Islamic garden

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An Islamic garden is generally an expressive estate of land that includes themes of water and shade. Traditionally used to provide respite from a hot and arid environment, Islamic gardens also served several other purposes. Furthermore, the region of Islam expands into a variety of other climates, in addition to the more common hot and arid areas. Unlike English gardens, which are often designed for walking, Islamic gardens are intended for rest, reflection, and contemplation. The most identifiable architectural designs of Islamic gardens reflect the Chahār Bāgh design. However, the Chahār Bāgh was not the most common, as many gardens encompassed a wide variety of forms and purposes which no longer exist. A major focus of the Islamic gardens was to provide a sensory experience, which was accomplished through the use of water and sensory plants, often leading to the effect of dematerialization. The Qur'an has many references to gardens and states that gardens are used as an earthly analogue for the life in paradise which is promised to believers:

Allah has promised to the believing men and the believing women gardens, beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them, and goodly dwellings in gardens of perpetual abode; and best of all is Allah's goodly pleasure; that is the grand achievement (Qur'an 9.72)

Along with the popular paradisiacal interpretation of gardens, there are several other non-pious associations with Islamic gardens including wealth, power, territory, pleasure, hunting, leisure, love, and time and space. These other associations provide more symbolism in the manner of serene thoughts and reflection and are associated with a scholarly sense.

While many Islamic gardens no longer exist, there are still many surviving formal Islamic gardens in a wide zone extending from Spain and Morocco in the west to India in the east.

Architectural Designs and Influences[edit]

(1565) Humayun's Tomb, Delhi, India. Garden showing a four-quadrant axial design
(1528) Babur Garden, Kabul Afghanistan. Depiction of stepped garden

After the Arab invasions of the 7th century CE, the traditional design of the Persian garden was used in many Islamic gardens. Persian gardens were designed to represent paradise as they were traditionally enclosed by walls and the Persian word for an enclosed space is 'pairi-daeza.'[1] Hellenistic influences are also apparent in their designs, as seen in the Western use of straight lines in a few garden plans that are also blended with Sassanid ornamental plantations and fountains.[2]

One of the most identifiable garden designs, known as the Charbagh (or Chahār Bāgh), consists of four quadrants most commonly divided by either water channels or walkways that took on many forms of variation.[3] One of these variations included sunken quadrants with planted trees filling them, so that they would be level to the viewer.[3] Another variation is a courtyard at the center intersection, with pools built either in the courtyard or surrounding the courtyard.[3] While the chahār bāgh gardens are the most identified gardens, very few were actually built, possibly due to their high costs or because they belonged to the higher class, who had the capabilities to insure their survival.[3] Notable examples of the chahār bāgh include Balkuwara Palace and Madinat al-Zahra in Spain.[4]

An interpretation of the chahār bāgh's design is conveyed as a metaphor for a “whirling wheel of time” that challenges time and change.[5] This idea of cyclical time places man at the center of this wheel or space and reinforces perpetual renewal and the idea that the garden represents the antithesis of deterioration.[5] The enclosed garden forms a space that is permanent, a space where time does not decay the elements within the walls, representing an unworldly domain.[5] At the center of the cycle of time is the human being who, after being released, eventually reaches eternity.[5]

Aside from gardens typically found in palaces, they also found their way in other locations as well. The Great Mosque of Córdoba contains a continuously planted garden in which rows of fruit trees, similar to an orchard, were planted in the courtyard.[3] This garden was irrigated by a nearby aqueduct and served as the purpose to provide shade and possibly fruit for the mosque's caretaker.[3]Another type of garden design includes stepped terraces, in which water flows through a central axis, creating a trickling sound and animation effect with each step, which could also be used to power water jets.[3] An example of the stepped terraces gardens includes the Shālamār Bāgh, the Bāgh-i Bābur, and Madinat al-Zahra.[3]

Sensory Experience[edit]

Islamic gardens presented a variety of devices that all contributed to the stimulation of several senses and the mind, with the purpose to enhance one's experience in the garden. These devices include the manipulation of water and the usage of aromatic plants, which affected one's sense of sight, sound, smell and touch.[6]

(1362) Court of the Lions, Grenada, Spain. Fountain depicting lions with water coming out of their mouths

The Use of Water[edit]

With the use of irrigated channels of water from select locations, the creators of the gardens were able to provide fertile soil which enabled the gardens to exist in their typically drier climates.[7] Water itself served many sensory functions, such as a desire for interaction, illusionary reflections, and animation of still objects therefore stimulating visual, auditory and somatosensory senses.

