Saffron was once widely grown in Europe, especially in mountainous regions. It has left its mark on history, with several towns having developed thanks to saffron. Two of them are also named after it.
Saffron Walden is located in England, in Essex.
The town dates back to Roman times. In the 13th century, Walden became known as "Market Walden", as it was the site of an important local market, which was to become the basis of its prosperity. Wool was mainly traded there, the kind that made the fortune of the English clothiers (as we explain very well in the series of farms in England).
Around 1350, the cultivation of saffron arrived in the town, in the 16th century it became very important and Walden changed its name again, to Saffron Walden. This culture disappeared at the end of the 18th century, in 1790 to be replaced by barley and its transformation into malt. If this activity was less lucrative than saffron, the demand was much more important! And above all, the prices of English saffron were no longer competitive with imported saffron, in particular by the East India Company.
It has retained its 12th century market place. It is also home to a superb castle, Audley End House, which appears in the series "The Crown" and especially in a Youtube series, where Mrs. Crocombe, a cook who really existed, is reincarnated to make us participate in the life and cooking of the Victorian era.
A number of houses in the city still have 'pargeting', a decorative relief plaster typical of the region, reminiscent of Italian stucco. And often, on this plaster, there are saffron patterns, as for example on these two photos of an interior decoration (source: Travel Outside London).
Safranbolu, capital of Turkish saffron
Safranbolu is a rich Turkish city, located in Anatolia, 100 kilometres south of the Black Sea coast. It is very old, dating back to the 6th century BC, but it is much later, in the 17th century, under the Ottomans, that it became a rich commercial and saffron-producing city.
The rich buildings of the merchants and saffron growers, spread over three historic districts, are listed as a World Heritage Site. In particular, there are three ancient caravanserai which must have housed many bags of saffron!
This traditional culture is still practiced in a small village called Davutobası, 22 kilometres away.
Elsewhere in the world
There are many other cities that have specialised in the cultivation of saffron and owe their prosperity to it. But as far as I know, they have not changed their name… Whether in the Gâtinais in France, Mund in the Frisians, Switzerland, in Taliouine in Morocco, in Visby in Gotland, saffron has brought prosperity and flavour, but discreetly!
If you know of any other places that saffron has given its name to, let me know in the comments!