The roots of the interest towards tulips, which has been adorning every corner of Istanbul, the cultural capital, for the past 20 years, in fact goes back far in Turkish history. It is narrated that this beautiful flower came to Anatolia from Central Asia with the Turks and since the 12th century has been used for ornamental purposes as a flower and as a motif. This flower, which has taken its special status amongst the Turkish community with its elegant, colourful and diversity of species, sprang to life within literature and the art of ornamentation over time. The tulip was used by Mawlana for the first time in a poem during the 13th century. One century later, the tulip has established its place within Ottoman Poetry. In short, the tulip did not only enter into the life of the Turks physically but also as a symbol, embracing it with its colours and designs. The tulips appeared on chinawares, marbles, wood, paper, textiles and even on kaftans with all their eloquence and grace.
The true owners of the tulip were the Turks. As a matter of fact, for the first time, the tulip went from the Turkish lands to the European continent, where a great fondness to the flower was developped. During the era of Kanuni, the traveller and Ambassador of Austria-Macedonia, Busbecq, had taken the tulip bulb amongst the various other plants back to his own country. It is most probable that the traveller had fallen in love with the amazing tulip gardens he had seen throughout the Ottoman lands and wanted to take this unique and elegant flower to his own country. The interest and passion of the Turks towards tulips had reached its peak during the Tulip Era in the 18th century. During that period, the peace treaty signed between Austria and Venice had led to peaceful times and with the encouragement of top government officials, this interest had turned into a passion. The young and old alike from all career fields had cultivated hundreds of different types of tulips and each and every one of them had given a different and interesting name to them.
Surely, this interest was not just a simple one; there have been many works since the 16th century in relation to how tulips were cultivated and who had been cultivating them. Although interest in these books decreased from time to time, it never ceased to exist. Approximately 200 years after the Tulip Era, when the Republic was still very young, Ahmet Süheyl Bey had written an interesting series of essays in relation to the interest in tulips (1926). This series was one of the largest bibliographical works written about the beautiful tulips which we have adored. The series of essays titled ‘The Interest towards Tulips in our History’ by Ahmet Süheyl Bey (later a professor in medicine), consisted of 12 essays, which has been published in volume 60 until volume 71 within the National Review Journal (Milli Mecmua) under the acronym of “D.A.S”, clearly illustrates how the interest of our nation towards this elegant flower was a love story and continued to be so with the same passion and bloom.
Ahmet Süheyl Bey, who begins his article by summarising the roots of this interest, also analyses how the tulip became embedded in our culture from the 16th century up until then. In his opinion, “the interest in the tulip, which had reached its peak during the ´Tulip Era´, known to have begun in the year 1718, did not just appear out of nowhere. It is evident through the various artworks that this interest had existed before this era”. In other words, this interest was “the continuation of the past”. One of the initial works that Süheyl Bey explores in his essay series in relation to tulips and other flowers, is ‘Şükûfenâme’ (The Book of Buds), which was written by Ali Çelebi between 1667-68. Thirty years later ‘Netâyicü’l-Ezhâr’ (The Produce of Flowers) by Abidi was written and was one of the most comprehensive works. The author considered his life without flowers “as a waste and loss” and also included in this work all the names of those who cultivated flowers as well as the names they had given to these tulips. The tulip had gained so much attention during that period that many individuals had put great effort into accumulating different kinds of this flower, which in fact was a “wildflower”, and were able to attain 800 different types. Between the years 1747-48, Mahmud Efendi wrote his work titled ‘Şükûfenâme’. After a few decades, a doctor by the name of Mehmed Aşki Bey also wrote a book on the topic titled, ‘Mi‘yâr-ı Ezhâr’ (The Logic of Flowers)… He was also one of those persons who had had the opportunity to see all the different types of the flower and had determined the names of each tulip as well as those who had cultivated the bulb and its standards. Another work appeared in 1798 by Aşki Bey. This work titled ‘Takvim-i Lale’ (The Calender of Tulips), also listed the names of the tulips as well as those who had a special passion for it. In short, the tulip is the old love of the Turks, but surely an ageless love! With this, we hope you were able to sense the smell of a bunch of tulips…