Ask anyone, anywhere to name things that are “typically Dutch” and the answer is going to include: tulips. However, before 1593 no Dutchman had ever seen a tulip. In the 400 years since, the tulip has not only become a symbol for the Netherlands, but the Dutch fascination with this most beloved of spring flowers has created the global tulip -industry, producing three billion tulip bulbs a year of which approximately two billion are exported all over the world.
But the tulip is not Dutch, it came originally from the remote mountain ranges of Central Asia – in areas that are now part of Russia, around the Black Sea, in the Crimea, and from the steppes located north of the Caucasus. In the 1500s when tulips were first introduced into Europe, these areas belonged to what was then known as the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It is known that the Turks were cultivating tulips as early as 1,000 AD. Before tulips ever reached Europe, they had enjoyed a long and fascinatingly rich cultural history.
In this one-hour dramatised documentary special we explore the astonishing history of the tulip, from its origins on the barren windswept hills of central Asia, to its place of honour in the lush imperial gardens of Istanbul, to its starring moment as the most coveted – and beautiful – commodity in Europe, to a phenomenon that has captivated the world.