Tulip Age Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The last twelve years of the reign of Ahmed III were known to the Turks as Lale devri, or the Tulip Age, named after the sultan’s fascination with the cultivation and display of tulips. It was a period of hedonism and extravagance, artistic and literary florescence, and architectural projects, an age that was eventually extinguished by popular religious fanaticism.

Summary of Event

In 1718, Sultan Ahmed III had ruled the Ottoman Empire for fifteen years, of which more than half had involved protracted warfare ending that year with the Treaty of Passarowitz. Passarowitz, Treaty of (1718) After the war, the sultan and his new grand vizier, Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Paşa, were to begin dedicating themselves to peace and to the cultivation of the arts, leading to a veritable Ottoman renaissance—and to the introduction of some modest innovations from the West. In retrospect, some Turks would look back to this period as a golden age, naming it Lale devri, Tulip Age or the Tulip Age, on account of the way in which the sultan and his courtiers cultivated the tulip as the acme of beauty in life and art. [kw]Tulip Age (1718-1730) [kw]Age, Tulip (1718-1730) Ottoman Empire;Tulip Age Tulip Age [g]Ottoman Empire;1718-1730: Tulip Age[0520] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;1718-1730: Tulip Age[0520] [c]Art;1718-1730: Tulip Age[0520] [c]Literature;1718-1730: Tulip Age[0520] [c]Government and politics;1718-1730: Tulip Age[0520] Ahmed III Nev{scedil}ehirli Damat {Idot}brah{idot}m Pa{scedil}a Nedim, Ahmed

The tulip had long been familiar to the Turks, and together with other flowers it served as a trope in Persian and Turkish poetry. It was not until the reign of Ahmed III, however, that it became an obsession in Constantinople. Grown in gardens and displayed everywhere, the tulip became a motif in the decoration of rooms, in the shape of turbans, in calligraphic arabesques, in architectural ornamentation, and in the embroidery of robes, wall hangings, and rugs.

The figure most closely associated with Lale devri was Grand Vizier Damat. Born in Mushkara (now Nevṣehir) in 1660, he entered the palace service at Edirne, where he became an intimate of the young Ahmed. When Ahmed became sultan, he promoted Damat through a series of posts at court and, in February of 1717, married him to his favorite daughter, Fatima. Damat was appointed grand vizier in May of 1718.

Highly intelligent, inquisitive, and more open-minded than most of the Ottoman elite, a voluptuary devoted to pleasure but also to maintaining his ascendancy over his lethargic and greedy master, Damat was perhaps the first grand vizier to be interested in what the Western Ottoman Empire;Westernization world could teach the Turks. Consequently, the first accredited Ottoman ambassador to Paris, Yirmisekiz Çelebi Mehmed Efendi, was instructed to observe as much as possible the ways of the French, and some of these ways were later incorporated into his widely read Sefāretnāme (c. 1720; book of travels). Not least among the novelties brought back from Paris were architectural drawings of Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Marly, introducing a vogue for the rococo Rococo;Ottoman architecture in the palaces, pavilions, fountains, and gardens of the Ottoman capital, which soon lined both sides of the Bosporus. Damat built himself a lavish palace Pleasure palaces at Kandilli, near the so-called sweet waters of Asia. Ahmed himself built his luxurious pleasure palace of Sadabad, modeled on Marly, at Kaghitane by “the sweet waters of Europe.”

These pleasure palaces were the scenes of extravagant parties, where poetry recitations, music, and dance were interspersed with sybaritic banquets and prolonged feasting (none of this likely to meet with the approval of the Muslim clergy). While these festivities continued throughout the year—Sultan Ahmed had so many children that there was always reason to celebrate a birth, a circumcision, or a marriage—the parties reached their climax when the tulips bloomed. Everywhere were flowerbeds full of tulips, tulips in glass containers in alcoves, and tulips decorating apartments, all illuminated by thousands of lamps and lamp bearers, namely, tortoises with candles on their backs ambling through gardens.

A by-product of the taste for innovation was the decision to introduce a printing press Printing press;Ottoman Empire to Constantinople in 1724. Before this time, books in Greek, Armenian, and Hebrew had been printed in the capital, but never in Turkish, mainly because printing the language had been considered sacrilegious. Now, a remarkable confidant of the grand vizier, İbrahim Mūteferrika, a Hungarian convert who served the empire in various administrative and diplomatic capacities, set up a printing press. He was assisted by Said Efendi, the son of the late ambassador to France, and surprisingly, he enjoyed the good will of the şeyhülislām. Mūteferrika printed the first book in Turkish in 1727, and other books soon followed.

The sultan was a poet, painter, Art patronage and calligrapher, who delighted in extending his patronage to fellow poets, artists, and musicians. The same was true of Damat, who also encouraged the translation into Turkish of works in Persian and Arabic and who forbade the export of rare manuscripts. At the Topkapi palace, the sultan established a library, appointing Nedim, the greatest poet of the Tulip Age, as librarian; Damat founded five more libraries. He reopened ceramic workshops and established tile kilns to produce ceramics of exceptional quality. Utilitarian considerations were not forgotten by Damat. He built a textile mill, markets, roads, and harbor installations, and had a plan to bring fresh water from the forest of Belgrade to Constantinople.

