A Brief History of the Iconic Galata Tower

The magnificent skyline of Istanbul is breathtaking. On one side you’ve got the towering minarets of the mosques and domes in the old city and on the other, you’ve got the modern skyscrapers and structures on the European quarter.

One dominating structure that stands out is the Galata Tower. The tower is made of stone and is believed to have been built in 1348 by the Genoese. Earlier towers were destroyed by earthquakes and during the Crusades. The lands surrounding the tower was granted to the Republic of Genoa by a Byzantine Emperor on the northern shores of the Bosphorus on the European side, just opposite the Golden Horn.

At the time, it was the tallest tower in Constantinople. Today, the Tower is in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has one of the most beautiful panoramic views of Istanbul – no other historical landmark can boast this in the city.

Towering above the structures in the area, the amazing Byzantine/Genoese structure stands opposite the minarets of the Blue Mosque and the beautiful dome of Hagia Sophia.

Today, when you look at the Istanbul skyline on the European side in Karaköy in the larger area called Beyoğlu, it’s impossible to miss the tall structure of the iconic Galata Tower! Today, it is considered one of the symbols and icons of the beautiful city of Istanbul. It is also from where you can get the best views of both sides of the Bosphorus waterway.

Galata Area and Karaköy

Once you’ve got your fill of the historical part of Istanbul, stroll across the famous Galata Bridge connecting the old peninsula and the relatively newer part of Istanbul, Pera/Beyoğlu.

Galata Tower and Pera by Matrakçı Nasuh (1537), Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

The 175-year old Galata bridge is popular with not only Istanbullites but also artists, writers and poets as it represents a bridge between the old and the new. It bridges the area of Eminönü, Spice Bazaar, the New Mosque to the other side of Karaköy area, not far from the Karaköy ferry station. 

The Beyoğlu area was famous for banks, commerce and had a port during the Ottoman times, today is a hip area with boutique cafes and nostalgic buildings. It is also home to the city biggest contemporary arts museum – the Istanbul Modern (temporarily closed with renovations). To learn more about museums in Istanbul, check out our article on The Must-See Museums in Istanbul.

As you turn your back to the sea, uphill from the Karaköy area, you’ll find the Galata neighbourhood, perhaps the oldest on this side of the city. The area is one of the most diverse in the city with many different ethnicities living in it – Jews, Armenians and foreigners.

The Galata area was once an Italian settlement, more specifically, a Genoese settlement. In 1267, “Pera” district was established in the area, just on the northern shores opposite Seraglio Point and the Golden Horn. The Genoese were in alliance with the Byzantine Empire and they built some fortifications.

After Constantinople was conquered in 1453, the original structure was refortified in an effort to protect this particular part of the city. The hills provided a great view of the Golden Horn. At that time, Galata Tower was known as “Christea Turris”, or as Christ’s Tower by Genoese settlers. It was referred to as “Megalos Pyrgos”, which means “Big Tower” by the Byzantine Greeks.

The tower of Galata and the boatmen of the Bosphorus. Edmondo Amicis (1883)

The Italian quarter of then Constantinople consists of narrow alleys and lanes leading to the stoned structure of the Galata Tower.

Edmondo Amicis, an Italian author who wrote about Istanbul, wrote this about it in 1896: “The Galata Tower, called in the Middle Ages the Tower of Christ or of the Cross, was built in 1348, probably on the foundations of an earlier Byzantine tower ascribed to Anastasius Dicorus, and in the present century was repaired by Mahmûd II.”

Today, you cross the main thoroughfare here and make it a point to visit SALT Galata and the Ottoman bank museum, both housed in the same historical building. Further up you’ll see a hip street called Serdar-i Ekrem with cutting edge designer shops and cafes. Take home a great Turkish souvenir such as Turkish towels or beautiful shawls in the area.

Recently, the area has been given a face lift with a new Galataport project with the city’s newest cruise ship port and cultural centre. You can find cafes, restaurants and art galleries in this area. 


Considered among the oldest towers in the world and one of the symbols of Istanbul, Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List only recently, in 2013. It is believed that it was constructured somewhere in 507-508 CE years by Byzantine Emperor Justinianos.

Image sourced from Unsplash

The current structure is mainly attributed to the Genoese. It was part of the Galata Walls when the Galata area was a  distinct Genoese colony in the Byzantine Era. They expanded their rule by spreading to the East from Italy, specifically the shores of the Bosphorus and built or renovated the tower as it stands today. They rebuilt it between 1348-49 and then raised it higher between 1445-46.

Galata Bridge & Galata Tower in 1873, image sourced from Flickr

Since the region is prone to earthquakes, it was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. After an earthquake in the 1500s, Ottoman architect Murad Hayreddin repaired the tower again. In the period of Ottoman Sultan Kanuni Suleiman, the tower served as a prison and a dungeon. During Ottoman Sultan Selim’s reign, a bay window was added to the upper flower of the tower. The 1509 earthquake forced repair work on the tower again. In 1794, a fire destroyed part of the tower and the designs were subsequently changed. A coffeehouse – coffee was all the rage in the Empire then – was added.

