A lighthouse is a symbol of guidance to safety, companionship and better tomorrows. They inspired many famous books, movies and paintings – and they certainly inspire our wanderlust by reminding us of the great unknown that awaits us behind the horizon. Who wouldn’t love to see them, especially in such a vibrant, colourful and exciting environment as Istanbul? The city on the Bosporus and its surrounding areas currently has eight lighthouses. If you’d like to see them all at once, it might end up in a rather exhausting (and inevitably repetitive) excursion. Our itinerary focuses on the best five of them, all of which provide a truly authentic and memorable experience.
Rumeli Feneri is a historical lighthouse guarding the Bosporus strait’s mouth from the European side. The lighthouse consists of a majestic, 30 meters high stone tower, built in 1830. Its name refers to historical Ottoman territories located west of the strait, which only underlines this location’s historical significance and importance.
Cliffy peninsula on which the Rumeli lighthouse stands appears in the famous Greek myth about Jason and Argonauts. Along the opposite side of the strait (where Anadolu Feneri stands), these cliffs called Symplegades crashed and destroyed anyone who dared to cross the strait. But don’t worry, the only danger you may come across here now is losing your sense of time when admiring all the beautiful panoramic views.
Once you’re here, you can explore the area and taste its calm and peaceful character. For example, there’s also a beautiful Rumeli fortress, which offers wonderful views of the lighthouse itself. And don’t forget to stop in the fishing village named after the lighthouse for a hearty meal consisting of a local catch of the day, olives and some traditional Turkish delights.
Anadolu Feneri, as already mentioned above, towers above the Bosporus’ entrance from the Anatolian side. Although the current structure was constructed in 1830, historical sources claim that a lighthouse already stood in this place at least one century before that.
Just like the Rumeli Feneri above, this historical lighthouse is still operating today. Aside from admiring the surrounding natural beauty of dramatic strait and the plain white charms of the lighthouse’s exterior, you can also visit the interior which serves as a historical site now.
After exploring the lighthouse, take your time to see the surrounding village too. Its narrow, cobbled streets are full of local artisans selling various thematic souvenirs and handmade art. Finish your visit at some of the local, traditional cafés overlooking the strait. This is where the great division of Istanbul into two continents really begins!
Another lighthouse on our list is located much closer to the heart of Istanbul. Kiz Kulesi, also known as the Maiden’s or Leander’s tower, is one of the city’s most famous structures thanks to its historical significance and photogenic silhouettes. If you find it familiar even though you’ve never been to Istanbul before, you’ve probably spotted it in the 1998 James Bond movie The World is Not Enough.
Located on an islet off the Salacak neighborhood’s coast in Üsküdar district, the structure was first built in 1110 by Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus to serve as a watchtower. Its name comes from a well-known legend: the emperor received a prophecy telling him that his daughter would be killed by a snake bite at the age of 18. To outsmart the destiny, he locked his daughter in this waterlocked tower where no snake could get to her – or so he thought. Unfortunately, her fate found her here too. A snake hidden in a basket with fruits killed the princess in the end.
Aside from trying to imagine how this tragedy unfolded, you can also have a great coffee and a meal in the restaurant which occupies the place today. And how to get to this place? Just get to the Üsküdar port and wait for one of the boats that come and leave every 15 minutes.
Following the strait further down to the point where it almost touches the Sea of Marmara, you’ll come across a 26 meters high tower of Ahırkapı Feneri. This lighthouse was built in 1755 as a prompt reaction to a maritime accident that took place in the nearby waters. After a ship ran aground due to the bad visibility at foggy night, Ottoman Sultan Osman III personally overseen the construction of a first lighthouse in this place.
At first, the light was fueled by olive oil. Today (the lighthouse still operates) it uses Dalén light technology fueled by acetylene. Aside from seeing it flashing every 20 seconds, you can also visit the lighthouse’s interior, which serves as a site of historical importance.
Ahırkapı Feneri is the second tallest lighthouse in Turkey. Watching the seagulls and ferries from here is extremely satisfying, and there are also several other points of interest nearby, such as the ruins of Monastery of Christ Philantrophos, Column of the Goths, and even the famous Topkapi Palace can be reached easily on foot from here.
Cross to the Asian side of the city and head further south-west, where the Fenerbahçe lighthouse waves the last goodbye to the European coast. Set in a magnificent park full of typically Mediterranean vegetation, this lovely sight is a perfect place to end your lighthouse-exploring itinerary. It’s no coincidence, that you’ll be able to catch the best sunset in here, since the lighthouse directly overlooks great blue horizon over the Sea of Marmara.
According to historical sources, this cape used to cause a lot of trouble to ancient sailors, which resulted in Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s order of a construction that would help with navigation. The structure that stands here today was built much later, in 1856. It’s 25 meters high and its flashing light can be seen from as far as 28 kilometers.
Though you can’t enter the tower itself, there’s a lot to see and do in this area anyway. Stroll around the Ferenbahçe park and watch the children play, ferries sail or cats chase their own shadows. This is a great spot to have a cup of wonderful Turkish tea and contemplate the breathtaking beauty of this city.
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