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The Tulip, a True Symbol

The Tulip, a True Symbol (2E)

Tulips can be found in all Amsterdam’s souvenir shops: in the form of fridge magnets, T-shirt patterns, painted pictures, in nylon or synthetic materials, or stuck in green cork at the bottom of a vase. Tulips are everywhere, in all colours, and also end up on the gift bags of all the tourists who visit the city. 

The tulip would therefore appear to be a plant that was discovered and invented or, in short, characteristic of Holland since time immemorial. This is not the case at all however. These plants were originally from central Asia and the first crops were not grown from bulbs in Holland until the sixteenth century. 

At that time, Ferdinand I’s ambassador in Constantinople became enamoured with the flower, which had been grown in Turkey since the year 1000 but was still unknown in Europe. His fascination prompted him to take some bulbs, which he gave to his friend the botanist Carolus Clusius, who was the first person to plant them in Holland. Another interesting fact in the story of the tulip’s journey to Europe was that the ambassador mistakenly believed that the Turkish word tülbend, which developed into the English word turban, was the name of the flower. Thus the tulip got its name from this linguistic confusion. 

Everything started with Clusius’ tulips, which he planted in 1594. The colourful flowers soon became a sign of social status and they were considered to be very useful in neutralising bad smells in homes. The Dutch were immediately spellbound by the flower and sales were spectacular. 

Speculation with tulip sale went too far and prompted what is known as “Tulipmania”, which caused the market to collapse in a single day. The impact was so great that the Dutch government had to intervene and regularise sales. 

Today, years later, tulips are still a feature of all Amsterdam homes. They can be seen in the windows of houses, on the counters of shops, on the tables of cafés and in the baskets of bicycles. 

If you like tulips, just take a trip to the Bloemenmarkt in season, from February to July, and choose a colour. If you thought making a choice at your own florist’s was tricky, then just wait until you see the striking and genuinely spectacular Dutch range.

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