What does the Tulip mean in Turkey?

You may be under the impression that tulips come from Amsterdam as in the 1958 song made popular by Max Bygraves!

You may be under the impression that tulips come from Amsterdam as in the 1958 song made popular by Max Bygraves! And todays strong waxelike tulips do….. but as a recent commercial enterprise……The wooded steppes of Asia Minor and Persia are her Homeland and this is where her story entered Islamic Culture a thousand hers ago…

Like Cinderella this slim red beauty evolved almost overnight into a tulip of stature grace and colour.

Like Cinderella this slim red beauty evolved almost overnight into a tulip of stature, grace and colour. The bulb enabled this ‘grooming’ process. Each bulb produces one or more Offsets…natural clones. Joining two clones of different bulbs allows for an inseparable schism of differing hues….a distortion so unique that it it generally can not reproduce.

Such brighter multicoloured displays became the pride of the Istanbul Seraglio at the peak of the Ottoman Empire where in the Sultan rested the power of Sunni Islam…the Caliphate….. wherein by the 15th Century the depiction of human form and emotions was no longer permitted. Thus flowers, geometric designs and animal figures became symbols of love and desire. The nightingale sang to the rose despite her thorns and the black stamens of the tulip burned with desire.

LALE is the Ottoman name for the tulip…and contains the same letters as the word for GOD and so represents Paradise and the Life Eternal. The Tulip became so honoured a decorative art form that Suleyman the Magnificent (the greatest of Sultans) enlarging his Topkapi palace had wall tiles and ceramics covered with tulip designs which were also woven into the robes he wore. Even in winter the gardens of Suleyman were abloom with tulips of all colours.
When his son Selim (known as the Sot) came to the the throne in 1566 he cultivated tulip beds on the Spil Mountains near Izmir and added Wine to the list of court essentials…. conquering Cyprus to plant the best of vineyards! It is said that to show off his tulip gardens by night, Selim employed tortoises whose task it was to wander around the palace paths carrying candles on their backs!.

A foreign Ambassador at his court amazed by the colourful display of the Palace flowerbeds exported bulb samples including the Lale to Europe…
Now a passion for the tulip awakes in the hearts and purses of Dutch tradesmen…a frenzy known as TULIP MANIA…an early version of fashionable consumerism. Tulip bulbs ‘treated’ to produce unusual blooms were so expensive that they became a form of currency…. so valuable that people risked their lives to dig up a single bulb from a horticulturist’s back yard, cloned over several years to reach its potential; to bloom just uniquely once!
In Islam where the Tulip represented Eternity…… in Flemish paintings it represented the brevity of life on earth!. In Islamic Art we still see the tulip as graceful and slender, whereas in Flemish art she becomes petulant…. opening her petals to the world!

By the beginning of 18th century as the Empire declined, court society increased in wealth and number. The ambiguous emblem of the tulip now became a shared symbol of material gain defining nobility and privilege…and thus in the reign of Ahmet 3rd was born the Tulip Period (1718-1730) when fashion and leisure dictated immediate gratification….The Turkish Tulip was imported back from Holland to Istanbul!This hedonistic period came to an abrupt end when Sultan Ahmet was assassinated by an Albanian insurgent!

If you are interested in finding the shy little tulip which became the cause of so much artistic and commercial enterprise, walk up into the foothills of the Babadag Mountains at the end of April. If you persevere you will come across her sheltering in the wooded ravines; her crown of crinkled leaves hugs the soil above which on a slender stork rises the slim-waisted flower head…a flash of scarlet with a pencilling of white.

This is a venture well worth the effort, and secret worth keeping, as many people even today steal bulbs!

Turkey today has a nostalgia for the great Ottoman era...and the Tulip is is the unofficial emblem of Turkey.