[To provide a general typology and morphology of gardens, this entry comprises three articles:

  • Gardens in Preclassical Times
  • Gardens of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods
  • Gardens of the Islamic Period

Each article surveys the historical development, forms, and functions of gardens during the periods in question.]

Gardens in Preclassical Times

In Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt, gardens and parks were generally irrigated land enclosed for collections of cultivated plants and animals; in Lebanon and in temperate areas, managed native habitats or reserves are attested. Gardens are differentiated from other cultivated areas by the water supply and labor regime needed to maintain them, by the language and images used to describe them, and often by their association with architecture. Few gardens have been excavated, but landscape archaeology is an emerging subdiscipline; as cultivated sites are excavated, the textual and art historical evidence will grow.


Gardens in Mesopotamia existed in parks, palaces and estates, and temples.


Gardens first appear in the texts of the third millennium (Postgate, 1994, p. 174). The Epic of Gilgamesh describes a park. Gilgamesh and his companion enter a bounded wood in the Amanus Mountains. The fearsome Humbaba guards its straight paths and tends the cedars. The story raises themes constant in Near Eastern garden history: fascination with foreign landscapes and plants; the admirable, essentially human order of the straight path and plantings; and the violent act of cutting down the trees of one's vanquished enemy.

Stephanie Dalley (1986) points out that in the Sumerian language no distinction is made between an orchard of trees and a garden. Kings boast of large parts of cities devoted to these parks, of the great irrigation works that feed them, and of the distant lands from which the plants and animals are gathered. Tiglath-Pileser I (1114–1076 BCE) created a combined zoological park and arboretum of exotic animals and trees. Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BCE) created a garden/park at Nimrud (Kalḫu) by diverting water from the Upper Zab River through a rock-cut channel for his impressive collection of foreign plants and animals. [See Nimrud.] Sennacherib (704–681 BCE) makes a similar claim for Nineveh. [See Nineveh.] Parks are beautifully represented on the reliefs from Sargon II's (721–705 BCE) palace at Khorsabad, in which a variety of trees and a small pavilion with proto-Doric columns are depicted. [See Khorsabad.] Other reliefs depict lion hunts and facolnry in the parks. A clay tablet from Babylon names and locates vegetables and herbs in the garden of Merodach-Baladan II (721–710 BCE). [See Babylon.] In the palace reliefs of Ashurbanipal, the garden symbolizes the abundance and pleasures of peace after bravery in battle (Albenda, 1977).

Not only are plants collected, but so are entire landscapes. One of Sennacherib's parks is rare in garden history: a recreated marsh of the southern Euphrates River, with canebrakes, wild boar, and roosting herons. [See Euphrates.] Elsewhere, terracing provided the three-dimensional evocation of mountains. The famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon of Nebuchadrezzar II (605–562 BCE) were described as being in imitation of the alpine landscape of Media. An archaeological identification of their location on the Euphrates has been rejected, however (Dalley, 1986, p. 370).

Palace and estate gardens.

Gardens also formed part of the architecture of the ancient Near East. Texts locate a garden in the internal courtyard of the royal palace at Mari (nineteenth century BCE), featuring palm trees and an ornamental pool. [See Mari.] In fifteenth century BCE Ugarit, texts speak of a court with a large stone pond and another with plants and walkways, a pavilion, and a large trough. [See Ugarit.] Other texts range from fables that take place in gardens to ration lists, indicating that gardeners were members of a palace's staff (Pritchard, 1950). Most known palace courtyards still await excavation. [See Palace.] First-millennium BCE estate records indicate that nonroyal residences of the wealthy in northern Mesopotamia featured gardens with vines, fruit trees, vegetables, pools, ponds, and gardeners' cottages.

Temple gardens.

Temple gardens for the provision of fresh offerings are attested but poorly known. According to the excavator of the ziggurat at Ur, trees and shrubs were planted on its tiers, but there is no physical evidence. [See Ziggurat; Ur.] At the Temple of the New Year Festival at Aššur, rows of planting pits for shrubs and trees are cut into the rock of the inner courtyard and surrounding area. [See Aššur.] Esarhaddon's records describe a temple garden with water channels and vegetable beds. Nebuchadrezzar's temple (see above) included cypress and juniper groves, as well as gardens that supplied offerings for Marduk.

