Imperial crown

These photos were found on a since then extinct Persian blog. The gorgeous lily is Fritillaria imperialis, in European languages “Imperial crown” (in modern English also “fritillary”), in Persian لاله واژگون lâle-ye vazhgun, that is “inverted lily/tulip” as Persian lâle means both flowers. It grows naturally in the Zagros mountain of Western Iran.

It is a magnificent view when the carpet of flaming red bells sitting on the top of a meter high stem cover the barren hillsides within a couple of days, giving a totally new dimension to the biblical saying: “Consider the lilies of the fields how they grow… not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.” This saying, unexpectedly, also justifies the European name of the flower.

This flower, suitably to its name, came to the European ornamental gardens through the mediation of two real emperors and two uncrowned kings of Renaissance botany. One of the emperors was Great Suleiman, il Magnifico, as Italian historians and al-Qanuni, the Legislator, as Turkish and Persian chroniclers called him. He complemented and stabilized the conquests of his father and grandfather, and his long reign was the golden age of Ottoman culture. Persian literature and art, including garden art, played a great role in this revival. Bread feeds the body, but flowers feed the soul, goes the saying attributed to Mohamed, and in this spirit Suleyman established in Istanbul the Flower Market which still functions on its original site, in the Eminönü neighborhood, next to the Spice Bazaar, not far from those wonderful fish friers. This market offered for the first time all the flowers of the empire from the Plain of Kosovo to the Armenian highlands and from the shores of Pontus to the deserts of Syria. A dream of all botanists.

Sultan Suleiman after the Battle of Mohács, Hungary (1526) which opened him the way to Europe (Istanbul, Topkapı Sarayı)

And the dream found its botanist. The Flemish Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, special envoy of Emperor Ferdinand I had negotiations in Istanbul on the Transylvanian border question both in 1554 and 1556. The delicate negotiations dragged on so that Busbecq had enough time not only to compose his Turkish letters that for the first time described life in Istanbul, but also to collect plants unknown in Europe on the Flower Market. He was the first to send home a number of plants which we already consider as ancient natives of Europe: tulip, horse chestnut, lilac, Syrian rose, mock orange, and of course imperial crown, thus opening the “Oriental period” of European ornamental gardens which lasted until the 1620s.

The Great Mosque of Istanbul, 1570

The addressee of Busbecq’s parcels was another Flemish botanist, the greatest of his age, Carolus Clusius, invited to Vienna in 1573 by the other emperor, Maximilian II precisely on the proposal of Busbecq. Clusius created the first exotic garden of Europe in the imperial court which also gave name to the Imperial crown. Clusius was a great collector of plants himself, the first one to describe the alpine flora of Austria and Western Hungary. He was a friend of Count Boldizsár Batthyány, a mysterious figure of Hungarian Renaissance, who also had exotic flowers, including a “thirty-six-petalled double daffodil” sent from Istanbul through his high-ranking Turkish captives, and whose ornamental garden in the castle of Németújvár (today Güssing) was planned and later often referred to by Clusius himself. The first, lavishly illustrated large manuscript encyclopedia of the mushrooms of Pannonia, published in print only in the 1990s, was compiled by Clusius on Count Batthyány’s estates.

Pieter van Kouwernhoorn: Imperial crown, detail of a florilegium, ca. 1620

But the specialty of Clusius was the exotic flora coming from Istanbul, primarily tulips, naturalized by him in Europe. Returning to Leiden, he founded the Hortus Academicus, the first European nursery of ornamental plants where he sold the bulbs of his collection for outrageous prices. Embittered local gardeners finally broke into his garden, sampling all his specimens in a professional way. This is how the fashion of tulips began in the Netherlands, leading to the infamous tulip frenzy and the famous tulip still lifes of the next generation. These still lifes are often crowned, indeed, by the Imperial crown, whose impressive dimensions made it a much liked decorative flower of large Baroque spaces. Its Baroque appearance also made it popular in late 19th-century painting.

