Tulip Era (Ottoman Empire)

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TULIP ERA (OTTOMAN EMPIRE). Lasting from 1718 to 1730, the Tulip Era was a transitory period in the Ottoman Empire that was marked by cultural innovation and new forms of elite consumption and sociability. The Tulip Era (in Turkish, Lâle Devri ) coincides with the latter half of the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (ruled 17031730), specifically the twelve-year grand vizierate of Ahmed's son-in-law (damad), Nevşehirli Ibrahim (d. 1730). The period is known for several breakthrough achievements, including the first Muslim printing press in the empire, various innovations in the arts and urban design, and the first cultural embassies to Europe. It is also remembered for the extravagance of the imperial court and the emergence of a Western-inspired, elite pleasure culture. The period gets its name from court society's passion for tulips, which were especially prized as a cultivar and artistic motif. Grandees imported tulip bulbs at great expense, experimented with hybridization, and, planting them by the thousand, celebrated their blooms in candlelit "tulip illuminations" in gardens throughout Istanbul.


In both domestic and foreign affairs, the sultan followed the lead of his grand vizier. Since the empire's disastrous defeats at the end of the seventeenth century, the Ottomans had been obliged to recognize the importance of diplomacy. Under Ibrahim's leadership, the regime pursued a policy of peace on the western front. Diplomatic relations with Europe were expanded, and European delegations in Istanbul were allowed to circulate more freely in Ottoman society. The vivid account of Ottoman women by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (16891762), wife of the British ambassador, is based on her unusual access to the harems of privileged Ottomans when she was in Istanbul with her husband, 17171718. It was France, however, that the regime regarded as a kindred state and looked to as a model during this period. The empire's most important embassy, to France in 1720, created a sensation in Parisone of the earliest demonstrations of European "turcomania." In a reciprocal effect, the Ottoman court flirted with European exotica. Among the wealthy, and to some extent in society at large, there was experimentation with European entertainment styles and clothing fashions. The changes that Ottoman women introduced into their outdoor attire seemed minor to outsiders, but they provoked criticism in conservative circles, including the established guilds.


The return of the Paris embassy fed the court's consumerist appetites with luxury goods, reports of French manners, and drawings of palaces and waterworks displays. Some features of the pleasure culture were extended to the larger public, which was treated to new amusement parks and new, non-religious holidays on which to enjoy them. As with clothing fashions, the spread of public entertainmentsin particular women's presence in mixed companyled to moralist objections. In 1727, prior to establishing the first Ottoman Muslim press under the direction of a Hungarian convert to Islam, Ibrahim Müteferrika (16741745), Ahmed III and Ibrahim took care to obtain an authorizing fetva ('edict') from the chief mufti ('judge') in order to hold down opposition to their innovation. In a further compromise, the press was restricted to publishing nonreligious works, such as historical chronicles, maps, and dictionaries. The regime's unpopularity increased during the late 1720s. The court's spending habits and social style became more and more contentious as economic problems worsened and the empire became enmired in war with Iran (Persia, as it was known to Westerners). When the empire suffered a military defeat on the eastern front and the government failed to act in 1730, there was a seditious uprising led by an Albanian seaman, later a bath attendant and janissary, Patrona Halil, and the regime was overthrown. The sultan was forced to abdicate, and along with his family was put under house arrest; Ibrahim and his closest associates, the main targets of the rebellion, were killed. The excesses of court society served as rallying cries for the mob, but the regime's other venturesill-conceived reforms and wartime misadventureshad already created important enemies, particularly within the military. Ahmed's successor, Mahmud I (ruled 17301754) all but closed the Tulip Era's cultural openings. Further experimentation with Europe as a cultural site would have to wait until the end of the century.

See also Harem ; Islam in the Ottoman Empire ; Janissary ; Ottoman Dynasty ; Ottoman Empire ; Paris ; Printing and Publishing ; Tulips ; Vizier .


Göçek, Fatma Müge. East Encounters West: France and the Ottoman Empire in the Eighteenth Century. New York, 1987.

Refik, Ahmet. Lâle Devri. Istanbul, 1997.

Silay, Kemal. Nedim and the Poetics of the Ottoman Court: Medieval Inheritance and the Need for Change. Bloomington, Ind., 1994.

Zilfi, Madeline C. "Women and Society in the Tulip Era, 17181730." In Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History, edited by Amira El Azhary Sonbol, pp. 290303. Syracuse, 1996.

Madeline C. Zilfi