Persian Gardens.

The Persian pairidaeza are first attested in the works of the Greek Xenophon, who saw these enclosed gardens in Anatolia and Persia. The source of the paradeisos, paradise, pardēs (Heb.), parcus, and park—monumental, geometric gardens—are the Achaemenid Empire's most enduring cultural contribution. They are known from texts, reliefs, and archaeological remains at Pasargadae, Persepolis, and Susa. [See Pasargadae; Persepolis; Susa.] A recent field survey on the Persepolis plain, compared with textual evidence, gives the first regional sketch of Achaemenid royal and nonroyal estates.

There is no clear distinction between parks and palace gardens; in fact, at Pasargadae tombs are part of the complex as well (Strabo 15.3.7). [See Tombs.] The palaces are pavillions set into shady, irrigated parks laid out orthogonally. Excavations at Pasargadae revealed the first-known quadripartite, or chaharbagh garden (Cyrus is referred to in Babylonian texts as “king of the four quarters”). The axial “vista of power” down the center from the main pavillion allows a glimpse into the political role gardens played (Stronach, 1994). From the throne in his pavillion, Cyrus could view his paradeisos in the heat or the day, or festivals and recreation at other times.

The Achemaenid paradeisoi may have been influenced by gardens of palaces taken over by the Persian satraps throughout the empire. Paradesoi are found at Sardis, Daskyleion, and Kelainai in Anatolia and at Sidon and Lachish in Syria/Palestine, as well as at the unlocated palace of Belyses, satrap of northern Syria. [See Sardis; Sidon; Lachish.] Xenophon's description of Cyrus the Younger's garden at Sardis (c. 407 BCE), is definitive: fine trees set in even rows with clean angles, a place rich in fruit and pleasant scents—and cultivated by the satrap himself (Oeconomicus 4.20–24). Lydian gardens are later a part of the classical topos for luxury (cf. Athenaeus, Deipnosophists). The remains of a Lydian stone pavilion have been found on the terraced site presumed to be the palace of Croesus. The Achaemenid kings rebuilt the Median capitol of Ecbatana in the Zagros Mountains as a summer residence. [See Ecbatana.] With its terraced gardens, orchards and vineyard, natural streams, and high altitude, it is the place the Median wife of Nebuchadrezzar II sought to recreate in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Diodorus, however, attributes the gardens to an Achaemenid king. Archaeological evidence suggests that a change in the course of the Euphrates destroyed the earlier gardens, and the Achaemenids rebuilt them on a new site (Dalley, 1986).


The Egyptians probably cultivated gardens in the Nile Valley as early as the fourth millennium. However, evidence from texts, images, and archaeological excavation begins in the second millenium BCE. The regular flooding of the Nile and the annual need to re-mark the boundaries of fields and gardens is cited by Herodotus as the origin of geometry—“land measurement.” The rectilinear order of irrigation channels structures the overall design of Egyptian gardens and fields south of the Delta throughout antiquity. [See Delta.]

Palace and house gardens.

Palace gardens are known from excavations at Tell ed-Dab῾a in the eastern Delta (1782–1650 BCE), which have revealed walled vineyards, flowerbeds, and tree pits (Wilkinson, 1990). The pharaonic palaces at Amarna (Akhenaten) and the Malkata palace (Amenhotep III) at Thebes contained zoological gardens, parks, lakes, and pavillions. [See Amarna, Tell el-.] The palace of Apries (588–563 BCE) continued this long tradition, including an impressive approach avenue and grand forecourt (Nielsen, 1994). Information about walls, planting design, and details of life and horticulture is available from tomb paintings. [See Wall Paintings.]

The large gardens of rich officials usually featured pools, shade-tree plantings, and shrines. The great abundance of paintings in tombs attests to the variety and vivacity of royal and official estate gardens. Even those who had just a small strip beside their house planted trees in pots. In the workers' village at Amarna, where conditions were crowded, gardens were located outside the housing quarters (Kemp, 1987, pp. 36–41).

Temple and tomb gardens.

