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Islamic Gardens and Landscapes

Islamic Gardens and Landscapes

D. Fairchild Ruggles
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Islamic Gardens and Landscapes
    Book Description:

    "In the course of my research," writes D. Fairchild Ruggles, "I devoured Arabic agricultural manuals from the tenth through the fourteenth centuries. I love gardening, and in these texts I was able to enter the minds of agriculturalists and botanists of a thousand years ago who likewise believed it was important and interesting to record all the known ways of propagating olive trees, the various uses of rosemary, and how best to fertilize a garden bed." Western admirers have long seen the Islamic garden as an earthly reflection of the paradise said to await the faithful. However, such simplification, Ruggles contends, denies the sophistication and diversity of the art form. Islamic Gardens and Landscapes immerses the reader in the world of the architects of the great gardens of the Islamic world, from medieval Morocco to contemporary India. Just as Islamic culture is historically dense, sophisticated, and complex, so too is the history of its built landscapes. Islamic gardens began from the practical need to organize the surrounding space of human civilization, tame nature, enhance the earth's yield, and create a legible map on which to distribute natural resources. Ruggles follows the evolution of these early farming efforts to their aristocratic apex in famous formal gardens of the Alhambra in Spain and the Taj Mahal in Agra. Whether in a humble city home or a royal courtyard, the garden has several defining characteristics, which Ruggles discusses. Most notable is an enclosed space divided into four equal parts surrounding a central design element. The traditional Islamic garden is inwardly focused, usually surrounded by buildings or in the form of a courtyard. Water provides a counterpoint to the portioned green sections. Ranging across poetry, court documents, agronomy manuals, and early garden representations, and richly illustrated with pictures and site plans, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes is a book of impressive scope sure to interest scholars and enthusiasts alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0728-6
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 The Islamic Landscape Place and Memory
    (pp. 3-12)

    Gardens and landscape are elusive subjects, positioned in both space and time, yet belonging to neither one exclusively. The Islamic landscape is particularly problematic because there is the additional question of what defines it. The Islamic world is broad and diverse with different ways of cultivating the earth and organizing human society and such different histories that it can seem absurd to compare the Balkans with the Sahara, or riparian flood-based irrigation along the Nile with underground conduits supplying irrigation systems in Iran and Iraq or water storage systems in India (Fig. 1). Babur, the sixteenth-century founder of the Mughal...

  5. 2 Making the Desert Bloom Transforming an Inhospitable Earth
    (pp. 13-28)

    Islamic civilization brought dramatic changes to the landscape it inhabited. With the skillful acquisition and transportation of water, the parched lands of the Middle East and northern Africa flourished with human-made verdant oases that not only transformed the economy with their agricultural products but also became a powerful form of cultural expression. The techniques employed to effect this transformation originated among the ancient Persians and Romans. But Muslim communities implemented them more broadly for a complex web of motivations having to do with the system of land ownership and labor, inheritance laws, taxation, urban growth, and an idealized vision of...

  6. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  7. 3 The Science of Gardening Agricultural and Botanical Manuals
    (pp. 29-38)

    As the Islamic landscape changed considerably during the eighth and ninth centuries, government administrators, landowners, and farmers took notice. The Islamic political map expanded to include new areas of the world with different climatic conditions and agricultural practices. This, in combination with the expansion of trade networks, first in the Mediterranean basin and subsequently along the land routes to central Asia and the east, stimulated the exchange of botanical specimens and farming lore. In the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, while northern and western Europe slumbered in an age only partially enlightened by the Carolingian renaissance, the Islamic world, which...

  8. 4 Organizing the Earth Cross-axial Gardens and the Chahar Bagh
    (pp. 39-50)

    Islamic gardens were not created ex nihilo. Like the religion of Islam and the culture that was born out of it, there were prior layers that help explain how Islam developed as it did. The earlier and contemporary societies of Byzantium, the Sasanians, and the city-dwelling Arabs and Jews expressed the relationship between humankind and the earth through the making of gardens, and thus to understand the form and meaning of early Islamic gardens, it is instructive to examine the ancient gardens of southwestern Asia and the Mediterranean. Of course these precedents do not wholly explain the gardens of Islam,...

