Many cities have civic beautification projects. Some go all out. Istanbul takes it to a whole ‘nother level. Every week during the spring, summer, and fall, I pass municipality workers in florescent vests patiently digging up last week’s flower arrangement and planting the new week’s en route to my bus stop. They’re always gorgeous, always colorful, and always add a bit of cheer to the mundane commute.
Istanbul, and the Ottoman Empire for that matter, is known for tulips. The Dutch were introduced to tulips via the Ottoman Empire, promptly saw that saw a flower as cool as the tulip was first of all a must-have and second of all a wise investment choice, and thus sparked history’s first recorded speculative bubble. Think Beanie Babies or California real estate, but 17th-century-style. Tulips had staying power, though, so the Netherlands are still associated with the flower to this day, as is Turkey to a slightly lesser extent.
Istanbul today has an annual International Tulip Festival, held later in the spring. The tulip beds at the Blue Mosque and up at Emirgan Park in particular will be overflowing with color. The festival was started by the current mayor, Kadir Topbas, five years ago. Topbas is behind some of the large-scale landscaping efforts in the city – this year, the city’s parks and gardens division plans to plant 9.3 million tulips around the city.
Of course, Istanbul’s landscaping isn’t just tulips. The variety of flowers lining roads, planted in meridians, or decorating some central square is fairly astounding. I particularly enjoy the shrubbery that spells out the name of my district next to the shore road near me.
Flowers aren’t really unique to Istanbul at all, but the municipality’s flowers are a distinct facet of my experience in the city. The municipality has just started its spring planting, and soon the air will be filled with the scent of fresh flowers and my commute will be brighter by the rotating landscaping displays.