“The garden was the place of creation from which grew the temple with its vegetal architecture and the habitable world. The pool represents the water of Nun from which life originally sprang” (Wilkinson, 1990, p. 202). Gardens are associated with many types of religious buildings, from the small chapel courtyards in the workers' village at Amarna to the great mortuary temples of the pharaohs. They provided offerings during life and after. The earliest archaeological remains are from Amun's temple at Karnak; they are illustrated further in the tombs of eighteenth-dynasty officials and in texts that describe the trees later brought back from Punt, Palestine, and Syria by Rameses III (1182–1151 BCE). Sycamore fig, tamarisk, and palm trees had particular significance. Queen Hatshepsut, whose paintings at Deir el-Baḥari also indicate journeys made to collect plants for Amun, created gardens between Karnak and Luxor for the Feast of Opet, confirming her right to rule. Like that of Mentuhotep (for which there is a stone plan), Hatshepsut's mortuary temple was reached by a long avenue lined with T-shaped pools for papyrus and sycamore figs found by the excavators to have been cut down, perhaps in damnaio memoriae by her son. A similar processional alley was found in the temple at Hermopolis, its flanking trees set into brick-ringed pits. Even the most modest of sacred gardens possessed T-shaped or rectangular pools, and those at the main chapel at Amarna seem to have been rotated in their use, some filled with water, others with soil.

Generally, the gardens provided for the pleasure of the deceased were not planted but painted in the tomb chamber: representations of water and fruit provided nourishment, while the trees allowed the soul to perch. Many garden paintings are quite elaborate, and it can be difficult to distinguish the fictional from the actual. Archaeological remains of tomb gardens are known from Amarna, Abydos, and Thebes. [See Abydos.]


  • Albenda, Pauline. “Landscape Bas-Reliefs in the Bīt-Ḫilāni of Ashurbanipal.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 224 (1976): 49–72; no. 225 (1977): 29–48. Important attempt to understand the overall landscape significance of these reliefs, though somewhat controversial.
  • Badawy, Alexander. A History of Egyptian Architecture, vol. 2, The First Intermediate Period, the Middle Kingdom, and the Second Intermediate Period. Berkeley, 1966. The best collection of illustrations of ancient gardens.
  • Brown, John Pairman. The Lebanon and Phoenicia: Ancient Texts Illustrating Their Physical Geography and Native Industries, vol. 1, The Physical Setting and the Forest. Beirut, 1969.
  • Buckler, W. H., and D. M. Robinson. Sardis VII: Greek and Latin Inscriptions, Part 1. Leiden, 1932.
  • Dalley, Stephanie. “Mesopotamia, Ancient.” In The Oxford Companion to Gardens, edited by Geoffrey Jellicoe et al., pp. 368–370. Oxford, 1986. The most authoritative summary, until older assessments are reevaluated in light of advances in translations of Akkadian and Sumerian texts.
  • Kemp, Barry J. “The Amarna Workmen's Village.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 73 (1987): 21–50. See especially pages 36–41, for the evidence for farming.
  • Moynihan, Elizabeth. Paradise as a Garden: In Persia and Mughal India. New York, 1979. Readable, well-illustrated work with important chapters on pre-Islamic gardens.
  • Nielsen, Inge. Hellenistic Palaces: Tradition and Renewal. Aarhus, 1994.
  • Peterman, Glen L. “Conservation of the Petra Papyri.” Biblical Archaeologist 57 (1994): 242–243.
  • Postgate, J. N. Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. Rev. ed. London, 1994. Discusses gardens within the larger agricultural structure of the landscape.
  • Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton, 1950.
  • Stronach, David B. “Parterres and Stone Watercourses at Pasargadae: Notes on the Achaemenid Contribution to the Evolution of Garden Design.” Journal of Garden History 14 (1994): 3–12. One of several important articles on ancient gardens to appear in this journal recently.
  • Wilkinson, Alix. “Gardens in Ancient Egypt: Their Locations and Symbolism.” Journal of Garden History 10 (1990): 199–208. Useful synthesis and bibliography.

Kathryn L. Gleason

Gardens of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods

Gardens of the Hellenistic, Roman, and Sasanian periods draw heavily on the Persian paradeisos, as interpreted by Alexander the Great at Alexandria. However, in this period, paradeisos also refers to any land with trees or orchards interspersed with crops, even grain. Gardens are frequently mentioned in texts and depicted in wall paintings and mosaics throughout the classical and Byzantine eras. Evidence for common domestic gardens and garden practice is abundant in Egyptian and Palestinian papyri, the Hebrew Talmud and Mishna, and the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, as well as in the archaeological remains of intensive agriculture practiced by the Nabateans and other cultures in the arid countryside. The writings of Theophrastus outline botanical knowledge gained during Alexander's campaigns, while Pliny the Elder provides important knowledge of gardens and plants of the Roman Empire.


