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IRANIAN CULTURE

ACHAEMENID GARDENS


 

By: Mehrdad Fakour

 

 

Abstract: (bâgh), referring to a garden estate, intended primarily for pleasure rather than permanent residence or production of crops, formally laid out, usually incorporating architectural elements, such as ornamental pools, gate-houses, and pavilions. Numerous gardens mentioned in historical texts are designated by name, either of the founder, or of the flora or fauna associated with them. Poetical names, such as delgošâ (easing the heart) or jahânnemâ (image of the world), commonly occur after the 15th century.

 


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One of the Pasargadae's remaining irrigation canals

 

Since the first millenium B.C.E., the garden has been an integral part of Persian architecture, be it imperial or vernacular. In addition to written historical references, archaeological evidence of Achaemenid gardens exists at Pasargadae, Persepolis, Susa, and other sites (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.20-25; Arrian, Anabasis 5.29.4-5; Sâmî, pp. 75-77; Stronach, 1978, pp. 107-12; Pinder-Wilson, p. 85; Yamauchi, p. 332 and n. 55).

The Achaemenids had a keen interest in horticulture and agriculture. Their administration greatly encouraged the efforts of the satrapies toward innovative practices in agronomy, arboriculture, and irrigation. Numerous varieties of plants were introduced throughout the empire (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.8.10-12; Moynihan, pp. 11, 25).

Aside from the practical aspects of the garden and its sensual pleasures, royal gardens also incorporated political, philosophical, and religious symbolism. The idea of the king creating a fertile garden out of barren land, bringing symmetry and order out of chaos, and duplicating the divine paradise on earth, constituted a powerful statement symbolizing authority, fertility, and legitimacy (Eliade, pp. 59-72; Moynihan, p. 20; Faqîh, p. 566; Stronach, 1990, pp. 171-80).

What made gardens special during the Achaemenid reign was that for the first time the garden became not only an integral part of the architecture, but was also the focus of it. Henceforth gardens were an integral part of Persian culture. Successive generations of European and Asian monarchs and garden lovers copied the concept and design of Persian gardens (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 5.3.7-13; idem, Oeconomicus 4.13-14; Moynihan, p. 2 and n. 19; Bazin, 1990, pp. 12-13).

The earliest gardens on the Iranian plateau associated with the Achaemenids are located at Pasargadae, the royal park residence of Cyrus the Great (ca. 559-530 B.C.E.), the founder of the Persian empire. The royal palaces at Pasargadae were conceived and constructed as a series of palaces and pavilions placed among geometrically designed gardens, parterres, and meticulously hewn and dressed stone water-courses, set in a large formal park containing various flora and fauna. Recent studies suggest that this garden may have been the model for the subsequent chahârbâgh (q.v.) and hašt behešt (Stronach, 1978, pp. 107-12; idem, 1989, pp. 475-87).

From the time of the Achaemenid empire the idea of an earthly paradise spread to the literature and languages of other cultures. The Avestan word pairidaêza-, Old Persian *paridaida-, Median *paridaiza- (walled-around, i.e., a walled garden), was transliterated into Greek paradeisoi, then rendered into the Latin paradisus, and from there entered into European languages, i.e., French paradis, and English paradise (Oxford English Dictionary XI, pp. 183-84; Yamauchi, pp. 332). The word entered Semitic languages as well: Akkadian pardesu, Hebrew pardes (Nehemiah 2:8; Ecclesiastes 2:5; Song of Solomon 4:13), and Arabic ferdaws (Koran 18.107, 23.11).

Although the concept of a paradise may be traced back to the Sumerian epic of Gilgamish (Kramer, pp. 147-49), it seems the idea existed independently in the Indo-Iranian tradition, where we find references in the Avesta (Yt. 22.15).

 

Bibliography

A. Giamatti, The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic, Princeton, 1966. 

G. Bazin, Paradeisos: The Art of the Garden, Boston, Toronto, and London, 1990, pp. 12-13. 

M. Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London, Boston, and Melbourne, 1979, p. 77. 

A. R. Burn, "Persia and the Greeks," in Camb. Hist. Iran II, p. 339. 

M. A. Dandamayev, "Royal Paradeisoi in Babylonia," in Orientalia J. Duchesne-Guillemin Emerito Oblata, Leiden, p. 117. 

M. Eliade, Myth, Dreams, and Mysteries, New York, 1961, pp. 59-72. 

N. Faqîh, "Ùehra-ye bâgh-e îrânî," Iran-nâma 4, 1991, pp. 565-88, esp. p. 566. 

G. de Francovich, "Problems of Achaemenid Architecture," East and West 16, 1966, pp. 201-60. 

S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, 1963. 

The Zend-Avesta, tr. J. Darmesteter and L. H. Mills and ed. F. M. Müller, SBE 4, 23, 31, Oxford, 1880-87. 

E. Moynihan, Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India, New York, 1979, pp. 1-2, 11, 20, 25. 

R. Pinder-Wilson, "The Persian Garden: Bagh and Chahar Bagh," in E. B. MacDougall and R. Ettinghausen, eds., The Islamic Garden, Washington, D.C., 1976, pp. 70-85. 

V. Sackville-West, "The Persian Garden," in A. J. Arberry, ed., The Legacy of Persia, Oxford, 1953. 

´A. Sâmî, Pâsârgâd yâ qadîmtarîn pâytakht-e šâhanšâhî-e Îrân, Shiraz, 1956, pp. 75-77. 

Strabo, Geography 15.3.7 (reference to a park surrounding Cyrus' tomb). 

D. Stronach, Pasargadae: A Report on the Excavations Conducted by the British Institute of Persian Studies from 1961 to 1963, Oxford, 1978, pp. 107-12. 

Idem, "The Garden as a Political Statement: Some Case Studies from the Near East in the First Millenium B. C.," Bulletin of the Asia Institute 4, 1990, pp. 171-80. 

Idem, "The Royal Garden at Pasargadae: Evolution and Legacy," Archaeologica Iranica et Orientalis: Miscellanea in Honorem Louis Vanden Berghe, Ghent, 1989, pp. 476-502. 

A. Tadjvidi, "Persepolis," Iran 11, 1973, pp. 200-201. A. B. Tilia, Studies and Restorations at Persepolis and Other Sites of Fars II, IsMEO Centro Studi e Scavi Archeologici i Asia, Reports and Memoirs 18, Rome, 1978. 

D. N. Wilber, Persian Gardens and Garden Pavilions, Tokyo, 1962. 

E. M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1990, pp. 332-33.

 

 

 

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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica

 

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