Due to the hot and arid conditions where gardens were often built, water was used as a way to refresh, cleanse, and cool an exhausted visitor. Therefore, many people would come to the gardens solely to interact with the water.[1] Structures, such as buildings and mausoleums, were strategically placed so that their reflections could be cast in the water, drawing further attention to the architecture.[6] The interaction of reflections with the rippling water caused by jets and the shimmering sunlight aided in the illusionary effect upon the viewer and added more emphasis on the subject.[6] Another use of water was to provide kinetic motion and sound to an inert object.[6] Many Nasrid palaces included a sculpture in their garden in which a jet of water would flow out of the structure's mouth. By doing this, motion and a "roaring sound" of water is added to the sensory experience that one would receive upon viewing the garden.[6]

(1258) Gulistan. An Islamic manuscript depicting a flowering tree in a garden

The Use of Sensory Plants[edit]

Many of the existing gardens that still remain do not contain the same vegetation as they did when they were first created due to the lack of botanical accuracy in written texts. Historical texts tended to focus primarily on the sensory experience, rather than details of the agriculture.[8] There is, however, record of various fruit bearing trees and flowers that contributed to the aromatic aspect of the garden, such as cherries, peaches, almonds, jasmine, roses, narcissi, violets, and lilies.[1] Other exotic plants from several parts of the world were sought after by royalty and they often included these plants in their gardens.[9] Examples of exotic plants found in royals' gardens include pomegranates, Dunaqāl figs, a variety of pears, bananas, sugar cane and apples, which provided a rare unprecedented taste.[9]


The wide variety and forms of devices used in structuring the gardens provide inconsistent experiences for the viewer, such as the illusionary reflections dependent on light, and contribute to the garden's dematerialization.[6] The irregular flow of water and the different angles of the sun were the primary tools that were used to create a unique and mysterious experience every time one interacted with the garden.[6] Many aspects of gardens were also introduced inside buildings and structures to contribute to the building's dematerialization. Water channels were often drawn into rooms that overlooked lush gardens and agriculture so that gardens and architecture would be intertwined and indistinguishable, deemphasizing a human's role in the creation of the structure.[10]


(14th Century) Generalife garden, Granada, Andalusia, Spain. Garden encompassing octagonal fountain

The common religious symbolism found in Islamic gardens is just one interpretation of their purpose, as these landscapes carry several associations.[11] Most Islamic gardens are typically thought to represent paradise. In fact, only a few were intentionally made for this paradisiacal representation, which were usually gardens that encompassed a mausoleum or tomb. [12]

For the few gardens that were actually intended to represent paradise, there were common themes of life and death present, such as flowers that would bloom and die, representing a human's life.[10] Along with flowers, other agriculture such as fruit trees were included in gardens that surrounded mausoleums.[13] These fruit trees, along with areas of shade and cooling water were added because it was believed that the souls of the deceased could enjoy them in the afterlife. [13] Fountains, often found in the center of the gardens, were used to represent paradise and were most commonly octagonal, which is geometrically inclusive of a square and a circle.[1] In this octagonal design, the square was representative of the earth, while the circle represented heaven, therefore its geometric design was intended to represent the gates of heaven; the transition between earth and heaven.[1] The color green was also a very prominent tool in this religious symbolism, as green is the color of Islam, and a majority of the foliage, aside from flowers, expressed this religious color.[1]

Religious References of Gardens[edit]

