When you start thinking of the Netherlands, it won’t be too long until you start thinking about Tulips. Fields and fields with row upon row upon row of the flower with the odd windmill thrown in for decoration would be the typical image that comes to mind. When I visited Amsterdam, one of the first museums I visited was the Tulip Museum.
Although the tulip has become forever intertwined in Dutch history, it has its origins much further east, with the Turks, the Ottomans and even as far East as Afghanistan and beyond. Now, the museum asserts that Tulip bulbs were originally brought back by foreign diplomats as gifts from Sultans. Having come across similar situations to this in other museums, I’m sure there’s probably another side to this story…
Before exploring this museum, I had never really stopped to think about where the bulb and its flower might have originated, but now I have, I can explore all the origin stories at length.
What I did find fascinating was the link between the word tulip and turban. Looking at the two together, you can see a similarity between the two. Even etymologically speaking the two share certain roots.
‘Tulip Mania’ is the name of a period in in late 1630s when the Dutch went mad for tulip bulbs. It’s not just that they were popular, it goes beyond that. The fall-out from this fad was far more disastrous than a simple change of fashion. It nearly destroyed the Dutch economy. Let’s face it, when Tulip bulbs are worth more than houses, something isn’t right… the museum took a light-hearted approach to this particular episode of Dutch history, treating it as a bit of an embarrassing memory more than anything else.
Do you remember that time we spent all that money on tulip bulbs? What were we thinking?!
There was one bloom that stood out amongst the rainbow of blooms during the tulip boom; the semper augustus. Its white petals streaked with red were much sight after, and those bulbs that cost as much as a house? They were Semper Augustus bulbs.
Now, what is particularly interesting about the Semper Augustus is that price it commanded stayed relatively high, even after the economic blossom bubble burst. What is even more interesting, is that the red streaks which added so much to the allure of the plant were the result of a virus. There is something very poetic about that, I feel.
The Tulip Museum ticks a lot of boxes for me; it is one of those very niche museums which I love tracking down, it is one that wouldn’t really make much sense outside of the Netherlands, lastly, the subject it explores contains so much cultural baggage. Not only is there that origin story that bears far more scrutiny, but also that tulips have had such a massive impact on the Netherlands. Exploring the museum added just a bit more context to a city and a country that I was just getting to know.