The essence of the Tulip Age is best expressed in the writings of Nedim, which emphasized dolce far niente, Hedonism;Ottoman Empire unrestrained passions, the pleasures of the flesh, good living, and the delights of nature. He is perhaps best remembered for expressing the very un-Islamic sentiments, “Let us laugh, let us play, let us enjoy the delights of the world to the full.” His temper is well captured in the following lines:

When the east wind leaves that curl, it carries the scent of musk and when it opens the knot of your gown, it carries the scent of roses.

On that rose-petal lip, I would find the taste of sugar

On that rosebud mouth, I would discover the scent of wine.

The end of the Tulip Age came swiftly and violently. Sultan Ahmed’s government had provoked increasing resentment over the previous twelve years, as the sultan’s extravagance had fallen heavily on all classes, but especially the poor. There was a revulsion against the libidinousness of the court. There were rumors that Damat had sought to seduce the wife of the kadi (the capital’s principal judge) and that Damat and his friends were rowed up the Golden Horn, tossing gold coins into the bodices of their women companions.

The revolt, when it came, was predictably expressed in protest against un-Islamic behavior and disregard for the Sharia (Islamic law). Sharia (Islamic law) The ostensible ringleader was Patrona Halil, Patrona Halil revolt (1730) an Albanian former Janissary and second-hand clothes dealer, who, on September 28, 1730, aroused a mob, which was soon joined by fanatical and unemployed Janissaries, to attack the Topkapi palace. The government was caught off guard. Ahmed and Damat were both in Ūskūdar. Damat’s sons-in-law, the governor of Constantinople and the high admiral, were both tending their gardens by the Bosporus. Once back in the palace, the sultan, learning that the mob wanted him to hand over Damat and his infidel sons-in-law, promptly ordered their strangulation and their bodies handed to the mob. Massacre, arson, and looting were the order of the day throughout the city (Nedim was murdered trying to escape), and on October 1, the sultan abdicated and returned to the kafes (cage), from which he had emerged twenty-seven years before. He was succeeded by his nephew, Mahmud I (r. 1730-1754), who for months seemed a mere puppet in the hands of Patrona Halil, who strutted the streets as the city’s dictator. However, Mahmud was biding his time. On November 24, 1731, Patrona Halil and his associates were invited to an audience at Topkapi. On arrival, they were promptly strangled.

Significance

The twelve years of the Tulip Age made up a brilliant and creative period in Ottoman history. Neither Sultan Ahmed nor Grand Vizier Damat were reformers, but they were more open to innovation than any previous sultan or grand vizier. The winds of change were beginning to blow, and had the regime not been overthrown by popular fanaticism, Ahmed and Damat might have initiated further change.

For the twenty-first century visitor to Constantinople, the Tulip Age is exquisitely commemorated in the Sultan Ahmed fountain of 1728, situated at the gateway to Topkapi palace, on which is inscribed a long poem in praise of water by the sultan himself. Passing into the palace, one eventually reaches the sultan’s dining room, appropriately decorated with panels of flower paintings and an elaborate tiled fireplace (an ocak). Not far away stands his library, a rectangular structure with a domed central hall, built in 1719, an example of Ottoman Baroque predating the mission to France. Sadly, nothing remains of the palace and gardens of Sadabad, however.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andrews, Walter G., Najaat Black, and Mehmet Kalpakli, eds. Ottoman Lyric Poetry: An Anthology. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977. The editors present excellent examples of Nedim’s work. Includes a map and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gocek, Fatma Muge. East Encounters West: France and the Ottoman Empire in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. This work is especially useful in discussing the relationship between the Ottomans and the French.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. A History of Ottoman Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1971. An excellent resource on Tulip Age architecture and the Ottoman Baroque.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mansel, Philip. Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire, 1453-1924. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. This comprehensive book is broad in its coverage of almost half a millennium of Ottoman history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley. The Turkish Embassy Letters. Edited by Malcolm Jack. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1993. A colorful, contemporary account of the Ottomans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quataert, Donald, ed. Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 1550-1922: An Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. A social and economic history of consumerism and cultural consumption in the Ottoman Empire from the mid-sixteenth century to the early twentieth century. Includes the chapter “The Age of Tulips: Confluence and Conflict in Early Modern Consumer Culture (1550-1730).” Also includes bibliographical references and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. The best general survey of the Ottoman Empire and of Turkey in later centuries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shay, M. L. The Ottoman Empire from 1720 to 1744 as Revealed in Despatches of the Venetian Baili. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944. This early work offers indispensable contemporary observations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Somel, Selçuk Aksin. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003. Although the entries in this excellent reference book are brief, they are detailed and include valuable cross references. An outstanding resource for all aspects of the Ottoman Empire.

First Arabic Printing Press

Ottoman Wars with Russia, Venice, and Austria

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Ahmed III; Levni; Mahmud I; Mustafa III. Ottoman Empire;Tulip Age Tulip Age

Categories: History Content