The basileia of Alexandria, a great built landscape of palaces, theaters, temples, sanctuaries, and tombs interspersed among groves and parks, provided the model of the garden for the entire Hellenistic and Roman world. Inge Nielsen (1994) demonstrates that the palaces in which Alexander stayed during the course of his campaigns influenced the creation of the city of Alexandria. [See Alexandria.] Although little remains archaeologically, the city's plan has been approximated, and Strabo (Geog. 17.1.9–10) provides a detailed description of the basileia, which occupied one third of Alexandria. Ptolemy VIII Physcon wrote a treatise on the birds of the palace area, so that zoological and botanical gardens are perhaps a pharaonic rather than a Persian legacy (Nielsen, 1994, p. 133).

The Thalamegos, a Nile festival barge of Ptolemy IV, featured a pavilion and grottoes with statuary, set against the cultivated shoreline of the Nile (Nielsen, 1994, p. 136). Nilotic landscapes inspired gardens, mosaics, and paintings throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods, from Rome to Palestine.

The abundant letters, daybooks, and official documents written on papyrus dealing with gardens and agriculture contribute another view of the estate garden: the logistics of its upkeep. The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Budge, 1907) gives a similarly detailed view of gardens in the Christian monasteries on the Nile from 250–400 CE. [See Papyrus; Monasteries.]


The gardens of ancient Palestine mixed Babylonian and Alexandrian influences. In Ptolemaic Palestine, the palace of Hyrcanus the Tobiad (d. 168/69 BCE), the Qaṣr el-῾Abd near ῾Iraq el-Amir (Tyros), has a preserved, extensive wadi-based irrigation system that served a large park and lake set within an estate described by Josephus (Antiq. 12.4.1). [See ῾Iraq el-Amir; Irrigation.]

The Hasmonean royal palace in the dynasty's capital, Jerusalem, is not preserved; however, the Hasmoneans (168–38 BCE) built a series of palaces in Wadi Qelt, near Jericho, that featured swimming pools and dining rooms, amid balsam and palm groves watered from springs in the surrounding Judean hills. [See Hasmoneans.] The buildings for public entertainment and sacred buildings characteristic of other Hellenistic palace complexes are notably absent in this recreational palace of the Jewish priestly class. [See Palace.]


GARDENS: Hellenistic and Roman Period. Figure 1. Reconstructed view of a Herodian Ionic peristyle garden. (Drawing by Chang Shan Huang; courtesy K. L. Gleason)

view larger image

Herod the Great played an important role in Roman garden history, as a friend of the emperors Augustus and Agrippa, who brought eastern elements into their culture; in turn, Herod drew upon Italic traditions, integrating them with Hasmonean and Alexandrian precedents. Josephus gives a detailed description of the gardens of Herod's palace in Jerusalem (War 5.177–183), of which only the platform remains. His palaces at Masada, Herodium, and Caesarea bear traces of gardens, but the best-preserved examples are at Jericho. [See Jerusalem; Masada; Herodium; Caesarea; Jericho.] In addition to the Hasmonean gardens, Herod built a Roman-style entertainment complex spanning Wadi Qelt. Archaeologists have found the locations of its peristyle gardens, ambulatory walks, and great sunken garden (see figure 1). In many areas flower plots used for propagation and transport were planted with shrubs (perhaps balsam), thus giving a configuration to the general design. An artificial tell with a pavilion on top permitted visitors to admire the great estate of balsam groves and rare palms.

