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The enchantment of tulips from ancient Persia to the Mincio Valleys

tulipani parco di sicurtà

Photographs Cristina Archinto
Text Carla De Agostini

Despite the cold weather at the end of March, the tulips in the Sigurtà Garden have sprouted!
On the border between Veneto and Lombardy, in Valeggio sul Mincio, the 60 hectares of the Park have become colourful thanks to Tulipanomania, the richest tulip flowering in Italy, the second richest in Europe, with over a million bulbs.

The route of about 10 km along porphyry paths enchants the visitor among fairy-tale glades and monuments in memory of the Sigurtà family. Punctuated by sweeping views of the Mincio, the itinerary crosses small bridges, sheets of water, reaches the flowerbeds of the Great Grassland Carpet and the floating, rotating islands in the Laghetti Fioriti. Every corner is a surprise, not only for the tulips but also for the daffodils, mosses, hyacinths and fritillaries. The arrangement of the flowers is the result of an in-depth study that guarantees perfect colour, with hundreds of multicoloured shades. And spring after spring, the flowerbeds are renewed, always offering new spectacles.



The property, first owned by the Contarini family, then by the Maffei family, was purchased in 1941 by Giuseppe Carlo Sigurtà, who opened it to the public in 1978. The area soon became a nature park and in 2019 the Sigurtà Gardens were awarded by the World Tulip Society for excellence in promoting and celebrating the tulip. Today Tulipanomania is a real festival that exalts its beauty.

The history of the tulip starts in the East: from the Persian delband, which means headdress or turban. The first cultivations took place in Turkey where it became very popular in the 16th century. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, numerous varieties were developed and exported from his court to Vienna, then to Holland and England.


The choice of the name Tulipanomania recalls the Tulip Fever that broke out in Holland in the first half of the 17th century. In those years the demand for tulips reached such a peak that every single bulb fetched incredible prices: in 1623 some bulbs cost as much as a thousand Dutch guilders. Considering that the average annual income at the time was 150 guilders, bulbs became an asset to invest in, exchanged for land, livestock or houses.


In 1630, to meet the demands of the market, there were more than 140 different species of tulips registered in Holland alone: single-colour hybrids, multi-coloured with streaks, strokes or flaming leaves, all competing to create the most beautiful and rare tulip. The record price was set for the most famous bulb, the Semper Augustus, which sold in Haarlem for 6,000 guilders. In 1636 they became Holland's fourth most important export, but by the end of that year the 'Tulip Bubble' had reached its peak and burst, sending many people broke. The fever resumed in England in 1800, where the price of a single bulb reached fifteen guineas, a sum that was enough to ensure a worker and his family food, clothing and shelter for at least six months. But no other country in Europe matched the level of tulip mania of the Dutch.


Today's Tulipanomania at the Sigurtà Garden has the theme of the ecological garden at heart; awarded the European Award for Ecological Gardening, the Park raises public awareness by promoting visits on foot, by bicycle, in an electric golf-cart or in a little retro train that follows the Itinerary of Enchantments with a multilingual guide. The creation of the Labyrinth, inaugurated in 2011 on an area formerly used as a car park, is along the same lines of thought. One thousand five hundred yew trees grow there, more than two metres tall, creating natural geometries on a rectangular area of 2,500 square metres. From the tower at the centre of the Labyrinth, you can admire the Great Oak, which has stood for over four centuries.

At the end of the visit, you will have the feeling that you have not seen everything. The great variety of places will be the perfect excuse to return and discover the Garden, in search of new colours and blooms at new times of the year.



"Art could not feign a simpler grace, nor nature form a more beautiful line" wrote James Montgomery, a Scottish poet, at the end of the 18th century. Tulips, a bulbous species belonging to the Liliaceae family, were first mentioned in Western Europe around 1554 under the name tulipa, from the Latin genus, or tulipant. The word probably derives from the Persian دلبند delband 'turban' because of its similarity to the flower. One of the oldest tales dates back to ancient Persia: the young prince Farhad learns that Shirin, his great love, has been murdered. Overcome with grief, he throws himself off a cliff. In reality, it is a jealous rival who has spread this false rumour to hinder their relationship. So to symbolise eternal love and sacrifice, tradition has it that where the young prince's blood has dripped, tulips have grown. Even today in Iran, where the tulip is a national symbol of martyrdom, also used as a symbol in the 1979 Islamic revolution, it commemorates the martyrs who died in the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. The vicissitudes of this flower are varied and reach as far as Europe, in Holland to be precise, where in 1636 demand for tulip bulbs grew to such an extent that people began to invest in them on the stock exchange. Newspapers of the time, for example, reported the story of a brewer from Utrecht who traded his brewery for just three tulip bulbs. Flowers became jewellery for ladies, enriching their intrinsic meaning: giving a tulip as a gift can mean unconditional and perfect love, or it can be used to toast the achievement of a goal, it can allude to vanity, or reflect the philosophical attitude and transience of life. It is not by chance that we find a tulip vase next to Seneca's bust in the painting The Four Philosophers by Flemish artist Pieter Paul Rubens, recalling the disappearance of the two characters in the centre of the painting, so dear to the painter.



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