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Persian Gardens on World Heritage List

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Persian garden was registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List on Monday (June 26th).

The decision to register the property on the list was made during the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee, which opened in Paris on June 19.

The committee composed of members from 21 countries discussed the profiles of nine Iranian gardens to add the property to the list.

Information about the gardens of Pasargad and Eram in Fars Province, Pahlebanpur and Dowlatabad in Yazd Province, Fin and Chehel Sotun in Isfahan Province, Akbarieh in South Khorasan Province, Abbasabad in Mazandaran Province, Shahzadeh Mahan (also known as Shazdeh) in Kerman Province were previously submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Center.

These gardens exemplify the diversity of Persian garden designs that evolved and adapted to different climate conditions while retaining principles that have their roots in the times of Cyrus the Great, king of Persian from c. 558–529 BC.

The Persian garden was conceived to symbolize Eden and the four Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water and plants. Water plays an important role in the ornamentation of the gardens.

Dating back to different periods, the gardens consist of buildings, pavilions and walls, as well as sophisticated irrigation systems. They have influenced the art of garden design as far as India and Spain.

Persian Gardens

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

The Iranian Medes and Persians, have develop the garden and garden designs, like everything else, on similar lines of their empire buildings. They brought with them their love and their veneration for trees. In their Zoroastrian religion, the cult of trees plays an important part, and with them, as with the Assyrians, the symbol of eternal life was a tree with a stream at its roots. Another object of veneration was the sacred miracle tree, which within itself contained the seeds of all. Among the Persians tree-planting was a sacred occupation, and, as Strabo says, was part of their education: boys received instruction in this art in the evenings. And so it came about that this reverence was seated deep in the souls of even the lowest stratum of the people, the common soldiers.

A story is told by Plutarch of Artaxerxes, on his campaign against the Cadusii, once halting in a barren treeless plain close to a royal estate, where there were gardens, very extensive and well kept. As it was mid-winter, and terribly cold, the king gave per mission for the soldiers to cut down wood from the park, and not even to spare the best trees, cedars or cypresses. But the soldiers could not make up their minds to fell trees the size and beauty of which they admired so much. Thereupon the king himself seized an axe, and began to cut down the tree that he thought the largest and loveliest, and then the soldiers were no longer afraid to fell the trunks they needed, and to kindle fires there with so that they might endure the cold.

What true reverence and awe for trees on the part of a whole army speaks to us in this simple Greek story. It indicates, too, the size and extent of a park which could thus receive great bodies of troops and accommodate them for a night. Moreover, we here have no exception; on the contrary, we continually hear of the mustering of armies in parks, where in all probability the necessary protection and shade are both supplied. In the same way the Cyrus the Younger owned a great park at Celaenae, which extended above the town on both banks of the Maeander, and there he used to hunt on horseback for the sake of exercise. The place was so full of wild creatures, and so large, that he was able to hold his review there of the 10,000 Greeks. Great public festivities were also held by the kings in the same parks. We read in the Book of Esther how the alleged King Ahasuerus kept a great feast in the garden of his palace for the nobles and for all the people, and that it lasted 180 days.

The tradition and style of garden design of Persian gardens influenced the design of gardens from Andalusia to India. The Taj Mahal is one of the largest Persian gardens of the world, but the gardens of the Alhambra equally show the influence of Persian garden style on a more intimate scale.

From the time of the Achaemenid dynasty the idea of an earthly paradise spread through Persian literature and example to other cultures, both the Hellenistic gardens of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies in Alexandria. 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, e.g., French paradis, German Paradies, and English paradise. The word entered Semitic languages as well: Akkadian pardesu, Hebrew pardes, and Arabic firdaws.

As the word expresses, such gardens would have been enclosed. The garden's purpose was, and is, to provide a place for protected relaxation in a variety of manners: spiritual, and leisurely (such as meetings with friends), essentially a paradise on earth. The Persian word for "enclosed space" was pairi-daeza, a term that was adopted by Christian mythology to describe the garden of Eden or Paradise on earth.

In countries such as these, where the same manners and customs may last for thousands of years, the old parks even now maintain their size and importance. As recently as 1908 the Shah of Persia mustered troops in his park near Teheran against the revolutionaries, just as Artaxerxes and Cyrus had done before him. In a castle that was built for pleasure in the middle of a great park, the insurrectionary parliament passed the day and held their tumultuous meetings.

The joy and pride that the Persians felt for their parks, they took for granted in other nations. When the satrap Tissaphernes wanted to pay special honour to Alcibiades, he bestowed his friend’s name on a park of royal splendour, which he had set out with fountains and beautiful lawns. All the races oppressed by Persian tyrants knew very well that, when a rebellion was at hand, they could not do a greater hurt or better express their desire for revenge than by laying waste his park. The Phoenicians began their hostile attack (which proved fatal to themselves) on the Persian oppressor by laying waste the park that the Persian king had made for a retreat at Sidon, and cutting down its trees.

