In April the annual International Istanbul Tulip Festival (Istanbul Lale Festivali) takes place. This shouldn’t be a surprise if you know that — unlike common belief — tulips originated more or less in Turkey. So, if you happen to be in Istanbul during this time of the year, you’re in luck. Millions of tulips have been planted in Istanbul’s parks, avenues, traffic roundabouts … basically anywhere where some open ground was available. But what is the best place to admire the Istanbul tulips?
Tulips Originated in Turkey, Not Holland
Tulips originally grew wild on the Asian steppes. Although tulips are associated with Holland, commercial cultivation of the tulip or lale (from the Persian word lâhle) began in the Ottoman Empire. For an elaborated tulip history, you can consult Wikipedia’s page on tulips.
But the most widely accepted story is that of Oghier Ghislain de Busbecq, Ambassador of Ferdinand I to Suleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire in 1554. He remarked in a letter that he saw “an abundance of flowers everywhere: narcissus, hyacinths and those in Turkish called Lale.” It’s no coincidence that this period — the wealthiest of the Ottoman era — is called the Tulip era (Lale Devri).
So how come we associate the tulips these days with Holland? In the 16th century they were brought to Holland from the Ottoman Empire, and quickly became widely popular. Charles de L’Ecluse, author of the first major work on tulips (1592) is largely responsible for the spread of tulip bulbs in the final years of the sixteenth century. He occupied a chair in the medical faculty of the University of Leiden (Holland), and planted both a teaching garden and his own private one, from which between 1596 and 1598 hundreds of bulbs got stolen.
Admire Istanbul Tulips in Emirgan Park
During the month of April, you can spot these glorious spring flowers everywhere in Istanbul. But for a real tulip treat and the International Istanbul Tulip Festival, you have to head to Emirgan Park. It is one of the largest public parks in Istanbul and has several tulip gardens. Emirgan Park is located by the Bosphorus in Sariyer, which is a little bit past the second Bosphorus Bridge. The park is open daily from 07:00 until 22:30. You can reach Emirgan Park by bus 25E from Kabataş.