It’s tulip (lale) time in Istanbul. As every year, the month of April will witness the blossoming of millions of beautiful tulips on both sides of the Bosphorus. This year marks the 9th consecutive International Istanbul Tulip Festival, which began with an official ceremony on April 6th. 20 million tulips from more than 200 species have been planted across the city.
The festival which is organized by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Parks and Gardens Directorate will continue all throughout the month. Alongside the many gardens offering free entrance, where visitors can marvel at the tulips, a number of events are also planned for the duration of the festival. Read on to find out more about the history of tulips, their connection to Turkey as well as where to go and what too see.
Tulips come from Turkey
While flowers are generally revered and appreciated in Turkey, the tulip occupies a special place. A variety of stories about its symbolism are told, most notable among which is the association of the tulip as a symbol for deep, passionate love and affection. It is said that its black center represents the ashes to which a lover’s heart is burned.
Surprisingly, while Europeans are used to think of the Netherlands as the country of the tulips, it was only in the 16th century that these were widely introduced there. Truth be told, commercial cultivation of tulips first began in Persia around the 10th century.
In Turkey, though, at the time of the Ottoman empire, the tulip found its real home and rose to fame. There it was also used a symbol for abundance and wealth. Most notably, the Ottoman empire’s wealthiest and most peaceful period has been called the ‘Tulip era’ (Lale Devri). Nowadays the tulip is also one of Istanbul’s main symbols and the tulip motif can be seen on buildings and in public spaces across the city.
Where to go during the Tulip Festival
During April, all of Istanbul is covered in tulips. From gardens to parks and squares, tulips are everywhere. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality website lists 10 of Istanbul’s parks and gardens where the most tulips have been planted. Here are the top three parks that you should not miss to visit.
By far the most popular of parks during the festival is Emirgan Woods. The park is located on the Bosphorus between Beşiktaş and Sariyer. One of the largest public parks in Istanbul, Emirgan Woods used to be the playground of Isma’il Pasha, also known as Ismail the Magnificent.
Nowadays the park is open to the public and apart from its beautiful alleys and lakes, there are three historic mansions that also house cafes and restaurants.
Gülhane Park, next to Topkapı Palace in the Eminönü district, is also well worth the visit. The oldest and one of the biggest parks in Istanbul its name translates as ‘Rosehouse’. It used to be part of the palace but has since been separated and is also open to the public.
Unlike Emirgan Woods, Gülhane Park is more accessible since it is located in the central part of the city. Be sure to take a walk through the park as it, too, offers plenty of priceless sights to behold.
Göztepe Rose Garden
Finally, make sure not to walk past Göztepe Rose Garden if you’re in Kadiköy on the Asian side. This year Göztepe will have the second most tulips of all parks in Istanbul. We are used to think of tulips as more bulbous and full-bodied.
But strolling through the garden you are likely to come across a pointed variety of tulips. These are usually associated with the Ottomans and are very prominent in tiles and imagery from that period. They are often also used in contemporary design and motifs.
As part of the festival, an international women’s tennis tournament will also be held at the garden. The Istanbul Tulip Cup will take place between April 21-27.
Already in Istanbul? Try a Bosphorus cruise as well!
Tulip time is a special time in Istanbul. The millions of tulips that cover the face of the city give it an appearance unlike any other. Witnessing their splendor, one comes to understand why Turkey truly is the country of tulips.
And in order to enjoy your stay even more and fully appreciate the city, make sure to take a Bosphorus cruise. Conveniently, the cruise can also drop you off on the shore of any of the three neighborhoods that house the above parks and gardens.