From Turkish Tulip to Dutch Icon

As I’m born and raised in the Netherlands, so it is no surprise there had to come a post about tulips at some point…. As the tulip is known worldwide to be closely related to the Netherlands…. Just like wooden shoes (no we don’t all wear them everyday) and windmills (don’t ask…we live in normal houses)  😀

Although the Netherlands is one of the biggest export countries of tulip bulbs and famous for its colourful tulip fields, the flower finds its origin in Turkey. Originally cultivated in the Ottoman Empire, tulips were imported into Holland in the sixteenth century. The sultan was very precious about his tulips and they where only given away as gifts to famous guests. One of these guests was Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. Busbecq on his turn gave some of these tulip bulbs to Carolus Clusius.

At that time Clusius was head of the imperial medical garden in Vienna. After he left Vienna in1593 he became a prefect at the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. He brought his tulip bulbs and planted them in the garden, he was experimenting with them and studied them. One night the garden was raided and the bulbs were stolen. This was the start of the tulip trade in the Netherlands…

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In Turkish culture the tulip was a symbol of paradise on earth and had almost a divine status, but in the Netherlands it represented the briefness of life… The flower only blooms between half April until half May.

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In the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age there was a period in the Netherlands called Tulip Mania. During this time the contract prices for bulbs of the recently introduced tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed. In 1623 a single bulb of a popular tulip species was worth 1000 guilders (500 euros),  the annual income was in that time about 150 guilders (65 euros).

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The gift of a red or yellow tulip was a declaration of love, the flower’s black center representing a heart burned by passion….

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Written by Cindy Vriend

Graphic designer and illustrator with a great passion for photography. Founder of JustC Creative Design Studio.


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  1. I enjoyed this so much. I was born in 1947 just after the war. My father was in the Canadian military and served the entire war overseas. I travelled with my family every year of my young life to Ottawa for the Tulip Festival. The Netherlands gifts Canada with these glorious flowers in thanks for sheltering the royal family during the occupation of the Netherlands. I never knew the tulip’s Turkish history though. Thanks for this!

  2. Thanks Cindy I did not know anything about this tulips story . Well … I’ve learned something! Salute! 😀

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