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The Amazing World of Tulips

Apr/30/2023 / by Rashmi Gopal Rao

The Tulip Museum in Amsterdam explores the history and meaning of the elegant flower

A room devoted to tulip history in the Tulip Museum in Amsterdam
A room devoted to tulip history in the Tulip Museum in Amsterdam. Courtesy Rashmi Gopal Rao

Come April and tulips are in full bloom in the Netherlands.

Vibrant tulip fields and pretty gardens cover the landscape in a riot of color. Often touted as a symbol of perfect love, the tulip is the national flower of the Netherlands. It is ubiquitous, popping up at airports, roundabouts, and gardens everywhere in that country.

But tulips are actually not native to the Netherlands. They were brought from what is now Turkey in the late 1500s. You can discover all this and more at the small but engaging Tulip Museum in Amsterdam. The museum also describes how the flower has come to occupy a place of pride in the country’s culture.

Interesting Insights

Located in Prinsengracht in central Amsterdam, the Tulip Museum follows the journey of the flower from a dry, mountainous region of Central Asia to Europe and then Holland. Apparently, the sultans of the Ottoman empire loved the flower passionately, and had it cultivated all the way from Morocco to the Caspian Sea and from Yemen to Hungary. European ambassadors the sultan’s court may have been instrumental in bringing the flower, till then specially grown in the sultan’s court, to Europe in 1559.

The first tulip bloomed in the Netherlands in 1593 in present-day Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam. Traders exchanged seeds and bulbs, resulting in an increase in the number of flowers. A symbol of aristocracy and sophistication, the tulip was patronized by the rulers, wealthy merchants and traders.

Tulip Mania

Supply could not meet the demand for rare tulip colors and bulbs, and prices skyrocketed. Around 1610, trading began in elusive new varieties. It was even dowry for a bride! The frenzy reached its peak from 1633 to 1637, tempting even middle-class and poor people to speculate in the market, then the preserve of professional growers and exporters. People mortgaged homes and property to invest in steeply priced bulbs, aiming to resell them for profit. The tulip market bubble burst around 1637.

Engaging Display

The museum throws light on the “Semper Augustus,” a legendary red and white variety that is one of the most beautiful and expensive of tulips. Doctor Nicoleas Tulp, the magistrate of Amsterdam, chose the tulip for his coat of arms. Art work, tulip books, paintings etc made during the tulip mania is also on display. As is the process of growing tulips commercially and different stages of farming it. Farm and harvesting equipment is also on display.  The evolution of the Netherlands into a hub for tulip production and export as a result of their hard work and passion is also well chronicled.

Visitors can also watch a movie on the life cycle of tulip cultivation and also buy souvenirs like post cards, artifacts, books, and even tulip bulbs from the museum.