Gardens are mentioned in the Qur'an to represent a vision of paradise and as promised by the religious text, believers will dwell in “gardens, beneath which rivers flow” (Qur’an 9:72). The Qur'an mentions paradise as containing four rivers with each one containing honey, wine, water, or milk, and leads to a common misinterpreted association of the chahār bāgh's design of four axial water channels, solely with paradise.[14] Pre-Islamic and Umayyad cultures imagined serene and rich gardens of paradise that provided an oasis in the arid environment in which they often lived.[4] Water is also an essential aspect of this Paradise for the righteous.[4] Water represents God’s benevolence to his people and it is a necessity for survival for humans and nature.[4] Water is also viewed as a symbol of mercy from God due to its very close association with rain and water in the Qur'an.[1] Conversely, water can be seen as a punishment from God through floods and other natural disasters.[4]

Conveying Affluence[edit]

(Circa 1420) Manuscript created by unknown Persian artist. Princely cycle shown with scene of hunting on estate of land

Islamic gardens were often used to convey a sense of power and wealth among its patrons. The magnificent size of palace gardens directly showed an individual's financial capabilities and sovereignty while overwhelming their audiences.[4] The palaces and gardens built in Samarra, Iraq, for example, were massive in size, demonstrating the magnificence of the Abbasid caliphate.[4]

Another aspect of gardens that conveyed power and wealth was their proximity to water, irrigation capabilities, and a ruler's ability to regulate water. The ruling caliphate had control over the water supply, which was necessary for gardens to flourish, making it understood that owning a large functioning garden required a great deal of power.[4] Rulers and wealthy elite often entertained their guests on their garden properties near water, demonstrating the luxury that came with such an abundance of water.[4] Citadels in places such as Aleppo and Cairo also demonstrated the patron's wealth, as the advanced technology used to irrigate them were complex and expensive.[4]

Several palace gardens, including Hayr al-Wuhush in Samarra, Iraq, were used as game preserves and places to hunt.[15] The sheer size of the vast hunting enclosures reinforced the power and wealth of the caliph.[4] A major idea of the 'princely cycle' was hunting, in which it was noble to partake in the activity and showed greatness.[15]

Surviving gardens[edit]

Many of the gardens of Islamic civilization no longer exist today. While most others may retain their forms, the original plantings have been replaced with modern ones.[16] The garden is a transient form of architectural art dependent upon the climate and the resources available to those who care for it. As previously mentioned, there was a lack of botanical accuracy on written text to properly replenish the agriculture exactly as it was from previous gardens.[8]


Evliya Çelebi's 17th century CE Seyahatname (travel book) contains descriptions of Paradise Gardens around the towns of Berat and Elbasan, Albania. According to Dr. Robert Elsie, an expert on Albanian culture, very few traces of the refined oriental culture of the Ottoman era remain here today.[17] Çelebi describes the town of Berat as an open town with "well built and attractive houses with gardens", "spread over seven verdant hills and valleys. Among them are over 100 splendid mansions with cisterns and fountains". [17] Çelebi similarly describes the town of Elbasan as having "prosperous and cheerful-looking mansions ... adorned with beautiful vineyards, paradisiacal gardens and parks with their pavilions and galleries ... Each of them has a source of pure flowing water, a pool and a fountain with water spurting from jets. They are luxurious dwellings like those in the gardens of paradise.[17]


Dar al-Bahr, the Lake Palace, is situated on the southern end of Beni Hammad Fort, a ruined fortified city which has remained uninhabited for 800 years. Artifacts recovered from the site attest to a high degree of civilization. During its time, it was remarked upon by visitors for the nautical spectacles enacted in its large pool. Surrounding the pool and the palace were terraces, courtyards and gardens. Little is known of the details of these gardens, other than the lion motifs carved in their stone fountains.[18] Beni Hammad Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted as an "authentic picture of a fortified Muslim city."

