Well who knew? I for one, had always thought Tulips were Dutch. I still find it hard to get my head around the fact that they are not. Tulips, windmills and wooden clogs are the things I most associated with the Netherlands, but it turns out that tulips were only introduced to the Netherlands about 500 years ago.
They were first cultivated nearly 1,000 years ago in the Anatolian region of Turkey, and imported from Iran where they grew naturally. Long before they reached western Europe, Istanbul began its love affair with tulips.
Annual Tulip Festival Istanbul
This time last year, I was briefly in Istanbul where I stumbled upon glorious displays of tulips adorning every public space.
Although I’d visited the city before, I’d not been there during April, so it came as a very pleasant surprise. I discovered that the city has been putting on a massive annual tulip festival since 2006.
The best displays were in Gülhane Park, an oasis right in the centre of the old city. Here, acres of tulips in mass displays carpeted the ground.
Speaking of carpets, it is only fitting that Istanbul would make a Turkish Tulip Carpet. In between Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque I found the largest carpet of tulips ever made. The design included a platform, that you could climb to get an overhead view.
It will not surprise anyone that a Sultan was responsible for bringing tulips to Istanbul. At Topkapi Palace, the home of the great Sultans, a cultivar (which is close to the original species imported) is still planted en masse. When I visited, they were just beginning to bloom.
When To Go
The Tulip Festival runs from late March through April with the flowers blooming when the weather suits and lasting several weeks. The city plants tens of millions of bulbs and every roundabout, avenue and park is colorfully adorned. There is no need to pay anything, unless of course the displays are inside a museum, such as at Topkapı Sarayı or Dolmabahçe Sarayı.
I felt privileged to have witnessed this spectacular festival and highly recommend anyone to visit in April. But take a warm overcoat; it can still be very cold at this time of year.