The paradise garden is a form of garden of Old Iranian origin, specifically Achaemenid which is formal, symmetrical and most often, enclosed. The most traditional form is a rectangular garden split into four quarters with a pond in the center, a four-fold design called chahar bagh (“four gardens”). One of the most important elements of paradise gardens is water with ponds, canals, rills, and fountains all being common features. Scent is an essential element with fruit-bearing trees and flowers selected for their fragrance.
Originally denominated by a single noun denoting "a walled-in compound or garden", from "pairi" ("around") and "daeza" or "diz" ("wall", "brick", or "shape"), philosopher and historian Xenophon of Athens translated the Persian pairidaeza into the Greek paradeisos.:8 This term is used for the Garden of Eden in Greek translations of the Old Testament.:8
The oldest Persian garden of which there are records belonged to Cyrus the Great, in his capital at Pasargadae in the province of Fars to the north of Shiraz. It is the oldest intact layout that suggests elements of the paradise garden.:7 Likely planted with cypress, pomegranate and cherry, the garden had a geometrical plan and stone watercourses. These watercourses formed the principal axis and secondary axes of the main garden at Pasargadae, prefiguring the four-fold design of the chahar bagh.:8 In the Achaemenid Empire, gardens contained fruit trees and flowers, including the lily and rose. In 330 BC Alexander the Great saw the tomb of Cyrus the Great and recorded that it stood in an irrigated grove of trees.
It is believed that the Achaemenid kings built paradise gardens within enclosed royal hunting parks, a tradition inherited from the Assyrians, for whom the ritual lion hunt was a rite that authenticated kingship. The Assyrians in turn had inherited their landscaping techniques from the Babylons.
In the 5th century, at the time of the invasion of Persia by Cyrus the Younger, Xenophon described a complex of palaces and pavilions belonging to Artaxerxes. This included gardens watered by an aqueduct – the earliest known record of gravity-fed water rills and basins arranged in a geometric system.:8 The Spartan General Lysander who joined Cyrus as a mercenary reported to Xenophon how Persian kings "excelled in not only in war but also in gardening, creating paradeisos" where they collecting plants, especially fruit-bearing trees and animals encounters during foreign campaigns.:8
The four-fold layout was later reinterpreted in Islamic terms by Muslim Arabs after the 7th-century conquest of Persia, becoming associated with the Abrahamic concept of paradise and the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:10 reads, "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads." and the Prophet Muhammad spoke of four rivers: of water, milk, wine and honey.
By the 13th century the gardens had spread with Islam throughout Egypt, Mediterranean north Africa and into Spain. This style of garden came into India during the 16th century in the reign of Prince Babur, the first Emperor of the Mughal Empire.:9 Most Mughal gardens came to have a tomb or pavilion in the centre, the most famous of which is the Taj Mahal although with the decline of the Mughal Empire and British colonial rule, the original garden has been substantially changed.
The essential plan of a paradise garden is a four-fold layout (charbagh) with a pond or fountain in the centre. Later designs incorporated a pavilion or mausoleum when they began to develop into elaborate status symbols. The rectangular or rectilinear design is typically quartered by water channels made using the ancient qanat system.
An important and common feature is the elaborate use of water, often in canals, ponds, or rills, sometimes in fountains, and less often in waterfalls. This created the soothing sound of running water and also had the practical purpose of cooling the air.
Aromatic flowers and fruit-bearing trees are quintessential elements. The ground where the flora were planted was sunken or the walkways raised so that passers-by would be able to easily pluck fresh fruit as they walked throughout the garden. Olive, fig, date and pomegranate were ubiquitous and symbolically important. Orange trees arrived from India via the Silk Road by the 11th century and were incorporated for their fragrance and the beauty of their flowers.
They are typically enclosed by high walls providing shade and protection, especially desirable in the harsh, arid climate where this type of garden flourished.
The four-fold design appears to echo the Garden of Eden, which in the Book of Genesis is described as having a central spring that feeds four rivers, which each flow out into the world beyond. In the Quran, the Garden is described as being abundant with material delights including delicious foods and constantly flowing water.
Having emerged in the desert, the thirst and gratitude for water are abundant in Islamic traditions. In the Quran, rivers are the primary constituents of the paradise, and references to rain and fountains abound. In the Quran 31:30: "God preferred water over any other created thing and made it the basis of creation, as He said: 'And We made every living thing of water'."
Water is associated with the virtues of purity and obedience: "Then the water was told, 'Be still'. And it was still, awaiting God's command. This is implied water, which contains neither impurity nor foam" (Tales of the Prophets, al-Kisa').
Although the concept of chahar bagh gardens representing 'paradise on earth' predates the Islamic adoption of the style, the paradisaical retreats of the Persians became known as "the embodiment of the celestial paradise promised to a practicing Muslim".:11 Gardens representing paradise on earth or paradise gardens spread throughout the Muslim-conquered world and developed into different, grander and more elaborate styles.
The paradise garden is one of the few original and fundamental kinds of garden from which all gardens in history derive, sometimes in combinations. In its simplest form, the paradise garden consists of a formal, rectangular pool, having a flow just sufficient to give it movement, and a dais from which to observe it. However, a pavilion provides more permanent shelter than the original tent. Strictly aligned, formally arranged trees, especially the chenar or Platanus, provide shade.
Many of the Islamic horticultural traditions and later European traditions derive from that of the paradise garden. Examples of the paradise garden and its derivations are present in many of the historic gardens of Islamic and European nations. In the east, by way of the Persian garden it gave rise to the Mughal gardens of India, a late example of which is the garden of the Taj Mahal in Agra. In the farthest west, it informed the paved and tiled courtyards, arcades, and pools and fountains of Moorish Andalusia. The fundamental design of the Gardens of Versailles in France almost replicates the paradise gardens of Pasargad, and the gardens of the Louvre in Paris appear inspired by them. Another example is the Bahá'í Terraces and Mansion of Bahjí on Mount Carmel in Israel, both of which have extensive gardens of intricate design.
- "Episode 1". Monty Don's Paradise Gardens. BBC.
- Hobhouse, Penelope. The Gardens of Persia. Kale House.
- "Pasargadae". Retrieved 2019-10-23.
- "Genesis 2:10". Bible Hub. Retrieved 2019-10-23.
- "The Description of Paradise". Retrieved 2019-10-23.
- "Episode 2". Monty Don's Paradise Gardens. BBC.
- Don, Monty. Paradise Gardens: the world's most beautiful Islamic gardens. John Murray Press.
- Yael Hammerman: Distinctive Design of the Bahá’í Gardens
- Monty Don's Paradise Gardens (BBC documentary)