16th Century: Dynamism During the Ottoman Empire


On September 10th, 1509, Istanbul suffered from the Marmara Sea Earthquake. The earthquake destroyed roughly 1,000 houses, killing about 4,500 people. The urban infrastructure of the city was destroyed; the Walls of Galata fell, and the Galata Tower shattered (1). The tower was then rebuilt by the Ottomans. Under the Suleiman, a sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the tower served as a prison. Takiyuddin Efendi, a Muslim astrologer, then turned the tower into into an observatory. Then, at the end of the 16th century under Murad III, the tower reverted back to a prison (2).


A close-up photograph of the Galata Tower emphasizes the tower's height

In the 16th century, the tower went through numerous transformations, from being completely rebuilt, to being a prison, and to being an observatory. These various uses all occurred during the Ottoman Empire, shifting depending on demand and on people in control. The tower’s simple structure allows for versatility. Completely different from its original use as a defense tower, the structure was used for scientific purposes (as an observatory) and for protection in a different aspect than its original use (as a prison holding criminals). The tower’s rapidly changing uses gave it an ambiguous role in the city. This vagueness makes it hard for the people of the city to have the same shared memory of it; however, its various applications makes it more universal, finding purpose in the city in multiple ways. Its dynamism, therefore, reflects that of the city. As the city changes, the tower is flexible enough that it adapts to whatever the city wants it to be. The changing identity of the tower parallels the uncertain, conflicting nature of the city itself.

(1) Ambraseys, N. N., and C. F. Finkel. "The Marmara sea earthquake of 1509." Terra Nova 2.2 (1990): 167-174.

(2) Deggin, Cameron. "Galata Tower Guide Istanbul." Property Turkey. Property Turkey Limited, 05 Nov. 2013. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.