Saturday, 9 May 2009

Tulips from Istanbul

When it’s spring again
We’ll bring again
Tulips from Istanbul ….

Doesn’t sound quite right? Well, perhaps it should. Maybe dear old Max Bygraves misled us for all those years by suggesting that these beautiful spring flowers originated in Amsterdam.

The truth is that tulips originally grew wild on the Asian steppes in modern-day Mongolia, and were brought to Europe courtesy of the Ottoman Empire. They were given the name tulabend ehich means ‘turban’. Our name for the flower is a corruption of this word.

Tulips were first propagated in large quantities in Holland, but were later reintroduced to Turkey by Mehmet IV (1648 – 1687). The reign of his son, Ahmet III, is known as the Tulip Period because of his fascination with the flowers. He used to hold tulip festivals in Topkapı Palace on moonlit nights, among a profusion of tulip-filled vases and caged canaries. Tulip designs can be seen on Iznik tiles dating from this period, and the flower is still an important national symbol today.

One of the most colourful events of the Istanbul year is the Tulip Festival, which takes place annually from late April until early May. Tulips in myriad colours and varieties can be seen throughout the city – on traffic islands, along the verges, in the parks, and by the sea. There is usually a spectacular display in Sultanahmet, especially in the garden which lies between Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Gülhane Park, next to Topkapı Palace, is another place where you can see these beautiful bulbs. However, if you are in Istanbul at the right time of year, then the very best place to see tulips is Emirgan Park, which sits on the western shore of the Bosphorus. It is not the easiest place to get to, but it is well worth the effort. Take the 25E bus from Kabataş, and get off just outside the gates to the park. Walk up the hill and spend a pleasant few hours enjoying the vibrant colours and floral perfume of the park.

TOP TIP – go to Emirgan early in the day. It is a very popular picnicking place for Turks, who have a nasty habit of leaving all of the debris of their lunch on the ground for somebody else to clear up (this is despite numerous waste bins situated throughout the park!). The overall effect is to turn a pristine area into an eyesore resembling a landfill site

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