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Bricolage of Flowers and Gardens: Agents of Early Modernization in Ottoman Istanbul

Deniz Çalış-Kural, Istanbul Bilgi University

This paper explores the role of Ottoman gardens and garden culture in early Ottoman modernization during a short period of twelve years, later named the Tulip Period (1718–30) for the love and craze for tulips. Gardens and garden representations alluding to the Paradise Garden had always been central to Ottoman imperial self-representation. During the Tulip Period, gardens became tools for re-establishing a new Ottoman imperial order. In addition to the new gardens of the elite whose land was granted by the Ottoman court, public promenades became fashionable places among the commoners. Just outside the city walls of Istanbul, the Kağıthane valley housed most of these private gardens of the elite as well as a public promenade along the river, in addition to the new imperial palace, Sadabad, composed of a bricolage of elements borrowed from the gardens and garden traditions of European and Near Eastern cultures. Garden practices were thus disseminated to a larger population that included the Ottoman elite as well as the public. Of these practices, enjoying gardens and raising extravagant forms of tulips were the most frequent.

Tulips had always been part of the landscape in cities such as Istanbul and Adrianople; yet, throughout the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, different species were brought to the imperial capital from Anatolian provinces such as Bolu and Cappadocia, Crete, Crimea, and Persia. Surprisingly, in the eighteenth century, tulips were also imported from Holland, where they had earlier been exported from the Ottoman empire in the sixteenth century. Tulips were thus a “transcultural luxury commodity” (in the words of Ariel Salzmann) both in the Ottoman Empire and Europe, establishing a shared imagination of “imperial” grandeur experienced through paradisiacal garden traditions practiced in diverse mediums of artistic production, including poetry, tapestry, and ceramics. Nevertheless, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the tradition of breeding tulips expanded among the Ottoman elite circles along with a new awareness of the pleasures of conversation in joyful courts held in gardens dispersed all over the imperial capital and accompanied by festive meals, songs, and dancers. These early eighteenth-century practices challenged the classical imperial tradition of fostering the Sultan’s image within a paradise garden. The Ottoman elite sought instead to construct and communicate its own self-image within private gardens of different scales, dispersed all over Istanbul.


B. Deniz Çalış-Kural is an architect and historian of Ottoman landscape and urban culture; she teaches at Istanbul Bilgi University. She received a BArch from METU, Ankara, Turkey, an MArch from Pratt Institute, and a PhD from METU. She has received grants from The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (1996–98) and the Turkish Academy of Sciences (2008), and was a junior fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks (2003–4). Her work has been published in TOPOS and Dumbarton Oaks publications among others. She is currently writing a book on the deviant landscape culture of Ottoman Sufis from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

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