Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 42

Saudi Aramco World
dicinal properties, and was probably introduced for that reason.
England had its own rose—
Rosa canina
—when the beautiful
and highly scented
Rosa damascena
reached its shores in the 13th
century, probably from Syria, where it had been an important
cash crop for centuries. Syrian naturalist al-Dimashqi, writing
around 1300, discusses it purely in economic terms as the key
ingredient in making “the celebrated rose-water of Damascus.”
It was horticulturalists in the Far East who had long prac-
ticed selective breeding to increase the varieties of decorative
plants. Their attitude seems to have percolated west into both
the Muslim world and Europe by about 1500. Babur, founder
in the early 16th century of the Mughal Empire in India and a
passionate lover of nature and creator of gardens, adored tu-
lips. He wrote in 1504-5 of the Kabul region—located within
the center of diversity for the tulip genus:
Tulips of many colors cover
these foothills; I once counted
them up; it came out at 32 or 33
different sorts. We named one
the Rose-scented, because its
perfume was a little like that of
the red rose; it grows by itself
on Shaikh’s-plain, here and no-
where else. The Hundred-leaved
tulip is another; this grows, also
by itself, at the outlet of the
Ghur-bund narrows, on the hill-
skirt below Parwan.
Later, Babur would try to introduce
to India numerous plants from his home-
land of Uzbekistan as well
as from Kashmir. Some of
these appear in Mughal
miniatures, and they also
became decorative motifs in
embroideries, textiles, car-
pets and furniture, as well
as carving and inlay.
The passion for tulips
in their many varieties spread westward by way
of Iran and the Ottoman Empire, which experi-
enced a period of intense interest in flowers and
gardens in the 16th century. Tulips, hyacinths,
roses and carnations were the favorites, together
with narcissus and blossom
. Tulips are repre-
sented over and over again, on countless tiles, on
the famous ceramics from Iznik, in the decora-
tive paintings in palaces, on the lacquer covers
of manuscripts and in textiles—from silk velvets
to embroidered muslin scarves. There are even
tulips all the way up the minaret of a recently re-
stored 18th-century mosque built at the height of
Lâle Devri
(Tulip Period) in Durrës, Albania.
The 17th-century Ottoman traveler Evliya
Çelebi describes the gardeners’ guild in Turkey
and makes numerous mentions of flowers and
their uses. Scented ones, for example, were placed
in mosques, and great trays of them accompanied
the procession when the Hajj caravan to Makkah
set out from Istanbul. He also describes the Edirne
gardens at the palace of Suleiman the Magnificent:
They “cannot be equaled by any other garden on
earth, not even that in the imperial city of Vienna
in the lands of the Germans.” Its list of flowers
includes “Chinese hyacinth.”
Produced in the 1630’s for Mughal prince Dara
Shikoh, this folio elegantly depicts several flowers
of Central Asia and Kashmir including several that
were also introduced into Europe: roses, irises,
delphiniums and what may be Asian marigolds.
A stylized tulip adorns a tile in Istanbul’s Rüstem Pasha mosque, completed in 1563. With many species originating
in Central Asia, the tulip became one of Ottoman Turkey’s most popular flowers and artistic motifs.
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