Id. Jan Brueghel: Great bouquet, 1603

Van Gogh: Imperial crowns in a brass vase, 1886

This flower is also called in Persian لاله اشک lâle-ye ashk, weeping lily. Tradition has it that it was witness to the killing of pre-Islamic Iranian hero Siavush, and it has wept for him ever since with its head turned down. But in the much more popular version of the legend the flower sprouted from the blood of Siavush which had been poured on the barren rocks by command of the tyrant. This is how it is recounted by Ferdowsi in The Book of Kings.

Siavush, the murdered innocent hero – whose figure preserved the traits of the killed Tammuz and prepared the way to the cult of the greatest Shia martyr Husein – is one of the most important Iranian symbols of freedom suppressed but reborn from the blood of the martyrs. The mujaheds rebelling against the Shah sang about Siavush’s blood, and Siavush’s name figures in the title of a key novel of modern Iran, Simin Daneshvar’s Savushun whose plot takes place during the British occupation of 1941, but it has been read with unaltered actuality ever since. The main figure of the novel, Yusof, the young head of an important landowner family in Shiraz is caused to be killed by the British, because he as the organizer of the city’s passive resistance prevents their army from buying up food in the region which would cause famine among peasants. The last phrase of the novel is the message sent to Zari, Yusof’s widow by Yusof’s friend, an Irish poet serving in the British army as an interpreter:

Don’t cry, my sister. In your home a tree will grow, and other trees in your city, and many more ones in the whole country. And the wind will bring messages from tree to tree, and the trees will ask of the wind: “Have you met the dawn on your way?”

And this same lily, the symbol of freedom sprouting from the blood of the martyrs is also sung on the album Lâle-ye bahâr, Spring Lily, recently published in Iran by one of the greatest Iranian singers, Shahram Nazeri.

Shahram Nazeri: Lâle-ye bahâr (Spring Lily), from the album Lâle-ye bahâr (2009). The poem is by the same Malek o-Sho‘arâ Bahâr who is also the author of Dawn bird performed by Shajarian. The music was written and played by the greatest santoor player Parviz Meshkatian who died just a month ago, on September 21 in Tehran.

لاله خونین کفن از خاک سر آورده برون
خاک مستوره قلب بشر آورده برون
دل ماتم زده مادر زاری است که مرگ
از زمین همره داغ پسر آورده برون

.....lâle khunin kafan az khâk sar âvarde borun
khâk masture-ye ghalb-e bashar âvarde borun
del-e mâtamzade-ye mâdar-e zâri’st ke merg
az zamin hamreh-e dagh-e pesar âvarde borun
آتشین آه فرو مرده مدفون شده است
که زمین از دل خود شعله ور آورده برون
راست گویی که زبانهای وطن خواهان است
که جفای فلک از پشت سر آورده برون

âtashin âh-e foru morde-ye madfun shode ast
ke zamin az del-e khod sho‘le var âvarde borun
r’ast guyi ke zabânhâ-ye vatan khâhân ast
ke jafâ-ye falak az posht-e sar âvarde borun
یا به تقلید شهیدان ره آزادی
طوطی سبز قبا سرخ پر آورده برون
یا که بر لوح وطن خامه خونبار بهار
نقشی از خون دل رنج بر آورده برون

yâ be taghlid-e shahidân-e rah-e âzâdi
tuti-ye sabz ghabâ sorgh par âvarde borun
yâ ke bar loh-e vatan khâme-ye khunbâr-e bahâr
naghshi az khun-e del-e ranj bar âvarde borun

the lily brings forth a blood-colored shroud from the earth
the earth uncovers the hidden soul of mankind
the mother’s mournful heart is weeping for the dead
son whose burning heart sprouts from the earth

the buried dead became fire, the blood
of his heart sets ablaze the earth
as if a thousand tongues of the country
announced that the tyranny of fate will be over

as if, similarly to the martyrs of freedom,
he wore a red feather on his parrot-green mantle
as if the burning spring covered the country’s tombstone
with the silk of the blood of tortured hearts

