Our knowledge about Turkish Gardens before the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453 is not much, besides Seljuk garden experiences. The Ottomans continued working on the gardens, farms and vineyards that they have found in the capital and on the conquared lands in the Byzantines by adding their cultural knowledge, tastes, experiences and habits.

When creating their gardens, the Ottomans sought practical solutions that would suit the topography, the dimensions, climate, and in general, the ambient conditions of the place where the garden would be, rather than adhere to a particular set of fixed rules. Instead of building watercourses, they created gardens where running water already existed. They would embellish upon what nature had already provided, planting trees and even putting in flowerbeds. However their additions and interventions were not according to some rigid plan. They sought to preserve a setting that might have developed naturally.

They would make the best possible use of available land, when determining where a garden should be and also when determining the location and construction of garden architecture, the placing of terraces and embankments, and the layout of watercourses were never haphazard. Although Ottoman gardens lacked a strict formal organization, this does not meant that they were disorganized.

Ottoman gardens were expected to be functional as well as beautiful: an important feature of the Ottoman gardens was that they were planted not only with flowers but also with fruits and vegetables.

Ottoman Sultans constructed many privy gardens, however not all of them were designed as a setting for the impressive state ceremonies but rather as places where the sultans could spend a few enjoyable hours or even days in privacy.

One of the main elements of Ottoman gardens is the garden pavilion. They exhibit an enormous amount of diversity in their architectural features and they ranged in size from modest bowers to luxurious pavilions. The most important aspect of a garden pavilion was to choose the best location for the best possible view of its surroundings. However, by far the most important feature of an Ottoman garden pavilion's architecture was that it should be open to its surrounding and blend into the garden as if it was a part of nature.

The two other invariable elements of Ottoman gardens were cypress trees and fountains consisting of a pool with one or more spouts. When possible the gardens were created and constructed next to a brook or on the shores of the sea.

Sultan Ahmed III. loved country life and had an uncommon passion for flowers: especially for roses, carnations, lilacs, and jasmines but most of all for tulips. His fondness played a key role in the Ottoman capital as well as in his reign, which was for that reason called the "Reign of the Tulip". The tulip was first introduced to Europe from Turkey in the 16th century. By the 17th century the fad for tulips had become known as "tulipomania", which did not completely die out until the early 19th century. In Turkey, the interest was mainly in rare varieties, which could fetch astronomical prices. In Holland, on the other hand, thousands of bulbs changed hands at inflated prices ramped up by speculators.

Although flowers were cultivated by the Ottomans before the time of Süleyman I, the artistic renaissance that took place during that sultan's reign made itself felt in the case of horticulture as well. The attention of foreigners visiting the Ottoman Empire was attracted by the flowering gardens, especially those in Istanbul. Nearly all of them commented on the abundance of flowers in their writings and emphasized that this was a feature of Ottoman gardens. They also note that Ottoman gardens were planted with trees such as cypresses, boxwoods, bays, and myrtles that form paths on their own. Along the paths one could find flowers in beds together with scattered beds of cabbages, cucumbers, spinach, and melons as well as every sort of herb and vegetable in season.

Reference: Nurhan Atasoy, A Garden for the Sultan – Gardens and flowers in the Ottoman culture. Istanbul: Aygaz 2002.

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