The origin of Persian gardens may date back as far as 4000 BCE; the decorated pottery of that time displays the typical cross plan of the Persian garden. The outline of Cyrus the Great's garden, built around 500 BCE, is still viewable today. During the reign of the Sassanids (third to seventh century CE), and under the influence of Zoroastrianism, the presence of water in art grew increasingly important. This trend manifested itself in garden design with greater emphasis placed on fountains and ponds in gardens.

The Greeks found fine parks all over Media and Persia, and their size and beauty gave them such a romantic appearance that there was a fancy for saying they had been founded by Semiramis. One of these was the great park in the Valley of Baghistan, under the rocky wall adorned with inscriptions about Darius; and again another park in Chaucon round a cliff, on which stood a pleasure-castle so high up that it commanded a view of the whole country round. To the mind of the owners these parks were so distinctly the leading feature that the house proper, or palace, faded before them.

Xenophon in his progress through Asia saw many of these, and admired them greatly. “Everywhere,” he makes Socrates say to his pupils, “the Persian king is zealously cared for, so that he may find gardens wherever he goes; their name is Paradise, and they are full of all things fair and good that the earth can bring forth. It is here that he spends the greatest part of his time, except when the season forbids.” Xenophon is the first writer to use the appellation “paradise” in a Greek narrative in the sense of a Persian garden, and in the Persian inscriptions the word does not appear, but only in the Avesta in the form Pairadaeza. In Hellenistic times the Greek word also appears in the Bible.

To Xenophon also we owe the best account of the absolutely regular arrangement of the parks in the Orient. In a further conversation Socrates says that, when Lysander brought gifts from the allies, Cyrus himself showed him the paradise of his palace at Sardis. Lysander marvelled at the beauty of the trees of his four-gardens, at the evenness of their plantation, at the regular rows, at the neat way the corners were made, at the prettiness of it all, and moreover at the many sweet odours which followed their footsteps. “All these things,” he said, "do I admire; I admire the beauty of the whole, but far more, 0 Cyrus, do I praise the mind that has designed and ordered it.” Cyrus was much flattered by his praise, and informed Lysander that he himself had been the only artist, and had even planted some of the trees with his own hand. This story becomes all the more vivid, if we bear in mind that as part of their education the young boys were instructed in horticulture, being told off in line, and headed by some royal prince or satrap.

We find from all accounts and from monuments also that these paradises were first and foremost hunting-parks, with fruit-trees grown for food, just as in the Babylonian-Assyrian sites. There is one rock-crystal, very finely cut, which represents King Darius in a grove of palms where he is hunting, the trees being made all exactly alike, as in the Assyrian carvings. The Persians were also familiar with the chase in the open country. A grand hunting-ground was given to the young Cyrus by his grandfather, in the hope that it would keep him at home, but he despised it, and, fired with longing, summoned his companions and went off, for in this park there were so many animals that he felt as though he was only shooting captive creatures.

Just as in the case of the Assyrians, monuments are wanting by which to judge the garden, which perhaps formed the part immediately adjoining the house. The mighty ruins of the palaces, built in the age of Darius in the very heart of the nation at Persepolis, certainly cry aloud for impressive garden surroundings; but when excavations were being made, the question of gardens was carelessly ignored, though the palaces were raised above three immense terraces. A careful eye can detect a certain intention in the large open stairway that leads to the first terrace, and then (turning at right angles) to the second. Still, the separate palaces are scattered apparently according to no rule, so that it is not an easy matter to reconstruct (as in a measure it was possible to do in the Egyptian temple at Deir-el-Bakhari) the great regular garden-terraces. But in any case the terraces with large garden sites were indubitably here.

The woodlands and gardens around their tombs were very important to the ancient Persians. The tomb of Cyrus the Great was enclosed by four-gardens known as "Chaharbagh" and a grove, and his son Cambyses entrusted the care of it as a hereditary office to a family of Magi; when Alexander saw it, it had grown high but had been neglected. The spot is now identified, and is an erection similar to a temple, raised very high on steps, in the neighbourhood of Pasargadae. Herodotus gives an account of the tomb of Alyattes, the father of Croesus, saying that it is the greatest in the world with the exception of Egyptian and Babylonian buildings; but as he gives the circumference as 6 stadia, 2 plethra, that is about 1.1 kilometres, he must be including the whole estate with a large park on it, and this is further suggested by the presence of the lake that is near the monument, called the lake of Gyges, and supposed to be inexhaustible, The tomb had a foundation of freestone blocks piled up with earth - a structure which by analogy with Roman custom would mean plantation.

