, it was a great experience, visiting the Galata Tower, one of the fun things to do in Istanbul. After traipsing the streets below for a few days it was quite useful to get that overview from above.
Galata Tower, Istanbul – A Few Useful Facts
Galata Tower external diameter at base: 16.45m
Internal diameter at base: 8.95m
Thickness of walls at base: 3.75m
Thickness of walls at top: 20cm
Galata Tower height is 66.9m
(BTW, the tallest building in Istanbul is the Istanbul Sapphire at 261m, including its 30m aerial)
The visitor observation terrace is at 52m.
Slits in the Galata Tower between the fourth and uppermost floors were made in the Ottoman age.
Admission fee (June 2017): 25TL (£5.25 GBP or $6.98 USD)