The Shalimar gardens[edit]

The name Shalimar is thought to mean, among other things, "abode of bliss" or "light of the moon". There were originally three gardens with the name Shalimar: one in Lahore, Pakistan, another in Jammu Kashmir, India and finally one, located in Delhi, India which has completely disappeared.[19]

Shalimar Gardens, Lahore[edit]

Shalimar Gardens, Lahore, was built by the governor of Lahore, with funds supplied by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, beginning in 1641 CE. The water is supplied by a canal dug from the nearby Ravi river. Built in the Mughal style, it is surrounded by high walls with towers in the corners. The inner face of the walls have traces of frescoes done in floral patterns. The canal passes through the gardens, which are constructed on three separate terraces at different elevations. The garden terraces are laid out in the traditional "paradise" motif of four channels converging on a central fountain, and cover a total of forty acres.[19] [20]

Andalusian Spain[edit]

Gardens found in Andalusia were common found in homes. Andalusian designs emphasized privacy and coolness, with rooms opening onto a roofed, open corridor. Next to this corridor, one would typically find a verdant patio garden complete with central fountain.[21] Examples of these gardens include the Generalife gardens and the Alcazaba gardens.[21]

Al-Azhar park, Cairo[edit]

Al-Azhar Park is a modern day landmark in Cairo, Egypt. It is laid out along a central series of terraced, formal Islamic gardens. Multicolored Mamluk stonework, fountains and Islamic geometric patterns are the predominating stylistic theme of the park.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Clark, Emma. "The Symbolism of the Islamic Garden « Islamic Arts and Architecture". Islamic Arts and Architecture.
  2. ^ Marie-Luise Gothein, A History of Garden Art, Diederichs, 1914, p. 148.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Ruggles, D. Fairchild. The Encyclopaedia of Islam Three (3rd ed.). Brill. p. Garden Form and Variety.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rivers of paradise : water in Islamic art and culture. Blair, Sheila., Bloom, Jonathan (Jonathan M.), Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art and Culture (2nd : 2007 : Dawḥah, Qatar). New Haven: Yale University Press. 2009. ISBN 9780300158991. OCLC 317471939.
  5. ^ a b c d Graves, Margaret S. (2012). Islamic Art, Architecture and Material Culture : New Perspectives. England: Archaeopress. pp. 93–99. ISBN 1407310356. OCLC 818952990.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 210.
  7. ^ Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 15.
  8. ^ a b Ruggles, D. Fairchild. The Encyclopaedia of Islam Three "Gardens" (3rd ed.). Brill. p. Methodology.
  9. ^ a b Ruggles, Fairchild. Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. 17–18, 29.
  10. ^ a b Ruggles, D. Fairchild. The Encyclopaedia of Islam Three "Gardens" (3rd ed.). Brill. p. Garden Symbolism.
  11. ^ Mulder, Stephennie (2011). "Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 131.4: 646–650 – via JSTOR.
  12. ^ Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 219.
  13. ^ a b Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 217.
  14. ^ Ansari, Nazia (2011). "The Islamic Garden" (PDF). p. 27.
  15. ^ a b Brey, Alexander (March 2018). The Caliph's Prey: Hunting in the Visual Cultures of the Umayyad Empire (PhD). Bryn Mawr College.
  16. ^ Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, Introduction.
  17. ^ a b c Elsie, Robert. "Texts and Documents of Albanian History". Albanian History. Archived from the original on 5 July 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2018. Extracts from: Robert Dankoff and Robert Elsie (ed.): Evliya Çelebi in Albania and Adjacent Regions (Kosovo, Montenegro, Ohrid), Leiden 2000, p. 101 127, 161 193. Translated from the Ottoman Turkish by Robert Elsie and Robert Dankoff. Also published in R. Elsie: Early Albania, a Reader of Historical Texts, 11th - 17th Centuries, Wiesbaden 2003, pp. 195-218.
  18. ^ Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, p. 165.
  19. ^ a b Sikander, Sattar. The Shalamar: A Typical Muslim Garden. Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 2, 1986, pp. 24–29.
  20. ^ Sikander, Sattar (2006-02-14). "The Shalimar A typical Muslim Garden" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  21. ^ a b Irving, T. B. The Falcon of Spain . Ashraf Press, 1962, p. 153.

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