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  • History of the tulip

History of the tulip

Tulips were first brought to Europe by a Flemish diplomat, Augier (Ogier) Ghislain de Busbecq (1522-1591). Born in 1522 in Comines, at the time part of the empire of Charles the Fifth of Spain, Ogier was an excellent student, went to a lot of European universities and was fluent in seven languages.

Ferdinand of Austria, king of Bohemia and Hungary and brother to Charles V, sent him to Constantinople as ambassador to the terrible Sultan Suleiman II the Magnificent (1494-1566). His mission was to obtain a truce, as the Christian world felt threatened. The Ottoman Empire was at the peak of its power, covering North Africa, Syria, Persia, Greece, the Balkans and Hungary up to the gates of Vienna in 1529 it was stopped by the armies of Charles V.

In 1554 Busbecq duly went to Vienna and from there to Constantinople. Sultan Suleiman was at this time in Anatolia, Busbecq joined him and returned with a six-month truce.

Early in 1556 Ferdinand entrusted him with a new mission. Busbecq went back to Turkey and returned in 1562 with a treaty that guarantees eight year truce. He gave Hungary back to Ferdinand.

Busbecq was a brilliant diplomat, botanist and naturalist. He was interested in everything that happened around him. During his first stay in Anatolia in 1554, he discovered flowering tulips and acquired some bulbs. He gave them to the imperial gardens in Vienna.
Tulips were the Sultan's favourite flowers, the name came from the Turkish tülbend (turban) which they look alike.

The botanist and scientist Charles de l'Escluse - Carolus Clusius (Arras 1526-Leyde 1609) was Emperor Maximilian II’s doctor and in charge of the imperial gardens in Vienna from 1573 to 1592. He noticed the tulips and charmed by the flower's beauty, he started a collection. Nominated in Leyden because of his expertise and knowledge as professor of botanical study, he brought his collection of tulips to Holland. L'Escluse created one of Europe's first botanical gardens, the Hortus Botanicus in Leyden, and is considered as the world's first mycologist and the founder of horticulture.

Tulips became a symbol of wealth and appeared in paintings of flowers and on Delftware. The name ‘Tulip mania’ is given to the extreme rise and subsequent collapse of tulip bulb prices in the Northern United Provinces in the middle of the 17th century. At the peak of tulip mania, in February 1637, a bulb was being traded for a price equal to twenty times the annual wages of a specialized worker. Fortunes were made and lost with tulips. In 1637 the government intervened and banned such transactions. Some historians have called this the first speculative "bubble" ever.

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