Tulip Paradise: The History of the Tulip and Emirgan Park

Stream of tulips, Emirgan Park, Istanbul, Turkey
image: Eric Kopinski

When most people think of tulips, they think of them originating from Holland, when in fact tulips are native to Central Asia and Turkey4. Tulips noted by the Turks in Anatolia were first cultivated by the Turks as early as the 11th century2. The botanical name, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word “turban”, which the tulip flower resembles.  Many cultivated varieties of tulips were widely grown in Turkey long before they were introduced to European gardens in the 16th century and quickly became popular4. Although the Dutch Tulipomania is the most famous, the first tulip mania occurred in the 16th century in Turkey. Tulip blooms became highly cultivated, and coveted, for the pleasure of the Sultan and his followers. The Turks had strict laws governing the cultivation and sale of tulips; buying or selling tulips outside the capital was a crime punished by banishment3.

In the 18th century, the “Tulip Era”, brought an era of peace and pleasure in Turkey. Tulips became an important symbol within the arts and folklore. Happiness was sought in tulip gardens during the daytime while poetry and musical gatherings took place in the evening2. It was most likely during this era that the Turks began the first of the Tulip Festivals, held at night during a full moon. Hundreds of vases were filled with the most awe inspiring tulip blooms and crystal lanterns were used to cast an enthralling light over the gardens3.

The tulip is still seen as an important icon in modern day Turkey. Millions of tulips are planted everywhere in Istanbul’s parks, streetscapes, and traffic roundabouts. The best place to admire Istanbul’s tulips is in Emirgan Park. It is one of the largest public parks in Istanbul, and a welcome respite from the city. In 1960, a special tulip garden was established in Emirgan Park to revive the city’s tulip cultivation tradition. Since 2005, the Annual International Tulip Festival takes place every April in this park, showcasing the color and beauty of these flowers1.

Emirgan Park, Istanbul, Turkey
image: Eric Kopinski

The park holds several surprises. The central feature of the park is a large decorative pond with a waterfall berm pouring into a pond and a tulip water feature in the center. Three historic pavilions, named after their exterior color as the Yellow, Pink, and White Pavilion, are opened to the public as restaurants and surround the main water feature. Near the historic pavilions live music plays during the festival, which adds a lively atmosphere to the park. Another water element is created by using grape hyacinths to create the appearance of water and tulips border the stream. A bridge is laced over the planting bed and a canoe set amongst the flowers to enhance the illusion of a stream. This is the planting bed is the main attraction Emirgan Park.

There are several paved pedestrian paths, grass openings, and picnic areas which make Emirgan Park a very popular recreation area for locals and tourists. Massive, breathtaking, tulip plantings guide you through the park. Tulip blooms are planted in the shape of waves, tulips, the Turkish flag, butterflies, ladybugs, and rainbows along the paths.  The tulip motif is carried throughout the park and is seen in the site amenities, such as the light fixtures, paving pattern, trash receptacles, benches, and fencing. This unifies the site and the visitor’s experience.

Tulip beds, Emirgan Park, Istanbal, Turkey
image: Eric Kopinski

The worldwide popularity of the tulip remains strong today. Thankfully, the international supply of tulip bulbs ensures that the elegant blooms can be seen by everyone. Emirgan Park is a “must see” for tulip lovers, especially during the Istanbul Tulip Festival. This beautifully designed park will not disappoint!


  1. Davis, L. (n.d.). Witt istanbul hotel.
  2. Sonmezler, U. F. (n.d.). Travel link turkey.
  3. Tesselaar. (n.d.).
  4. (2011). Turkey – home of the tulip.

by Eric Kopinski, an undergraduate student in Landscape Architecture, School of planning, Design, and Construction at Michigan State University.  He visited Emirgan Park in 2012.

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