Saturday, July 30, 2011

Medieval Tulips, Turks & Terror

Talking about tulips on a medieval blog? Well, yes! Although tulips did not appear in the general medieval garden in Europe, the flower actually became part of the fabric of the later/post medieval period in history.

Tulips are believed to have originated in the high mountains of central asia such as the Pamirs, brought west by the soldiers and traders of the Ottoman empire. According to reference sources, the rules of Islam prohibited any worship of physical forms and tulips were regarded as a possible way around this. Initially, they were woven into undergarments but later started to be seen on armour and clothing. To the Ottomans the tulip became a symbol of nobility and privilege. Indeed the years between 1718 and 1730 were known as the Tulip period.

It was from the Ottoman court at Istanbul (previously Constantinople) that the first bulbs came into western Europe. We are talking about the end of the 16th century when recreational gardens were rare or virtually unknown. Tulips are susceptible to a virus called the mosaic virus and this is said to break the plant which changes from being a breeder to being a cultivar. It was the virus which weakened the plant and produced the exquisite colours which became so sought after during the financial bubble which developed in the Netherlands.

One of the earliest and greatest botanists, Carolus Clusius, was instrumental in spreading the knowledge about tulips. A lot of his work was done at the University of Leiden. This is the same town which played such a key role in holding off the Spanish forces during the 80 Years War.

To go back to the title of this blog the reference to "terror" is to remind us of the fear and distrust shown towards the Ottomans. Europeans did not understand them and the Turks were greatly feared after the Seige of Constantinople in 1453.

Here a picture of the most prized of all Dutch Tulips.

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