April in Istanbul is always lovely. Not only because it is spring, because that in itself is lovely. But because it is tulip festival time.
The tulip festival started in 2006 and apparently costs millions very year. For the 2014 festival, around 5 million Turkish Lira was spent ($2.5 million) and more than 200 varieties were planted everywhere in various parks, totaling around 20 million plants, even more than the population of Istanbul. However, some sources say that during the Ottoman empire, there were as many as 1800 different varieties. Apparently, in the 1700s there were also tulip festivals in Istanbul. According to one source, the festival guests would have to wear a colour that harmonized with the tulips.
According to Wikipedia, the word Tulip may come from the Turkish word Tülbent meaning muslin or from the word Turban, as the shape of a tulip resembles a turban.
The tulip is a special symbol for Turkey. Although many people associate the tulip with Holland, it actually originally came from central Asia and Persia (modern day Iran). Apparently, it was originally brought to Turkey from Iran where it grew wild. The Ottomans came to love the tulip. Throughout the Ottoman empire, it became very much a part of the culture and can be seen on ceramics, kilms, paintings and in poetry. Also the wealthiest period of the Ottoman empire was labelled as ‘lale devri’, the ‘tulip era’, and it was associated with nobility and privilege. The poets would name the different types of tulips with very symbolic and romantic names, such as ‘those that burn the heart’. They were also planted in the gardens of the sultans and apparently very much loved by them with many famous tulip gardens. Towards the end of this period, the prices of tulips became very high and were regulated by the state and even the bulbs had to be registered in an attempt to regulate the prices.
After the introduction to Europe (late 16th century), the tulip became very popular and traded for very high prices. Some sources say that in Amsterdam, a very rare tulip could cost the same as a house and trading in tulips became very popular and apparently like gold, in that before the bulb actually had ever produced a flower, it would have gone through many tradings. That was a major sign that tulip mania had reached absurd proportions and of course this crashed leaving people bankrupt. Now, apparently in the Dutch language, the term ‘tulip mania’ is used for any crazy, senseless dealings, originating from this period.
Now the tulip is commercially grown in Holland and this why most people naturally associate the tulip with Holland rather than Turkey. But come to Istanbul during the month of April and you will see just how much the Turks love the tulip.