Gardens figure in Hebrew halakhic and aggadic literature. Halakhic discussions give valuable information about cultivation, including such specific features as flowerpots. Aggadic descriptions portray distinctly Hellenistic houses with their gardens (Ta῾an. 9b; B. T. Meg. 12a). Gardens are used in veiled political commentaries by rabbis and sages in rejecting Persian and Hellenistic influences. Gardens and groves are also mentioned in the official documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Nabateans, described as a nomadic people who cultivated nothing (Diodorus Siculus 19.94.1–6), are in fact known for their intensive cultivation of the desert. [See Nabateans.] Their capital at Petra, as described by Strabo (Geog. 7.353), possessed irrigated gardens, probably for centuries—as attested in recently discovered Byzantine papyri. [See Petra.] The papyri cite the names of owners, the locations and sizes of gardens, and the houses and agricultural land south of the city (Glen L. Peterman, “Conservation of the Petra Papyri,” Biblical Archaeologist 57 [1994]: 243.)


The Seleucids continued the Persian tradition of building paradeisoi at their new capitals of Antioch and Seleucia. [See Seleucids; Antioch, Seleucia on the Tigris.] The royal sanctuary at Daphne, south of Antioch, featured large groves of trees, fountains, and streams that served as a place of festivals (Strabo 16.2.4–5). The site was recaptured in the fine mosaics of the Roman and Byzantine eras. The Alexandrian novelist Achilles Tatius (second century CE) sets Clitophon and Leukippe in Sidon (1.15–17), with a vivid description of a villa garden. Theophrastus (Inquiry 5.8.1, 3) describes paradeisoi, royal parks of managed cedar forest, in the mountains of Syria. [See Sidon.] At Tyre the remains of an enclosed Roman funerary garden include niches, irrigation channels, basins, and planting beds for produce; the latter provided a subvention for the upkeep of the monument. [See Tyre.]

Asia Minor.

The kings of Pergamon drew less from Persian examples than from Macedonian ones, which strongly influenced the gardens in Rome. [See Pergamon.] The palaces of the Pergamon kings were tightly grouped alongside the temples and theater on the terraced acropolis. The courtyards typically were paved, except for the garden peristyle in palace V of Eumenes II (d. 160), the most monumental palace in the group. His brother and heir, Attlalus II (220–138 BCE), had a well-known garden in which he cultivated poisonous plants (Nicander of Colophon wrote poems on vegetable poisons and their antidotes).

The writings of Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 12) give a fanciful picture of garden luxury in coastal Asia Minor, while a rather different picture emerges from Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions at Sardis (Sardis 8:1, 1932, no. 12.6). [See Sardis.] The sacred grove of the Greeks is seen in the verdant temple garden of Aphrodite at Knidos. A wall painting in the “hanging houses” at Ephesus, dated to the second century CE, depicts a lush garden in the manner of paintings from Pompeii. [See Ephesus.]

Parthian and Sasanian Gardens.

During the second and third centuries CE, Persia was held by the Parthians, who received embassies from China bearing new garden plants such as peaches and apricots. [See Parthians.] Sasanian rulers adopted the Achaemenid paradeisoi as hunting parks and as settings for their palaces. [See Sasanians.] Pools have been found within the palace of Ardashir (226–240 CE) in Fars. Khusrau I (531–579 BCE) built a palace at Ctesiphon on the Tigris River. [See Ctesiphon; Tigris.] The palace was known for its 30-meter-long Winter Carpet, the legendary model for all Persian garden carpets. Khusrau II built an extensive terraced garden at Taq-i Bostan, of which only the grottoes remain. Its reliefs depict royal ceremonies, vegetation, and hunting scenes. Another paradeisos of Khusrau II and his lover Shirin, on the slopes of the Zagros Mountains at Qaṣri Shirin, is known from an aqueduct, a 900-meter pool, and the terraces of a 300-acre estate. [See Aqueducts; Pools.] Shabusti (ninth century CE) tells of a fourth-century Christian monastery at Marmi in which gardens adjoined each monk's cell, watered by canals and shaded with fruit trees. [See Monasteries.] Other Early Arab sources note the gardens and parks of the settlements they first encountered throughout Iran.