One Buenos Aires for Wang Wei

Things that mustn’t be left without doing in MY Buenos Aires

(a totally disordered and purely subjective enunciation: others may have different Buenos Aireses)

  • Alfajores of chocolate and dulce de leche (brands: Havanna and now Cachafaz, made by the former pastry makers of the firm “Havanna” which was sold).
  • Bonafide bocaditos (morsels), or Cabsha which are smaller.
  • Revuelto Gramajo (Gramajo scramble), a typical porteño dish not suitable for low colesterol diets: very fine fried potatoes and ham, scrambled with eggs and the possible addition of leek and green peas.
  • asado, of course: all kinds of meat barbecued on coal and firewood: beef: asado de tira (short ribs), vacío (flank steak), colita de cuadril (rump steak) , lomo (tenderloin), matambre (outer flank steak), not forgetting the achuras, various viscera (you might prefer not going into what each one is), mollejas (sweetbread), riñoncitos (kidney), chinchulines (beef chitterlings) etc. But also pork and chicken.
  • Empanadas (individual semicircular pies with different fillings) are also typical. The more traditional are those with meat and cheese fillings, but in Buenos Aires there are an infinity of varied fillings that purists refuse to recognize as “empanadas”. Each province – especially those of North-Western Argentina – has its own way of preparing them.
  • milanesas! (slender meat slices covered with a batter of grated bread and egg and fried in oil.) In Europe they are known as “schnitzels”.
  • drinking mate (an infusion of mate herb). It can be in the traditional way, which is sipping it trough a metal straw out of a hollow gourd or as what is called ‘mate cocido’ or ‘boiled mate’ which means making it like any other infusion (there are mate bags).
  • wines, of course (but I am totally ignorant in the matter – and not because of any religious reasons. I would even say that I am unworthy of my family because of this unforgivable lacking…)

  • Libertador Avenue, in the zone of the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods), up to the area of the Recoleta. Rather a series of parks than ‘woods’. Here used to be the residence of Juan Manuel de Rozas, Governor of Buenos Aires and important caudillo in the mid-eighteenth century.
  • The Recoleta Cemetery and the elegant neighbourhood that surrounds it (Alvear Avenue, Quintana Avenue).
  • The Botanical Gardens, somewhat unkempt for some years now, but getting better (it’s a childhood space for me, so it will always maintain its charm – albeit as a testimony of tempus fugit – so that the more deteriorated it is, the more evident its message!)
  • The area of Callao Avenue and Santa Fe Avenue (enter the book store, bar and concert café space “Clásica y Moderna”)
  • 9 de Julio Avenue, a block wide (to construct it whole blocks were torn down for its entire length), with the emblematic “Obelisco” in its crossing with Corrientes Avenue.
  • Corrientes Avenue with its book stores and theatres, somewhat run down now, but still keeping something of its personality ( you must eat pizza at “Los Inmortales”).
  • Plaza San Martín (visit the Plaza Hotel, first luxury hotel in Latin America).
  • Barrio de Palermo, formerly a neighbourhood of malevos (urban toughies), today of modern designers. Borges must be recalled, fascinated as he was by the aura of slummish peril that this area had when he was a child. Then, a small distance away, you can visit the museum-house of Geogie’s friend, polifacetic Xul Solar.
  • San Telmo and Plaza Dorrego with its Fair of Antiquarians on weekends.
  • The neighbourhood of Barracas and Lezama Park (where some scenes of Sábato’s On Heroes and Tombs were set).
  • La Boca and Caminito. As well as the typical tango alley, nowadays the Proa Foundation is a must.
  • My neighbourhood: Belgrano. Avoid the hours when classes finish at schools: traffic goes mad. Walk through 11 de Septiembre or 3 de Febrero streets between the streets of Federico Lacroze and Juramento. Reach Plaza General Belgrano where “La Redonda” Church is. Look over Belgrano R, one of the finest residential areas in Buenos Aires
  • Go to the outskirts of Buenos Aires, especially San Isidro. (I can’t invite everyone, but to me, my club, the Náutico San Isidro, is something that shouldn’t be missed. See the Rio de la Plata Delta, visiting the city of Tigre and its Port of Produce (Puerto de frutos)

