Beauty, ingenuity and tradition: The Persian Garden
Iranians’ love affair with nature and the creation of beautiful gardens goes far back in our history. The Achaemenid palace of Pasargadae (500 BC) retains one of the earliest examples of a garden form which represents the essence of Persian Gardens as we know them today. Early decorated pottery (4000 BC) displaying the typical cross plan of the Persian garden demonstrate its cultural importance and its place in our history.
The four partite garden design, the basic and the dominant format, emulates the Garden of Eden and its four principal rivers, a notion shared by many monotheist religions. The word paradise is derived from the Persian word pardis (walled garden) which in turn is based on the ancient Akkadian pardesu (cool and shady retreat). These words are all references to safe and idyllic gardens of heaven.
The unifying ideology of Islam in the Middle East, North Africa and Mediterranean Europe allowed for cross fertilisation of cultures and ideas. Persian Garden design and its playful juxtaposition of water, plant and building were amongst our contributions. Variations on the theme are still to be found in north Africa and Spain to the West and in the Indian sub-continent to the East.
Given the arid and sometimes inhospitably harsh climate of the Iranian plateau, it is not hard to understand the desirability of such gardens, public or private, they are natural refuges during the heat of summer and best places to greet the spring and appreciate nature. The ingenuity of qanats, transferring water from far away mountains through a series of interconnecting underground tunnels, made it possible to maintain these walled gardens.
Today we have retained very many of these gardens, mostly open to the public, they are maintained and protected, passing on a tradition which has made a lasting impression on the world. Currently, nine of these are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage register. Fin Garden in Kashan, the garden of Chehel Sotoun in Isfahan and Dolatabad garden in Yazd, have been on the tourist map for many years.
The tradition of creating gardens in the face of climatic adversity is continuing to this day with the planting of new spectacular gardens and public parks, using traditional methods or by embracing technology and modernity. The Nature Bridge in Tehran is perhaps the most controversial and unorthodox example of the Iranian tradition of creating gardens in unlikely places.