  • Buckler, William H., and David M. Robinson. “Greek Inscriptions from Sardes I.” American Journal of Archaeology 16 (1912): 11–82. Important but little known discussion of textual evidence for paradeisoi in Hellenistic Asia Minor (see pp. 78–79).
  • Budge, E. A. Wallis, trans. and ed. The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers: Being Histories of the Anchorites, Recluses, Monks, Coenobites, and Ascetic Fathers of the Deserts of Egypt. 2 vols. London, 1907.
  • Chéhab, Maurice. Fouilles de Tyr: La Nécropole. Vol. 1. Bulletin du Musée de Beyrouth, vol. 33. Paris, 1983. Excavation of tomb gardens.
  • Gleason, Kathryn L. “A Garden Excavation in the Oasis Palace of Herod the Great at Jericho.” Landscape Journal 12 (1993): 156–167. Account of the excavation of a peristyle garden, with additional references to Jericho's gardens and a general bibliography.
  • Grimal, Pierre. Les jardins romains. 3d ed. Paris, 1984. Still the best assessment of eastern Mediterranean influences on Roman garden development.
  • Levi, Doro. Antioch Mosaic Pavements. 2 vols. Princeton, 1947. Beautifully reproduced images of mosaics with landscape elements.
  • Miller, Naomi F., and Kathryn L. Gleason. The Archaeology of Garden and Field. Philadelphia, 1994. Overview of current techniques used in excavating garden sites.
  • Moe, Dagfinn, et al. Garden History: Garden Plants, Species, Forms and Varieties from Pompeii to 1800. PACT, vol. 42. Rixensart, Belg., 1994.
  • Moynihan, Elizabeth. Paradise as a Garden: In Persia and Mughal India. New York, 1979. Chapter 2 is devoted to the Sasanian garden.
  • Netzer, Ehud. “The Winter Palaces of the Judean Kings at Jericho at the End of the Second Temple Period.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 228 (1977): 1–13.
  • Newman, Julius. The Agricultural Life of the Jews in Babylonia between the Years 200 CE and 500 CE. Oxford, 1932. Although poorly indexed for gardens, they are discussed within the context of agricultural life as described in the Talmud.
  • Nielsen, Inge. Hellenistic Palaces: Tradition and Renewal. Aarhus, 1994. The most recent work on palaces, with exhaustive treatment of Near Eastern cultures; the only overview avaiable on gardens.
  • Shimoff, Sandra R. “Gardens from Eden to Jerusalem.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Periods 26 (1995): 145–155.

Kathryn L. Gleason

Gardens of the Islamic Period

A number of Arabic and Persian terms (djanna, rawḍa, bāgh, bustān, gulistān) are included under the English designation garden. Gardens in Islamic times rested on historical and sacred foundations. Eastern Roman gardens, particularly in association with country villas, established a tradition of sheltered, irrigated, and agriculturally productive retreats in Palestine and Syria that continued in early Islamic times, especially under the patronage of Umayyad caliphs (661–750 CE), but it is likely that pre-Islamic Iranian prototypes exercised the greatest influence on the development of royal and aristocratic gardens in Islam. The Achaemenid ruler, Cyrus the Great (550–529 BCE), constructed numerous walled gardens: at Pasargadae the garden had two pavilions with pillared porches (tālār) that served as transitional spaces between building and garden. The best-known site in pre-Islamic Iran, the ῾Imarat-i Khusrau at Qaṣr-i Shirin built for Shah Khusrau II Parviz (591–628 CE), was a vast walled garden (pairidaeza) with an eastern entrance leading to a long rectangular pool and palace from which the garden could be viewed. Subsequently, a pool or pools, watercourses, viewing platform, and pavilion or palace, often sited on an axis with the main gate, became central elements in most Islamic gardens.

The Muslim conquerors of Iran found not only walled gardens, but also works of art replete with garden references. Sasanian (224–651 CE) silver dishes showed emperors reclining, drinking, and listening to music in garden settings, and early Arab writers referred to a carpet made for Shah Khusrau Anushirvan (531–579) that was intended for the audience hall at Ctesiphon near Baghdad: destroyed when this palace was captured in 637, the Spring of Khusrau carpet is said to have measured 30 × 150 m (98.5 × 492 ft.) and to have had a garden design with tree branches shown in silver thread; earth rendered in gold thread; watercourses limned with crystals; and leaves, petals, and roots made of colored silk and jewels.