1. Obelisco (Corrientes & 9 de Julio Avenues) • 2. Plaza San Martín • 3. San Telmo Quartier • 4. Lezama Park • 5. La Boca • 6. Santa Fe & Callao Avenues • 7. Libertador Avenue through the Palermo “Woods” • 8. Botanical Gardens • 9. Palermo Quartier • 10. Recoleta Cemetery • B. My quartier: Belgrano (out of the map) • x. This is where Wang Wei will reside during his sojourn in Buenos Aires

Nevertheless, let us not be so idealistic… As something that can’t be absent in the spirit of a porteño who always has criticism on hand and complaints on the tip of his tongue, let us remember that our visitors will surely not be able to avoid running into streets that need more cleaning, traffic jams caused by an infinity of reasons, ill tempered and aggressive people. In short, the daily charm of living in Buenos Aires!


Bocaditos of chocolate and dulce de leche

Revuelto gramajo


The church “La Redonda” in Belgrano

Recoleta Cemetery

Corrientes Avenue with the Obelisco

San Telmo

Belgrano R, Melián Street

Plaza de Mayo

Círculo Militar in the zone of Plaza San Martín

Santa Fe Avenue in front of Plaza San Martín

© 2005 Fotogalería Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires

Un Buenos Aires para Wang Wei

Lo que no debe dejarse de hacer en MI Buenos Aires

(enumeración totalmente desordenada y puramente subjetiva: otros tendrán diferentes Buenos Aires)

  • alfajores de chocolate y dulce de leche (marca Havanna y ahora marca Cachafaz hechos por los antiguos pasteleros de la empresa Havanna que fue vendida).
  • bocaditos Bonafide de dulce de leche o los Cabsha, más pequeños.
  • probar los helados de Freddo, Chungo y Persicco (entrar en la competencia sobre cuáles se prefieren).
  • revuelto Gramajo (un plato típico porteño no apto para regímenes de bajo colesterol: papas fritas bien finitas y jamón, mezclados con huevo revuelto y con el posible agregado de puerro y arvejas)
  • desde ya asado de todo tipo de carnes. De vaca: tira de asado, vacío, colita de cuadril, lomo, matambre, etc.; sin olvidar las «achuras»: distintas vísceras (se puede preferir no indagar qué es cada cosa), mollejas, riñoncitos, chinchulines, etc. Pero también cerdo y pollo.
  • también son típicas las empanadas (pasteles con forma de semicírculo con diferentes rellenos). Las más tradicionales son las de carne y las de queso, pero hay en Buenos Aires una infinidad de rellenos variados, que los más puristas se niegan a llamar «empanadas». Cada provincia –especialmente las del noroeste de Argentina– tiene su forma típica de prepararlas.
  • ¡milanesas! (tajadas finitas de carne vacuna rebozadas con una mezcla de pan rallado y huevo) fritas en aceite.
  • tomar mate (infusión de yerba mate). Puede ser en la forma más típica y tradicional, en una calabaza y con bombilla, o como en lo que se llama “mate cocido”, haciendo una infusión tipo té (hay saquitos de «mate cocido»)
  • por supuesto, vinos (pero desconozco absolutamente el asunto –y no por cuestiones religiosas, incluso diría que soy indigna de mi familia por esta imperdonable falla…)

