April – A Time For Tulips in Istanbul

We have left cold rainy, sometimes snowy winter behind and now embracing a lovely spring with a Tulip Festival throughout April in Istanbul. The city has been decorated with millions of Tulips of different kind and color.


Tulip is a sacred plant as its shape resemble the word Allah in Arabic in Turkey coming from the high mountains of East Anatolia. Tulip use to be very important in Sufi philosophy as well as royal places of the orient. For Sufis it was the pure symbol of devotion to the god as the shape resembled a dervish opening up his arms doing his divine ritual dance known as sema. Dervishes also regarded tulip as the attribute of oneness of God as every branch bears a single blossom.  During the Ottoman period it was very popular for youngsters to put a tulip behind their ears wearing a turban to welcome the spring. Turban used to be known as Tulbend those days.


Tulip was already commercially cultivated by Ottomans long before Europeans. The very first tulip motifs appear in handicrafts in Turkey is from Seljuk period in 13th century. The Seljuk Turks were the first Turkic people settling in Anatolia. Tulip was probably traded along the Silk Road for centuries. Ottomans in time became the master of tulip farming. Austrian Ambassador Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq talk in his memoirs about seeing Tulip farms around the town of Edirne while on his way to Istanbul in 1550. According to a commonly believed story De Busbecq approaches a young boy with a Tulip behind his ear wearing a turban (tulbend) on his head asking him the name of the flower. The boy misunderstands and reply as tulbend. With his poor Turkish de Busbecq get it as tulipan. Later he finds a bulb of tulip in the market and mail it to his Dutch friend Carolus Clusius who was a botanist in the royal herbal gardens in Austria. Clusius was the first person taking tulip to Holland and it seems Dutch people immediately fell in love with Tulips despite early Europeans confusing tulip with lilies thus calling it red lily. This followed the Tulipmania period in 17th century that tulip prices high rocketed in Holland. Tulip became the means of economic manupilation first time in the history.


Tulip still takes a great place in Turkish culture. You can see tulip motifs on the carpets, blue tiles, wood carvings, textiles and marbling. Best example of tulip designs on blue tiles you can see in Rustem Pasa Mosque nearby Spice Market. Topkapi Palace is also another great place to see tulips in Ottoman handicrafts such as on the kaftans of sultans. Cinili Kosk in Archeological Museum near Topkapi Palace is a another place to see the finest Turkish Blue tiles including Iznik tiles for different tulip designs in different styles. There are several marbling workshops in the old city coming out with beautiful tulip designs in their marbling work. Caferaga Medresesi next to Hagia Sophia is a great place to see marbling being performed by local artists. In the Grand Bazaar you can find lots of fabric with nice tulip embroidering along with tea glasses in tulip shapes and designs.


Ottomans also had their share of tulip craze. The Lale Devri (Tulip period) in Istanbul started in 1718 and ended by violent revolt in 1730 was an absolute craze for the passion of tulip. During this period many wooden mansion and places were built along the Golden Horn with beautiful tulip gardens. Black Tulip was always the most popular and demanded highly that the prices for a black tulip exceeded the price of a house in that time. Someone must have lost lots of money after 1730 I guess! 


Every year in April, Istanbul celebrates a tulip festival. If you are in Istanbul in April you will come accross tulips all around the city. During this time there are concerts, exhibitions and activities. Most activities such as exhibitions, concerts regarding Tulip Festival in Istanbul takes place in Emirgan Korusu. Below is a list of gardens where you can see tulips.


► Gulhane Park next to Topkapi Palace in the old city.

► Emirgan Korusu in Emirgan by the Bosporus on the European side.

► Soganli Bitkiler Parki near city walls in Yedikule.

► Yildiz Korusu in Besiktas.

► Buyuk Camlica Korusu in Camlica on the Asian side.

► Fethi Pasa Korusu in Uskudar on the Asian side.

► Beykoz Korusu in Beykoz on the Asian side.

► Goztepe Parki in Kadikoy on the Asian side.