{Netherlands} Say it with Flowers

December 9, 2013


The trees are bare, the skies are grey, the right time to introduce an unseasonal dose of pretty bright flowers, don’t you think? So today I have another museum for you from my travels to Amsterdam earlier this year. There’s nothing more Dutch than tulips. Well, except perhaps for cheese, windmills and wooden clogs, but you get my drift. It may surprise you, then, that before tulips became associated with the Dutch, they caused a craze among the elite of the Ottoman court centuries before. The early 18th century was even known as Lále Devri – or the Tulip Era – in the Ottoman Empire.

amsterdam tulip museum

tulip museum bulbs for sale

At the Amsterdam Tulip Museum – just a block away from the Amsterdam Cheese Museum – you can learn all about the history of this humble flower and its journey from the Himalayas to Western Europe. You enter via the shop, where you also buy your tickets, though the entrance to the actual museum itself is unmissable! Don’t be surprised when, on passing through the door, you are suddenly surrounded by mirrors and tulips.

tulip museum entrance

tulip museum selfie

On the lower level, there are five rooms to explore, which will tell you almost everything you ever wanted to know about tulips, starting with a geographical overview of the main tulip producing regions of the world both historically and today. This is followed by a closer look at afore mentioned Ottoman Empire and one of the most beautiful and creative presentations of information labels I have seen in a museum. Did you know that the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was famed for its tulip gardens and was used a laboratory to develop and cultivate flowers? Or that botanist Carolus Clusius is credited with introducing tulips to the Netherlands in the late 16th century when he joined the University of Leiden and set up a botanical garden there.

tulip museum ottoman garden

Next, there’s a focus on the humble tulip in science and art. On the scientific side of things, models showing cross sections let you get to grips with the various tulip parts, and sprouting bulbs demonstrate growth in action. There are also the less familiar tulip seeds – at least I’d never seen any before, as you only ever tend to see bulbs on sale. And some beautiful illustrations from Europe’s first commercial gardening catalogue, Emmanuel Sweerts’ ‘Florilegium’, a best seller that was reprinted multiple times in the 17th century.

tulip museum sprouting bulb

tulip museum tulip seeds

tulip museum book illustrations

The art section shows an overview of famous artists who have captured tulips on canvas, including some painting reproductions, as well as a collection of beautifully painted tiles with tulip motifs. You can buy magnets and other souvenirs of some of these motifs in the gift shop. Finally, there’s also a nod to the once popular cabinets of curiosity, pointing out that gardens in the 17th century were essentially nothing less, collections of living curiosities and rarities curated by royalty, affluent plant lovers, and scientists.

tulip museum painted tiles

The penultimate section looks at the tulip’s fate in the Netherlands throughout history, it’s rapid rise to fame, the boom at the height of its popularity, and the subsequent crash. During ‘Tulip Mania’, tulips quickly became a hot commodity bringing people both great wealth and financial ruin. At its peak, a single bulb could exchange hands at a price several time that of a skilled worker’s annual income. Below is a document from the mid 17th century, just before the tulip bubble burst, warning all florists and tulip traders against extortionist practices.

tulip museum old document

The exhibits on the lower level conclude with an impressive collection of vases designed especially to display tulips. Some of them are so elaborate, they’re in direct competition to the flowers they are holding as to who is more eye catching.

tulip museum tulip vases

On the upper level, follow the tulip embellished steps to a screening room, where a film takes you through the four seasons of tulip farming, and the displays – which include bags of bulbs and tulip catalogues and journals – give you more information about the different processes involved. Did you know that most of the tulips you see blooming in fields are for the propagation of bulbs and end up having their heads chopped off? Tulips produced for sale as cut flowers are largely grown in greenhouses!

tulip museum patterned steps

tulip museum bag of bulbs

tulip museum book

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is located at Prinsengracht 116. The museum and shop are open daily, except for a couple of public holidays (check their website for up-to-date details). Admission is 6 Euro, with concessions available.

tulip museum yellow tulips


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