Istanbul is a beautiful city to walk around during the spring months. The glamour of this warm, dynamic metropolis, as well as the distinctive Turkish culture, amaze all visitors. The Tulip Festival is one of the most famous spring events in Istanbul. Millions of fragrant, beautiful tulips adorn the streets, gardens and parks. The tulip has long been considered a national emblem not only of Istanbul, but also of Turkey as a whole. Over one million tulips are planted all over Istanbul. In 2016, their number reached 30 million. Tulips are planted in a certain order, starting with the earliest varieties and continuing with the later ones. As a result, Istanbul blooms for a whole month!

Most people think that tulips come from the Netherlands. But this is not exactly the case. The history of tulips takes us on a journey from Persia through Turkey to the Netherlands.

The early Turks were tribal people, nomadic warriors and traders who appeared in Central Asia in the 9th century. By the end of the 11th century, they had conquered most of Anatolia and northern Persia, where they ruled until the mid-13th century. Also called Seljuks, these communities were mostly illiterate, which is why there is a lack of written information about the appearance of tulips before the 11th-century poems of Omar Khayyam. The first known illustration of a tulip was found on a tile from the palace of Alā ad-Dīn Kayqubād ibn Kaykhusraw, who reigned over Persia from 1220 to 1237.

In the mid-13th century, Mongol invasions shattered the Seljuk Empire and a new leader emerged, Osman, after whom the Ottoman Empire was later named. The Ottomans survived and prospered for more than 600 years, conquered Constantinople in 1453, and ruled a vast territory that stretched from the Middle East all the way to Spain and the borders of Austria. As the Ottomans grew more powerful and stable, their cities became dotted with fairy gardens. They grow tulips in magnificent abundance along with other wild flowers: violets, roses, narcissus, saffron crocus and Persian lilac. The tulip was often embroidered as a good luck charm on clothes worn under armor in battle, and also figures in accounts of an ill-fated battle between Turks and Serbs in the late 14th century, when a field strewn with severed heads in bloody turbans was compared to a field of tulips. The tulip has been immortalized in poetry, on decorative tiles and ceramics, on carpets and shawls.

Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who ascended the throne in 1520, adored tulips. His clothes were embroidered with them. They also graced Suleiman’s private garden in the Abode of Bliss, a sanctuary carefully tended by professional gardeners, decorated with streams, pavilions and flowers. Two hundred years later, the Turkish cult of tulips reached its peak under Sultan Ahmet III, who ascended the throne in 1718. For a brief period, aptly called the “Age of Tulips” by a later historian, Turkey experienced its own form of mania for tulips. The tulip even gave its name to a relatively peaceful and prosperous period of Ottoman history during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III in the early 18th century (“Lyale Devri” – The Age of Tulips). The Latin name of the tulip – tulipa, comes from the Turkish word tulbent, i.e. sultan turban, because of its resemblance to the flower.

In Europe, the tulip came in the 16th century thanks to the Dutch ambassador of Ferdinand I, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq to whom Suleiman the Magnificent presents several tubers. These tubers were taken by the ambassador to Vienna, and given by him to the director of the botanic garden of the Austrian emperor, a close friend of his. Later, bulbs were also planted in the Netherlands, where it turned out that the tulip grew excellently. Thanks to the speculation on the part of the traders, the new flower became so popular that its price reached cosmic proportions – as much as a new house by the canals of Amsterdam.

Today, the tulip is the beautiful “ambassador” of spring and reminds us that the most beautiful moments, like the colors of this flower, are yet to come.

The main venue for the Istanbul Tulip Festival is Emirgan Park. It’s one of the best parks in Istanbul and it overlooks the Bosphorus, so you’re in for a treat as you’ll not only see beautiful flowers, but also lots of lovely sea views!

Although Emirgan is beautiful all year round, the flower displays during the Turkish Tulip Festival are out of this world. Over 120 different varieties of tulips are planted here in various patterns, including the shape of a Turkish flag and a river flowing under a bridge. The total number of tulips in Emirgan each year is about 3.5 million!

The park also has several old Ottoman mansions (also known as pavilions) dating back to the late 1800s, which have now been converted into cafes and restaurants. Most famous at the Yellow Pavilion, which is a large wooden hut that used to be a guest house and hunting lodge during the Ottoman period. The furnishings inside are extremely rich: you will find chandeliers in every room, and the walls and ceilings are decorated with bright pastel oil paintings depicting flowers and geometric motifs. The Yellow Pavilion now has a restaurant that has indoor and outdoor seating and a good menu that includes a traditional Turkish breakfast and plenty of lunch options.

It also has a great view of the tulip pond, so it’s definitely worth a stop here for a cup of tea and a snack!

You can see more photos from the park in our Gallery: