Kizkulesi is located off the coast of Salacak neighborhood in Üsküdar district, at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus. It literally means "Maiden's Tower" in Turkish. The name comes from a legend: the Byzantine emperor heard a prophecy telling him that his beloved daughter would die at the age of 18 by a snake. So he decided to put her in this tower built on a rock on the Bosphorus isolated from the land thus no snake could kill her. But she couldn't escape from her destiny after all, a snake hidden in a fruit basket brought from the city bit the princess and killed her.
Another legend wrongly mentions Hero and Leander in the tower, therefore some people wrongly call it "Leander's Tower", a sad love story told by Ovidius: Hero was one of the priestess of Aphrodite living in the tower. One day she left the tower to attend a ceremony in the temple where she met Leandros and they fall in love with each other. Leandros swam to the tower every night to visit his love, meanwhile she was holding a torch to guide him in the dark waters towards her in the tower. But on a stormy night Leandros couldn't see the light because it was put out by the winds, and he swam all night loosing his way until he was drowned. Hero, seeing that her lover died, she also jumped into the water and suicided. Some people narrate this love story as it was happened on the Bosphorus, but in fact it's a legend from the Dardanelles, when Leandros was swimming to Hero between Abydos (today's Eceabat) and Sestus (today's Canakkale city).
Kizkulesi is dating back to the 5th century BC when it was built by the Athenian general Alcibiades on a rock at the entrance of the Bosphorus for the surveillance of the waterway. A chain was pulled from the land to the tower to make it a checkpoint and customs area for the ships going through. After several restorations in wood and stone, Emperor Alexius Comnenos built a strong defense tower in the 12th century AD calling it Arcla, meaning "Small Tower". The tower was used as a lighthouse and control tower also during the Ottoman period after the Conquest of Constantinople. Final restoration was done in 1998 and opened as a restaurant after spending around 3million US dollars.
The tower was featured in one of the James Bond movies in 1999; "The world is not enough", where the terrorists placed a nuclear submarine underneath the tower to be exploded in the heart of the city and where "M" (Judi Dench) was imprisoned by an oil tycoon's daughter (Sophie Marceu) which Bond (Pierce Brosnan) had to kill her.
Today, Kizkulesi is a very popular and classy restaurant and cafeteria-bar. It offers 360 degree views of the Bosphorus and the old city, especially at night. There are several shuttle boats going to the tower at certain times from Kabatas neighborhood on the European side of Istanbul and from Salacak neighborhood on the Asian side. It's also a popular place for summer time weddings. The tower is closed on Mondays.
Note: It's temporarily closed for restorations as of 2022