Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Tulip Gardens of Sultan Ahmed III

For a time in the eighteenth century the bulbs of tulips that matched the Turkish ideal traded in Constantinople for quantities of gold. This was during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, from 1703 to 1730, a period known to Turkish historians as the lale devri, or Tulip Era. The sultan was ruled bye his passion for the flower, so much so that he imported bulbs by the millions from Holland, where the Dutch, after the passing of their own tulipomania, had become masters of large-scale bulb production. The extravagance of the sultan´s annual tulip festivals ultimately proved his downfall; the conspicuous waste of national treasure helped fire the revolt that ended his rule.

The throne of Ahmed III decorated in mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, and precious gems

Each spring for a period of weeks the imperial gardens were filled with prize tulips (Turkish, Dutch, Iranian), all of them shown to their best advantage. Tulips whose petals had flexed too wide were held shut with fine threads hand-tied. Most of the bulbs had been grown in place, but these were supplemented by thousands of cut stems held in glass bottles; the scale of the display was further compounded by mirrors placed strategically around the garden. Each variety was marked with a label made from silver filigree. In place of every fourth flower a candle, its wick  trimmed to tulip height, was set into the ground. Songbirds in gilded cages supplied the music, and hundreds of giant tortoises carrying candles on their backs lumbered through the gardens, further illuminating the display. All the guests were required to dress in colors that flattered those of the tulips. At the appointed moment a cannon sounded, the doors to the harem were flung open, and the sultan´s mistresses stepped into the garden led by eunuchs bearing torches. The whole scene was repeated every night for as long as the tulips were in bloom, for as long as Sultan Ahmed managed to cling to his throne.
From The Botany of Desire. By Michael Pollan. Pages 82-83. New York, 2001

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