References to springtime meadows, gardens, and water abound in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, reflecting the importance of water and verdure in an arid environment and indicating that gardens were probably accessible to the well born and wealthy of the Hijaz: the Qur'an's description of the garden of Eden (djannāt ῾adn) and of paradise (djanna) as “gardens underneath which rivers flow” (surah 2:25 and many times thereafter) was connected to a long-established upper-class ideal. Paradise is the most sensually developed image in the Qur'an: it has four rivers (surah 47:15), fountains, cool pavilions, cushions, couches, brocades, beautiful youths, green pastures, palm trees, pomegranates, and two kinds of every fruit. Subsequent worldly gardens thus presented immediate sacred references and provided a pervasive language of garden imagery in Islamic mystical poetry, such as the legend of Shaddad, the pre-Islamic king of South Arabia, whose garden of Iram, built to rival paradise in splendor, brought divine retribution on the patron. Surah 55:46–75 mention a total of four gardens in paradise and may be the source for the predilection that Islamic patrons and builders had for the chahār-bāgh, four-part gardens divided by cruciform water courses and walkways. Paradise also had multiple levels, and growing there are the ṭ;ūbā tree, more slender than the cypress but providing great shade, and the sidra tree (lote-tree). Metaphors for the loveliness of gardens came from both pagan and pious sources: the eleventh-century Iranian poet Manuchihri Damghani could compare a springtime orchard to the idol temple at Farkhar, its birds to the priest, and its rose bushes to the idols but could also liken an orchard to a mosque, for the trees' branches bent down in prayer, and a dove issued the call to prayer. A self-contained architecture within its walls that allowed few references from the outside world, the garden supplied an internal, moderate, and distinctive nature protected from wild and threatening nature outside. A place of coolness, calm, peace, and plenty, as well as an ordered landscape under the direction and control of the owner, the garden supplied valued and repeated metaphors: the rose was compared to the beloved's face or cheeks, her figure to the slender cypress, the jasmine to her hair.

Although no gardens from the Umayyad period (661–750) have survived intact, the pre-Islamic or early Islamic gardens in or around Damascus were likely the inspiration for the mosaics of the Umayyad Great Mosque of Damascus, and the Rusafa garden in the same city was memorable enough so that the first Umayyad ruler of al-Andalus, ῾Abd al-Rahman I (755–788), tried to replicate it in exile in Cordoba. In his Laṭ;ā'if al-Ma῾ārif the Iranian scholar al-Tha῾alibi (961–1038) elaborately praises the Ghuṭ;a of Damascus as one of the four wonders of the world and an earthly likeness of paradise. The late Umayyad palace at Khirbat al-Mafjar had a garden pavilion, and country villas, like Qaṣr al-Ḥayr East, were centers of agricultural estates and must have had gardens, both for entertainment and food. The widespread use of medieval Arabic manuscripts based on translations of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides suggests that such estates, as well as smaller households, nurtured herbal and medicinal gardens, like their monastic counterparts in Europe.

With the ῾Abbasid (750–1258) dynasty's predilection for pre-Islamic Iranian models of kingship and culture, and its vigorous promotion of imperial culture, the form of the Iranian garden was spread to other parts of the Islamic world. Al-Khatib describes Baghdad in 917 as having one royal garden that served as a wild animal park and another so extensive that it contained four hundred palm trees, as well as citrus and other fruit trees. Most amazing of all was the garden around the Palace of the Tree, for it contained a great circular pool that had in its center an artificial tree with gold and silver branches on which sat gold and silver birds that sang when the wind moved the branches: the entire construct may have been intended to replicate the design of the Sasanian Spring of Khusrau carpet.

In the Jawsaq al-Khaqani palace (836) in the ῾Abbasid capital of Samarra there were 69.6 ha (171.9 acres) of walled gardens with reception halls and pavilions, and the palace was approached on the east through a vast garden reminiscent of the ῾Imarat-i Khusrau. Samarra's Balkuwara Palace (849–859) contained three successive four-part courtyards at the end of which was a four-part garden, flanked by pavilions overlooking the Tigris. They indicate the continuance of two basic palace-garden types from pre-Islamic Iran, namely the large walled garden that contained the palace within it, and the inner court garden (generally referred to as a bustan) that was contained within the palace. Aristocratic houses also had interior gardens. Agriculture expanded vigorously thanks to capital investments in irrigation made possible by the empire's wealth and to a commercial market stretching from India to Spain. Royal and aristocratic gardens and orchards were sometimes experimental grounds for new fruits and vegetables, as well as for innovations in farming techniques; instead of growing staples, they cultivated new and exotic produce that underscored sharp distinctions between the diets of the urban ruling classes and the agricultural lower class. Likewise, an abundance of water, particularly when its principal purposes were to create a cool and pleasant ambience and to sustain luxury produce, was a sign of wealth, and the ordered layout of water channels, pools, and fountains was an expression of control and power over this vital resource: mausolea situated within geometric gardens continued this imagery of power by the expectation that the deceased, buried in an earthly paradise, would eventually be lodged in the paradise described in the Qur'an. The widespread use of garden imagery in poetry, ceramics, manuscripts, ivories, metalworks, carpets, and other arts also implies that enclosed gardens were maintained by those who had power and could afford them and that their wealth enabled them to create tomb gardens for their dead. Religious establishments maintained gardens too as expressions and producers of wealth and as places of contemplation that prefigured paradise.

