The national flower of Turkey is the tulip, the flower of Topkapi Palace, with a name that translates to ‘turban’ in Turkish. It first found its roots in Holland in the botanical gardens in Leiden over 400 years ago, a few bulbs as a gift, and since captured by Holland as the symbol of the Dutch – a true trading heritage.
Yet the tulip is a native flower of central Asia and has been cultivated in Turkey for over 1000 years, with the tulip gardens of Topkapi Palace being a scene of colour and wonder in early Spring (followed by the rose gardens throughout summer).
The colours in the Topkapi palace gardens and the public gardens range from a magnificent magenta-purple, through reds, oranges, yellows and white, all blended to create a wonderful balance of colour and form among the verdant lawns, the palace walkways and buildings.
On a fine day with the tulips as the foreground, we enjoy standing looking over the entry to the Bosphorus watching the ships pass one by one in file to and from the Black Sea. Meanwhile the queues trudge patiently forwards to view the treasures of the palace following their guidebooks and freed of all individuality.
Near the entrance to the throne room stands the ‘wreck’ of a giant tree, with a burnt out trunk possibly hit by lightning eons ago, yet still alive with fresh shoots and spring leaves coming from the bark just above head height. Near the exit of the palace stands another even larger remnant of a great tree, a place for memories of Topkapi to be photographed.
For those not too squeamish, the armoury provides a stark and outstanding reminder of the power of the weapons of Ottoman Turkey, gilded and bejewelled armour and weapons to strike terror into any foe. Yet for us, sitting in the fresh spring sunshine, admiring the gardens and avoiding the throngs rushing headlong through their tourist script of today, is a small peace among the history of Turkey and of this city of Istanbul, of 15 million people crowded around the world’s busiest sea lane.
This sea lane flows from the Black Sea through the Marmara and on to the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar to the Atlantic world, and for some maybe to Rotterdam completing the trading history of which the tulip may be the most visible representative.