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Journey of the Turkish Tulip

When people talk about tulip-mania, we usually think about Holland. But did you know there was a craze for tulips somewhere else, long before the Dutch fell for the flower. In Turkey! Yes, tulips were originally a wild flower that grew in Central Asia and Turkey. Even the name “tulip” comes from the Turkish word – turban. Sultans, artisans (and investors) fell in love with the graceful lines of the flower and shared it with the world, setting off tulip fevers far from its original home.

Tulip Pattern on 17th Century Kemha | Paint + Pattern

The tulip has been a common motif in Ottoman and Turkish designs for centuries. It’s been used in textiles, tiles, ceramics, architecture and calligraphy art. We are fortunate that some works of artisans from many centuries ago have been preserved; so today we can enjoy the beauty of tulip through their eyes. Above are a few examples of this – an Ottoman painting on wood from the 16th century, and a fragment of the 17th century kemha from The Textile Museum. Kemha is a textile made of silk and metallic-wrapped thread. Note how both have glimmers of gold mixed with the green, blue and red colors. So rich!

A ceremonial 16th century caftan from Istanbul (left) | Tulip Calligraphy from Gilding Diaries (right) | Paint + Pattern

Tulips are tucked into textile designs of many styles and colors. Here is a color combination I thought you might like to see – eggplant purple, red and gold in a remnant of a ceremonial caftan from 16th century Istanbul (left), now preserved at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. What a royal combination of colors! And to the right is an image from the Gilding Diary, an example of elegant calligraphy that incorporates the tulip motif .

So far I’ve shown some sophisticated designs and colors. You can find tulips in joyful exuberant colors too.

Caftans with Tulip motif | Paint + Pattern

If you had flown Turkish Airlines in December 2005, you would have spent some flight time enjoying the textiles of the Ottomans in their flight magazine. They have an interesting story about the clothing of those times, and how sultans used caftan robes as symbols of power. So it’s no wonder they put so much pattern and decoration on them, like the bright dazzling red and blue fragment shown here. Today we see just a small piece, but the whole caftan would have been cut extra long and wide to make a sultan look even more majestic. If you’re wondering what this might have looked like, here’s a miniature painting of a sultan in a big decorated caftan. It’s more surface area to have fun with paint, I say! Why not stencil fabric with these Turkish designs?

Also shared here is a meticulously embroidered example of tulips courtesy of Bazaar Bayar and the Sadberk Hanim Museum. Imagine how long it took to make those tiny stitches that made the artisan’s vision come alive.

Tulip Tiles & Crockery | Paint + Pattern

The tulip is often found on tiles and ceramics, like an antique Iznik tile from 16th century Ottoman turkey, courtesy of Christies. Can you believe that this tile sold for $6,139? A very similar tulip shape is used today in contemporary and affordable dinnerware, like the Turkish ceramics shown above featured at Decor8 blog. The blues and greens shown here are common colors in Turkish ceramics.


Designers have continued to be inspired by the graceful tulip into today’s times, such as Fortuny who incorporated it into velvet. Schumacher designed the Izmir Chenille fabric in the spirit of Ottoman tulip designs.

Tulip Stencil & Decal by Royal Design Studio

If you too are now feeling a mania for the tulip shape, Royal Design Studio has a gorgeous tulip stencil called Uzbek Suzani Stencil. You can find Wallternatives Tulip Floral Flourish Wall Decal in 21 colors to help you give your decor a Turkish vibe. You’ve seen here how the tulip looks in a variety of colors, everything from neutral to bright, so I hope it has inspired you to try this motif in different colors!


  1. Lovely Deb. Just wait til you see the Uzbek at Peacock Pavilions. I worked on the ceiling on our first trip, then stayed in the room last trip!

  2. Oh wow, Debbie, that ceiling is gorgeous! It must be so memorable for anyone who stays there.

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