The Flowery Journey of Tulips From the Ottoman Empire to Europe

If asked where the tulip comes from, the answer will almost certainly be ‘Holland’. And that’s actually correct. Holland is famous for its beautiful flower bulb fields that give color to the typical Dutch landscape. The best-known Dutch flower is the tulip. Today, you can enjoy vast fields of tulips, as well as other bulb flowers, in several areas in Holland. Every year, you can admire more than seven million flowering bulbs at Keukenhof. Holland is famous for being the largest flower exporter in the world. If you have time, and you like cycling, do not miss it! Take your bicycle with you and cross the bulb fields in the Westland region and Aalsmeer. You will find peace and tranquility as you admire the tulips all around you.

The origin of tulips –  from the Ottoman Empire to Europe

Tulips were imported into Holland in the 16th century by Oghier Ghislain de Busbecq, an ambassador of Emperor Ferdinand I to Suleyman the Magnificent. De Busbecq was astonished to find highly sophisticated hybrids growing in the royal court in Istanbul. He shipped some bulbs to Carolus Clusius in Prague, who eventually took over the botanical gardens in Leiden, ensuring the widespread distribution of tulips in Europe.

Tulips were originally wild flowers from Central Asia, from the Hindu Mountains in Kazakhstan, but were first cultivated by the Turks, as early as 1000 AD.

We see tulips for the first time in the artworks of the Seldjuks. In the 12th century, tulips were included in motifs, especially in the city of Konya, which was the capital of the Anatolian Seldjuks. It seems certain that tulips and tulip culture came with the Turks to Anatolia.

When Constantinople was redesigned as Istanbul, following the Ottoman conquest, Sultan Mehmet II ordered tulips to be planted in the new parks and gardens. The Sultan himself was a keen gardener. In his free time, he worked in the gardens of the Topkapi Palace.

Sultan Suleiman took the love of tulips to another level. He professionalized the planting and use of tulips in Istanbul, and it became more popular than the rose. In the picture, below, we see the Sultan with a tulip in his hands. Suleiman was also a great poet, and mentioned tulips several times in his poems. His poet name was “Muhibbi.”

Tulips in Islamic art – A poetic flower in Rumi’s words

The tulip also has a special place in Sufi culture. Rumi, the great Anatolian Sufi, mentioned the tulip in his poem entitled ‘So Recklessly Exposed’;

December and January, gone.
Tulips coming up. It’s time to watch how trees stagger in the wind and roses never rest

The popularity of the tulip in Islamic art has much to do with the flower’s shape. “Allah” (God), in Arabic script, ﷲ, resembles the shape of a tulip. The Arabic letters that form the word tulip (“Lale” in Arabic) ﻻ ﻟﻪ, are the same as those that form the name of Allah, making it a very special flower with an exalted status in Islamic art and culture.

Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul

Planting tulips in gardens became fashionable throughout the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans paid a great deal of attention to the environment, and the tulip became the national symbol of the Ottomans. Now, let us admire some of their tulip-related art.

This article is written by Ethem Bukey

[1] Holland.com [2] Islamicity.com [3] Pocketcultures.com [4] Godreads.com [5] Sulzhan.com [6] Ibrahimrefik.com [7] Turkey-post.net [8] Yoldakiizler.com

Written by Mvslim

Mvslim

In the mixed society we live today, we went looking for the ideal platform for Muslims. And of course, we didn’t find it. So we made one ourselves.

  • Sara Mardanzai

    Hi, very well written and a nice topic. I know it sounds weird but I am really picky about this. Rumi also known as Jalaludin Muhammad Balkhi, was (as it is stated in his name already-he was from Balkh which is located in today’s Afghanistan) not anatolian.

    • Ethem

      Yes, he came over from Balkh when he was a child with his family. When he was settled in Anatolia, he was called Rumi. He gained his popularity in Anatolia and all his books and poets were written when he was there. He lived and died in Konya. So, that is why we mentioned him as an Anatolian sufi.