Although Muslim Spain is outside the area of the Near East, it provides invaluable evidence for the structure and function of the gardens that served as models and that are no longer extant in the central Islamic lands. Designed to emulate the eighth-century Rusafa garden in Damascus, the Rusafa garden in Cordoba was praised by Ibn Sa῾id, the thirteenth-century Andalusian historian and man of letters, for its irrigated gardens. It was also famous for plants and animals brought from all over the Islamic world, Turkestan, and India. Most of Cordoba's considerable area was taken up by gardens and orchards that belonged to the city's mosques and palaces, and the courtyard of the Great Mosque was occupied by neat rows of orange trees fed by stone-edged water channels. The most elaborate gardens, however, were in the royal precinct of Medina al-Zahra. The Upper Garden was divided into four parts, and at the crossing of the channels was a pillared rectangular pavilion bordered on each side by a pool, and the Prince's Garden was centered on a rectangular pool with a raised viewing platform on its north side. Observation points such as this one underscored royal perspective and the central authority of the caliph: gardens functioned not only as places of beauty and refuge but also as focused demonstrations of power and prestige.

Evidence indicates that rather than being in massed beds, plantings were individual or in small groups. Flower and orchard beds were frequently sunk below the level of the walkways, so that a visitor strolling on the paths would have had the sensation of walking on a living and luxurious floral carpet. Gardens in Spain functioned also as grave sites: the eleventh-century poet Ibn Shuhai'd was buried in a garden in Cordoba that was described by Ibn Khaqan as having symmetrically rowed trees and a white marble courtyard with a curving water channel and a lower basin into which the water fell, presumably down a waterslide. Luxury objects carried garden themes as well: an ivory pyxis made In 1004–1008 for the Cordoban royal chamberlain Sayf al-Dawlah clearly shows a walled garden with arcades along its sides. Because ivories were originally painted, it would have offered an even more vivid resemblance to a garden.

The Arab historian Muqaddisi (d. 1000) reported that the Buyid ruler of Iran and Iraq, ῾Aḍud ad-Daulah (949–983), built a two-story, 360-room palace in Shiraz with orchards around it and water channels flowing through its ground floor rooms and arcades. Their successors, the Seljuks (1038–1194), further developed the concept of the bāgh, or garden with a pavilion or palace, and fourteenth-century manuscript paintings indicate that these buildings were multi-colored and multi-storied: Malik Shah (1072–1092) is credited with constructing four gardens of this type in late eleventh-century Isfahan. The metaphoric content of garden imagery continued to be exploited. The tulip (lāleh) had all the same letters of the symbol of Islamic power, the crescent (hilāl), and the name of the God (Allāh), and the rose (gul) was considered the most perfect manifestation of divine beauty on earth. A ruler like the Seljuk sultan Malik Shah (1072–1092) may even be compared to a doorkeeper (riḍwān) guarding a garden containing streams, fruits, trees, and flowers of paradise; elaborating the metaphoric link between the ordered garden and the ordered universe, the Seljuk court poet Mu῾izzi (d. 1147) described a royal garden filled with streams, herbs, fruits, trees, and flowers like those of paradise, and compared the sultan to the sun and his throne to the seventh heaven.

[See also ῾Abbasid Caliphate; Baghdad; Ctesiphon; Damascus; Mafjar, Khirbat al-; Pasargadae; Qaṣr al-Ḥayr ash-Sharqi; Samarra, article on Islamic Period; and Umayyad Caliphate.]


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Anthony Welch