Tulips abound in Istanbul

Some friends told me last weekend that I should find my way up to Emirgan to see the spring tulips in bloom—incredible, they said. Spectacular! Unforgettable!

Yup, it was.

Of course, getting there was an adventure in itself. After waiting all morning for my laundry (wash only, as the dryer is hardly better than piling wet clothes in the bathtub and waving a hair dryer at them), I draped sheets, clothes, and sundries around my apartment, then headed out to enjoy the sunshine and 70-degree day. Ah, heaven!

Libby is always game for a walk, though I didn’t warn her this would be a long one. (Not that she’d have minded.) We headed down the hill (puppy poop stop), through the security gate (puppy pee stop), and off to the north along the glittering Bosphorus. Our walk, as usual, was punctuated by curious street dogs, quayside fishermen, simit sellers, a balloon man, and countless Sunday strollers. Sunday is “Pazar” here—it means what it sounds like: bazaar. The traffic was “çok kalıbalık”—very congested; we walked faster than the cars.


After an hour we passed the Rumeli Castle, which I have to visit again, asI’ve lost all my photos in a computer meltdown (actually, a laptop wine-down).

After about two hours of walking, we stopped for a breather, a cup of tea and “tost”, sort of a panini-style grilled cheese, in an open street tea garden in Emirgan. The wide cobbled street stretched up from the Bosphorus, filled with tables, chairs, and happy Turks. I was the only “yabancı” (foreigner) in the whole area, which was nice. I chatted with some older men at the next table who were tickled that I knew some Turkish, and of course they loved Libby. They gave me directions to the park up the hill, and soon my little black buddy and I trekked off.


The park was filled with plots of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other blossoms unfamiliar to me, all in superb displays.


I recently learned that tulips originally came from Turkey. (News to me!) They were cultivated as early as 1000 A.D., and they became a symbol for the Ottoman Empire during the 1500’s when Sultan Süleyman popularized them. The bulbs (seeds?) were exported to Europe later that century, though it wasn’t until the 1700’s that tulips became a symbol of wealth and prestige.


The first tulip festivals are charmingly depicted on a gardener’s web site, Tesselaar:

“It was during the early 1700’s that the Turks began what was probably the first of the Tulip Festivals…held at night during a full moon. Hundreds of exquisite vases were filled with the most breath-taking Tulips, crystal lanterns were used to cast an enchanting light over the gardens whilst aviaries were filled with canaries and nightingales that sang for the guests. Romantically, all guests were required to wear colours which harmonised with the flowers!”*

It was during that era that the Dutch began experimenting with tulip bulbs, though the Turks outpaced them in their love of the blossoms for years to come.

Well, our wanderings through the park at Emirgan were enchanting—that is, until my camera batteries wore out. After that, we succumbed to the attentions of countless children charmed by my little black Libby. It was darling. I never cease to be amazed that Turks either love dogs or they’re petrified of them; there’s no middle ground.


Friends for Libby Lou

After four hours of walking, I decided a bus ride home would be in order. Unfortunately, bus drivers aren’t particularly enamored of dogs. Bummer! Plan B was the ferry, scheduled to arrive at Emirgan at 5:15. At 5:30, those of us waiting for the ferry realized that there was tiny red writing at the bottom of the ferry schedule: “begins April 15th” ARAUGHHH!!!


Maybe a private boat?

So—Libby and I began the long trek home, me feeling a bit chilled and hoping to make it before dark, Libby no longer straining at her leash. After about a half hour I gave in to a taxi driver who honked as he approached. It felt GREAT to sit, though it was a slow trek, probably nearly as slow as walking. It was a treat to chat with the driver in my limited Turkish. He’d had a rough day, but he was happy to be down on the Bosphorus. So were we.

“Yavaş, yavaş” (slowly, slowly). My Turkish is improving!

– – – – – – –

*”The History of the Tulip.” Tesselaar gardening at its best. 20 Mar 2008

4 thoughts on “Tulips abound in Istanbul

  1. Yes, they travel as “bulbs”. Seeds are really rare. And yes tulips are more special than most people think: in the middle ages the bulbs were more worth than gold. I especially like the small wild ones …. always in the middle-east section of botanical gardens! 😉

    happy easter,

  2. More about tulips from Jana (a horticulturist friend from Germany):

    After the first tulips arrived the so-called “Tulipmania” broke out…
    That is why we have so many varieties are on the market now, just like roses, rhododendron and all the other big families. We owe these old passionate gardeners still most of our present garden-culture.

    The other fascinating thing about tulips is that their variety is owed to a virus! Most of the striped or spotted varieties are caused by the mosaic-virus! You cannot infect it or take it out, it is just there and has a beautiful and often surprising effect. It is part of the plant.

    Oh, and it takes 6 years before tulips from seeds flower. That is why you never get to buy them. Back then I guess the load of 1500 seeds was easier to transport then the same amount of bulbs.

  3. Great post Ann Marie,

    Tesselaar are located in Victoria, Australia. That is where I live. They have a tulip festival every year.

    Great Photos

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