In the early 1830s, a fire destroyed parts of it and Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II added two additional floors above the tower and a conical shaped roof was added. A clock and a balcony with iron railing was added soon after. An inscription above the entrance of the tower was added with a quote from the Ottoman poet Ethem Pertev praising Mahmud II’s restoration efforts. Another inscription at the anniversary of the 500th year of Istanbul’s conquest is displayed on the south facade of the tower.

In the 1890, the tower had a cafe and it was used to send messages via pigeons. A storm in 1875 damaged the cone top and it was replaced with two wooden rooms with arched windows. It was used by the city’s fire department thereafter. In the 1900s, a flag was added and it was used again as a fire watchtower equipped with an electrical system. It was repaired constantly during the Ottoman period and even in the later years of the Republic, more recently between 1965-67. The floors of the tower were arranged to accommodate tourism. 

Unfortunately, the tower fell into ruins by the 60s but was later restored by Istanbul Municipality. It was opened for tourism subsequently. In 2020, it was again renovated with reinforced concrete elements, the cafe was removed and opened up again as a museum. It was opened to the public on October 6, 2020.


Image sourced from Turkish Republic’s Culture & Tourism Ministry

The tower is characterized by a Romanesque architecture, a combination of Roman and Byzantine style with arches and barrel style of building. Round shapes, tall towers and thick walls make up the style. It can be said that part of the building up to the third floor has a Roman/Genoese character while the other floors have an Ottoman character.

Galata Tower is in the same style with a height of almost 70 meters, 10,000 tons in weight and with wall at a thickness of 3.75 meters. Today, an elevator is fitted inside to go to the top floors; while for others you’ll have to use the stairs.

The tower uses stone as the material with a mesh structure on the outside. There are arched windows on a cylindrical body. Limestones in dark gray and bluish colors are used.

Today, the tower is also beautifully lit and architectural lightning design is being used keeping in mind the history of the structure. The lower part of the tower is lit by projectors and the area on the ground are illuminated at the street level. Decorative lights in the form of scones are positioned around the tower in a aesthetic fashion. Brick, sunset crimson and fire orange tones are used to illuminate the brick colour keeping in mind how it highlights itself in the silhouette of Istanbul.

According to the Nergiz Arifoğlu Lightstyle Architectural Lighting Design office that is responsible for the lighting design, “Sphere lighting fixtures have been positioned on the balcony poles all-around the tower to create a sparkle and circulatory effect. The cone on the top of the tower has been illuminated with small-sized but high-power LED projectors creating a rally effect on the top. The same projectors have also been used to illuminate the crescent on the top of the cone making it shine.”


The Galata Tower takes its name from the district it is in – Galata. It had a viewing terrace and museum exhibits for those that was to explore its history.

There are 11 floors in total, with a basement, ground floor and mezzanine level included. An elevator between the ground floor and the 6th floor is available. Stairs made of stone from the ground floor to the 4th floor and a steel construction staircase goes up from the 6th to the 8th floor. The 8th floor has the panoramic balcony and amazing views and can only be reached by stairs.

Marble steps in the entrance allow you to access the floor of the tower. You can find ticket sales and security control and the elevator access on the ground floor. The elevator is decked out in photographs and animations of Istanbul via display screens, with a nostalgic feel of the 16th century.

Galata Tower Observation Deck, Image sourced from Istanbul Governate’s website

On the 1st floor, you will find a museum store where you can purchase some souvenirs to take home and some replicas of the artefacts found in the museum exhibits. The museum has a giant screen that shows the disputed story of Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi’s flight from the Galata Tower to the opposite side of the Bosphorus, in Üsküdar.  You can also find some artefacts from the time the tower was used as an observatory for fires and to keep an eye out onto the city.

On the 3rd floor, you can find temporary exhibits. On the 4th and 5th floor, you can find some exhibits with artefacts from the Neolithic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

On the 6th floor, you can find a model of a sailing boat from the 9th century. For children, you can find some games on this floor, such as the one “Find Istanbul” or “Bul Istanbul”.

A model of the city is displayed on the 7th floor with historical buildings, and you can also find 5 observation binoculars on this floor. Take some time here and explore Istanbul from these binoculars, especially the city across the Bosphorus.

From one of the windows of the Galata Tower, Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Galata Tower is open to visitors everyday and is located at the Bereketzade area in Beyoğlu. In the warmer months of April to November, it opens at 8.30 AM and closes at midnight, with ticket sales ending at 11 PM. In the colder months, you can visit it between 10 AM and 8 PM, with ticket sales ending at 7 PM. The entrance fees is 157 Turkish Liras per person.

You can reach the tower easily once, you’re in Taksim or on the European side. You can easily reach Galata Tower by walking from Istiklal Street. If you prefer to come by sea, you can go up the slope from Eminönü or Karaköy and visit the gift shops and buy souvenirs. If you want to reach easily without getting stuck in traffic, you can reach it by exiting the Şişhane stop by using the Istanbul metro.

I hope you enjoyed this brief history of an ancient tower! Don’t miss out on visiting the Galata Tower! The views are worth the wait!