April in Istanbul is tulip time; parks, squares and roadsides all revel in the bright colours of these cup-shaped flowers.
The word tulip, is believed to derive from the Ottoman Turkish tülbend (“muslin” or “gauze”), and may be ultimately derived from the Persian delband (“turban”). This etymology may be due to the perceived resemblance between the shape of a tulip flower and that of a turban. Equally, it may date back to the fashion of wearing tulips on turbans in the Ottoman Empire.
Tulips are called lale in Turkish. When written in Arabic letters, “lale” has the same letters as Allah, which is why the flower became a holy symbol.
The tulip figures frequently in Persian verse, where its red color symbolises the blood of martyrs and the fire of love. In Turkey, tulips are associated with the delicate refinement and luxury that characterized the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power.
The month long Tulip festival makes April the perfect month to visit Istanbul: you get the added beauty and colour of the tulips and you also beat the oppressive summer heat. The complex and magnificent displays in Gülhane Park have to be on your to do list.
This now public park used to be part of the gardens of the Topkapi Palace and, ironically at this time of year, its name means rosehouse.
Even at the very end of the month, the displays were still impressive, though as I took one last walk through yesterday morning, they were just getting ready to replant some of the beds.