Take a tour of the Bosporus to see both sides of the city covered in purple. Yes, the Judas trees are blooming now. Don’t wait too long because the flowers disappear as fast as they come -- 20 days is all you have. Turkish poet Ziya Osman Saba once spoke of this, saying: “Düşünceli yürürken bir yol demecinde/Çıkacak önümüzde beyaz dallarda
bahar/hatırlatacak bize şen çocukluğumuzu/erguvanlı bir bahçe, mor salkımlı duvar.”
(While walking thoughtfully on a road/spring will put in an appearance/spring will remind us of our joyful childhood/a garden full of Judas flowers and a purple bunch.) If you want to return to years past and your childhood to see the beauty of İstanbul, do so when the Judas trees bloom, as poet Hilmi Yavuz has advised.
People interested in literature or history or those who read books on Byzantine culture know well that İstanbul’s color has since the beginning of time been purple. Author Haluk Dursun reminds us in one of his books, titled “İstanbul’da Yaşama Sanatı” (The Art of Living in İstanbul), that the Byzantine Empire was founded on May 11, which was celebrated as the day the flowers of the Judas trees blossomed in İstanbul. The Ottomans conquered İstanbul on May 29, 1453, which corresponded to the time when Judas trees are in full blossom.
Also, Turkish poet Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar says in his book “Beş Şehir” (Five Cities) that if there is a flower with which to celebrate, the flowers of the Judas tree come in second only to roses. Judas tree celebrations have been organized every year since 2000. Bosporus tours are held to enjoy the beauty of the Judas trees in İstanbul. Süheyl Ünver, who is among the top promoters of Judas trees, notes that people should see Judas trees through tours of the Bosporus. Seeing Judas trees while walking on a road is an insult to both the Bosporus and to Judas trees, he cautions, however. In 1996, Ünver suggested organizing Judas tree activities in İstanbul; ever since, no one has shown more devotion to this cause than Erguvan İstanbul Association Chairman Hüseyin Emiroğlu.
We started our journey from İstanbul’s European side. Judas trees put in an appearance in Dolmabahçe Palace, but this is only a small sample because far more can be found in Yıldız Park, whose entrance is a little north of Dolmabahçe Palace as you head to Beşiktaş. It is also possible, but rare, to see Judas trees in Ortaköy. Approaching Arnavutköy, we noticed more and more Judas trees. Just around the corner, in Bebek, however, we felt we were in Judas tree heaven, with blue waters below and purple mixing with patches of blue sky above. A bit further north, the imposing stone towers of Rumeli Hisarı rose up high, shrouded in purple. This place and the nearby Aşiyan neighborhood are surrounded with wonderful Judas trees. There are also many Judas trees in İstinye and Emirgan Grove, both of which are favorites among İstanbulites and pleasant places to enjoy stunning views of the Bosporus while spending quality time alone or with family.
The Asian side of İstanbul is no less spectacular. We strongly recommend a walk around Beylerbeyi. Enjoy the Judas trees while drinking tea in popular places such as Hidiv Kasrı (a pavilion located on the Asian side of the Bosporus), the hill in Kanlıca, Mihrabad Grove and Küçüksu Sevda Hill. Vaniköy and Fethi Paşa Grove have pink and purple-colored Judas trees, but they do not have as many trees as can be found around Rumeli Hisarı. If all these are far away, look for the Judas trees in and around Sultanahmet, Halide Edip Adıvar Park in Şişli, at Topkapı Palace, around the Aya İrini (Hagia Irene) Museum and in Gülhane Park, all of which are on the European side. Fenerbahçe Park in Kadıköy and Anadolu Hisarı may also be worth a visit. Both are on the Asian side.
Previous years had dedicated Bosporus tours that allowed you to see as many of the trees as possible, but this year you’re out of luck. Instead, take regular Bosporus tours provided by İstanbul Ferry Lines (İDO). Ferries leave from Eminönü (on the European side) at 2:30 p.m. and from Üsküdar (in Asia) at 2:30 p.m. for a two-hour-long tour. If you have more time, İDO offers six-hour-long Bosporus tours. The longer tour allows you to take in Eminönü, Beşiktaş, Kanlıca, Yeniköy, Sarıyer, Anadolu Kavağı and Rumeli Kavağı. The cost is TL 25 per person. For more details, visit İDO’s website at www.ido.com.tr.