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Persian Garden

Persian Garden as a Symbol of Paradise

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19th Century Persian Garden at Bagh-e Eram in Shiraz Iran

19th Century Persian Garden at Bagh-e Eram in Shiraz Iran

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Cyrus the Great's Palace at Pasargadae

Cyrus the Great's Palace at Pasargadae

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Hanging Gardens of Babylon (1895 Liebig Card)

Hanging Gardens of Babylon (1895 Liebig Card)

Culture Club / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Persian garden at Pasargadae was a large, formal garden with stone water channels and orchards. Built during the reign of the founding king of the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian empire Cyrus the Great (~550-530 BC), Pasargadae's garden is one of the earliest built gardens for which we have evidence. Its location and layout—a lush walled garden in an arid countryside—is believed to represent the Islamic and Judeo-Christian ideals of paradise on earth.

Contents of a Persian Garden

Archaeological evidence—the gardens were excavated by David Stronach in the 1970s—suggests that Pasargadae's palaces were structured to provide private access to the gardens. Pavilions, channels, orchards, pools, terraces, walkways and an enclosing wall (called pairadaeza) characterized the garden, which was laid out symmetrically in a four-part system. The fourfold garden is thought to have symbolized the Achaemenid universe of four quarters divided by four rivers: a central pool in the garden led off in channels in four separate directions.

Historical reports of the period describe Persian gardens in several Achaemenid dynasty capitals, including Persepolis and Susa in Iran; Sardis in Lydia (now Turkey), Celaenae in Phyrgia and Belesys in Syria. The gardens were described as including a wide array of exotic animals, and exotic plants used for medicines and perfumes, including tamarisk, oleander, roses and violets.

Pasargadae and Paradise

Other Mediterranean cultures in contact with the Achaemenid soon adopted the garden notion. The Pasargadae Garden and similar gardens in other Achaemenid dynasty cities are believed to be the model for the gardens of paradise in both Islamic and Judeo-Christian belief systems. The word for the enclosure—pairadaeza—is the basis for our word 'paradise', and the gardens are believed to have been the pattern for the celestial garden described in the Koran, and the model for the Biblical Garden of Eden.

One of the ancient world's seven wonders was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, archaeological evidence of which has yet to be found. However, a lush garden dated to ca. 700 BC is represented on the walls of the Assyrian palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh near the modern city of Mosul in Iraq, who constructed a vast water control system to support irrigation and fresh water for his city, and perhaps to water to his garden. If Stephanie Dalley conducting research about Nineveh is correct, the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh predate Pasargadae's by 150 years.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to Persian Empire and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Bedal, Leigh-Ann. 1998. The Petra Pool Complex: A Hellenistic Paradeisos in the Nabataean Capital. Near Eastern Studies Volume 5, Gorgios Press, Piscataway, New Jersey.

Conan, Michel (editor). 2007. Middle East Garden Traditions: Unity and Diversity. Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, Volume 31. Dumbarton Oaks, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dalley S. 1993. Ancient Mesopotamian gardens and the identification of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon resolved. Garden History 21(1):1-13.

Hobhouse, Penelope. 2004. Gardens of Persia. Kales Press, San Diego.

Tamburrino A. 2010. Water Technology in Ancient Mesopotamia. In: Mays L, editor. Ancient Water Technologies: Springer Netherlands. p 29-51. doi: 10.1007/978-90-481-8632-7_2

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