  9. 5 Trees and Plants Botanical Evidence from Texts and Archaeology
    (pp. 51-62)

    Gardens are ephemeral. While the pavement slabs and stone or brick walls of a garden may survive through centuries of neglect, its trees, shrubs, and flowers will wither and reseed haphazardly, interspersed with weeds and volunteer species that were not original to the site. Given that living matter cannot be recuperated as easily as the more enduring forms of architecture, how then can we re-create the botanical contents of historic gardens? We have seen that treatises from as early as the tenth century list the plant varieties cultivated in a given period and region, but these rarely provide information about...

  10. 6 Representations of Gardens and Landscape Imagery in Manuscript Paintings, Textiles, and Other Media
    (pp. 63-74)

    Manuscripts from the thirteenth century onward depict landscapes and gardens in styles that range from schematic scenes lacking spatial depth to meticulously rendered landscapes, rich with detail and convincing observation. Because manuscript painting is a visual medium, it would seem to have an advantage over written descriptions of gardens. But are the images in manuscripts any more accurate or complete than those of texts? To what extent can paintings be used as transparent windows onto lost places? It is not always clear from a manuscript or album painting whether an artist was representing an actual garden with observable and recognizable...

  11. 7 Imaginary Gardens Gardens in Fantasy and Literature
    (pp. 75-88)

    Arabic poems and narratives, and even Islamic religious texts, often describe gardens in fantastic terms. Although gardens with golden palm trees that bore emeralds for fruit existed only in the imagination, others in which tree trunks were wrapped with golden textiles were quite real. The latter did not attempt a convincingly natural style; to the contrary, the whole point of the theatricality was to evoke the imaginary and mythic, and to test the limits of credulity. But the imaginary and the real cannot be easily separated, for each contributed to the realm of the other. Ironically, while literary descriptions exaggerated...

  12. 8 The Garden as Paradise The Historical Beginnings of Paradisiac Iconography
    (pp. 89-102)

    The theme of paradise in the previous two chapters arose with respect to fantastic and ideal gardens in the literary imagination, and the sumptuous gardens of the royal courts. In this chapter and the next, we will consider paradisiac symbolism in mosques and tomb gardens.

    Paradise is envisioned as a garden in Muslim thought, and the Qur’an gives a fairly detailed description of it. According to one verse: “The semblance of Paradise [janna] promised the pious and devout (is that of a garden) with streams of water that will not go rank, and rivers of milk whose taste will not...

  13. 9 The Here and Hereafter Mausolea and Tomb Gardens
    (pp. 103-116)

    Although the Qur’an and various hadith describe paradise as a garden, and although the mosaic and stucco representations of trees and nature in mosques were evidently intended to call to mind the garden of paradise, we have not yet seen evidence that actual gardens in the first four centuries of Islam were interpreted as representations of Paradise. This is because living gardens did not take on a specific paradisiac meaning until they were used as the settings for tombs, at which point, in addition to their role as visible signs of God’s bounty to the living, they were metaphors for...

  14. 10 A Garden in Landscape The Taj Mahal and Its Precursors
    (pp. 117-130)

    Histories of Islamic gardens have traditionally focused on the garden as an enclosed, bounded entity with a definition as precise as that of a building. While this is a successful strategy for considering some aspects of the garden such as patronage and typology, it excludes other aspects of garden-making such as views, the ecological issues of water management and botany, and the ways that an enclosed garden can respond spatially to the surrounding topography. Therefore, in this chapter, instead of comparing the various ways that botanical exchange, fantasy, memory, and design affected gardens and sites throughout the Islamic world, we...

  15. 11 Religion and Culture The Adoption of Islamic Garden Culture by Non-Muslims
    (pp. 131-146)

    The classic Islamic formal garden has distinctive characteristics that define it as Islamic, such as the cross-axial chahar bagh plan and ornamental elements such as the chadar and chini khana. To this can be added regional variations such as the pavilion opening to the garden through a portico of horseshoe arches in the Mediterranean (as in the Alhambra’s Court of the Myrtles, see Plate 9, and Partal, see Fig. 45), the multicolumned talar pavilion in Iran (as in the Chihil Situn and the Palace of Mirrors in Isfahan, see Fig. 52), and the jali screen in South Asia (as in...

  16. List of Gardens and Sites
    (pp. 147-224)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 225-226)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 227-240)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-254)
  20. Index
    (pp. 255-260)
  21. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 261-262)