Two continents of tulips

By JC, Germany, June 2011

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There are few better combinations of time and place than April in Istanbul. The evening air still has an edge, but days are usually bright and mild with the sunlight glinting off the Golden Horn. Perfect weather for exploring the city, in other words.

And wherever you go you’ll see thousands upon thousands of tulips in every shade imaginable, a lysergic carnival of colors to dazzle the eye. Of course we associate tulips primarily with the Netherlands, but this world-conquering bulb started its commercial adventure at the other end of the continent during the Ottoman Empire, having originated in Central Asia. The “Tulip Era” of the early 18th century represented a flowering of Turkish arts and letters which coincided with a craze for tulips among the upper class. Stylized versions of the coveted bloom turned up everywhere: in art, on tiles, even on clothing.

Throughout April, outdoors spaces ranging from the humblest traffic island to the Topkapi palace complex announce the start of spring with multicolored tulips. But if you want to see Turkish landscaping at its finest, head out of the busy city center to Emirgan Park, on the European shore north of the mighty Fatih Sultan Mehmet suspension bridge. This romantic garden setting has served as a backdrop in numerous Turkish films and until 15 April hosts a tulip festival which sees it transformed into a kaleidoscopic carpet to rival anything you’ll find in Holland. Take hot sweet tea in one of the park’s elegant wooden pavilions and finish the day with a look at the calligraphic treasures of nearby Sakip Sabanci museum.

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