  • Avenida del Libertador en la zona de los bosques de Palermo (una serie de parques más que un «bosque» donde estaba la residencia de Juan Martín de Rozas, gobernador de Buenos Aires e importante caudillo de mediados del siglo XIX) y hasta la zona de Recoleta.
  • El cementerio de Recoleta y el elegante barrio que la rodea (Av. Quintana, Av. Alvear).
  • El Botánico, algo descuidado desde hace ya años, pero mejorando (para mí es el espacio de mí infancia, así que siempre conservará su encanto aunque sea como testimonio del tempus fugit –así que cuanto más destruido, más patente su mensaje!)
  • La zona de Avenida Callao y Avenida Santa Fe (entrar a la librería, bar y sala de café concert «Clásica y Moderna»)
  • Avenida 9 de Julio, ancha como una manzana (para hacerla se derribaron manzanas enteras a lo largo de su traza), con el emblemático obelisco en el medio, en el cruce de Av. Corrientes
  • La Avenida Corrientes, con sus librerías y teatros, algo decadente ya, pero sigue manteniendo algo de su personalidad (hay que comer pizza en «Los Inmortales»)
  • Plaza San Martín (visitar el Plaza Hotel, el primer hotel de lujo de Latinoamérica).
  • Barrio de Palermo, antes barrio de malevos, ahora de modernos diseñadores. Se recordará a Borges, fascinado por el aura orillera que tenía esa zona cuando él era pequeño. Luego alejándose un poco, se podrá visitar la casa museo del gran amigo de Geogie, el polifacético Xul Solar.
  • San Telmo y la Plaza Dorrego con su feria de anticuarios los fines de semana.
  • El barrio de Barracas y el parque Lezama (donde se sitúan algunas escenas de Sobre héroes y tumbas de Sábato)
  • La Boca y Caminito además del pasaje típico tanguero, ahora hay que visitar la Fundación Proa.
  • Mi barrio: Belgrano (evitar horarios de salida de colegios: una locura de tránsito) recorrer las calles 11 de Septiembre o 3 de Febrero. Llegar a la plaza General Belgrano, donde está la iglesia «La Redonda». Recorrer Belgrano R, de las mejores zonas residenciales de Buenos Aires.
  • Ir a las afueras de Buenos Aires, especialmente San Isidro (no podré invitar a todos, pero para mí es imperdible mi club, el Náutico San Isidro). Conocer el Delta del Río de la Plata, visitando el Tigre y el Puerto de Frutos.

1. Obelisco (Av. Corrientes & 9 de Julio) • 2. Plaza San Martín • 3. Barrio de San Telmo • 4. Parque Lezama • 5. La Boca • 6. Av. Santa Fe & Av. Callao • 7. Av. del Libertador por los Bosques de Palermo • 8. Jardín Botánico • 9. Barrio de Palermo • 10. Cementerio de la Recoleta • B. Mi barrio: Belgrano (no entra) • x. En la cruz indiqué donde será la residencia porteña de Wang Wei

Pero tampoco seamos tan idealistas… como no podía faltar en el espíritu porteño, que tiene siempre a flor de piel la crítica y en la punta de la lengua una queja, recordemos que quien nos visite seguramente tampoco dejará de toparse con calles que necesitan más limpieza, embotellamientos de tránsito causados por infinidad de razones, gente malhumorada & agresiva. En fin, el encanto diario de vivir en Buenos Aires!


Bocaditos de chocolate y dulce de leche

Revuelto gramajo


Iglesia «La Redonda» en Belgrano

Cementerio de la Recoleta

Avenida Corrientes con vista al Obelisco

San Telmo

Belgrano R, calle Melián

Plaza de Mayo

Círculo Militar, zona de Plaza San Martín

Av. Santa Fe frente a Plaza San Martín

© 2005 Fotogalería Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires

in English


They grow between two and three centimeters per year. The little girl near to it was just 1.25 meter high when the photo was taken. For how many centuries has it guarded the fortress of the Tilcara Indians, built at a strategic pass of the Humahuaca Canyon?