The successors of Achaemenid Cyrus, are buried in strong rock-tombs near Persepolis, where they lived, and it is only in modern days that we have been able to see the tombs with our own eyes. The graves of Hafez and Sa'adi, the two great Persian poets of the Middle Ages, are at Shiraz, the latter alone in a valley. Within the marble enclosure stands the cenotaph in the middle of a garden of cypresses, poplars, flowering shrubs, and rose trees. The grave of Hafiz, nearer to the city, is still a favourite retreat for the townsmen, and the cheerful poet does not rest there alone even in death, for a number of other graves are within the precincts, and it is considered a great honour to find one’s resting-place there.

During the Arab occupation the aesthetic aspect of the garden increased in importance, overtaking the utility of the garden. During this time the aesthetic rules by which the garden is governed grew in importance. An example of this is the chahār bāgh, a form of garden which attempts to emulate Eden, having four rivers and four quadrants, representing the world. The design sometimes extends one axis longer than the cross-axis and creaters water channels running through each of the four gardens to connect to a central pool.

The invasion of Persia by the Mongols in the thirteenth century saw a new emphasis on highly ornate structure within the garden, examples of which include tree peonies and chrysanthemums. The Mongol empire then carried a Persian garden tradition to other parts of their empire (notably India). Babur introduced the Persian garden to India; the now unkempt Aram Bāgh garden in Agra was the first of many Persian gardens he created. The Persian concept of an ideal, paradise-like garden is perfectly embodied in the Taj Mahal.

The Safavid Dynasty (seventeenth to eighteenth century) built and developed grand and epic layouts that went beyond being a simple extension to a palace and became an integral aesthetic and functional part of it. In the following centuries European garden design began to influence Persia, particularly the design of France and secondarily that of Russia and the United Kingdom. Western influences led to changes in the use of water and the species used in bedding. The traditional forms and style are still used among the population of Iran. They are also be found in historic sites, museums and affixed to the houses of the rich.

Sunlight and its effects were an important factor of structural design in Persian gardens. Textures and shapes were specifically chosen by architects to harness the light. Due to the dry heat of Iran, shade is also very important in the garden, without which it could not be usable. Trees and trellises largely feature as biotic shade; pavilions and walls are also structurally prominent in blocking the sun.

Also related to the heat is the importance of water in the gardens. A form of underground tunnel, below the water table, called a Qanat is used to irrigate the garden and its environs. Well-like structures then connect to the Qanat, enabling the drawing of water. Alternatively, an animal driven Persian well would be used to draw water to the surface. Such wheel systems could also be used to move water around surface water systems, such as those which exist in the chahar bāgh style. Trees were often planted in a ditch called a jub, which prevented water evaporation and allowed the water quick access to the tree roots.

The Persian style often attempts to integrate indoors with outdoors through the connection of a surrounding garden with an inner courtyard. Designers often place architectural elements such as vaulted arches between the outer and interior areas to open up the divide between them.

The oldest representational descriptions and illustrations of Persian gardens come from travelers who reached Iran from lands to the west. These accounts include Ibn Battuta in the fourteenth century, Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo in the fifteenth century and Engelbert Kaempfer in the seventeenth century. Battuta and Clavijo make only passing references to gardens and do not describe their design.

Kaempfer made careful drawings and converted them into detailed engravings after his return to Europe. They show chahar bāgh type gardens with the following features: an enclosing wall, rectangular pools, an internal network of canals, garden pavilions and lush planting. There are surviving examples of this garden type at Yazd (Dowlatabad) and at Kashan (Bāgh-e Fin). The location of the gardens Kaempfer illustrated in Isfahan (city) can be identified.

Fin Garden, or Bagh-e Fin, located in Kashan, Iran, is a historical Persian garden. It contains Kashan's Fin Bath, where Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor, was murdered by an assassin sent by King Nasereddin Shah in 1852. The origins of the garden may be anterior to the Safavid period, some sources indicate that the garden has been relocated from another place, but no clear picture of it has been found. The settlements of the garden in its present form was built under the reign of Abbas I of Persia (1571-1629), as a traditional bagh near the village of Fin, located a few miles southwest of Kashan.

The garden has been developed further during the Safavid dynasty, until Abbas II of Persia (1633-1666). It was highly recognized during the reign of Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar and has been considerably expanded. Then, the garden has been left in desuetude and damaged several times until 1935, when it was listed as a national property of Iran. On 2007, 8 September, Bagh-e Fin has been submitted to the UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The garden covers 2.3 hectares with a main yard surrounded by ramparts with four circular towers. In keeping with many of the Persian gardens of this era, the Fin Garden employs a great many water features. These were fed from a spring on a hillside behind the garden, and the water pressure was such that a large number of circulating pools and fountains could be constructed without the need for mechanical pumps. The garden contains numerous cypress trees and combines architectural features of the Safavid, Zandiyeh and Qajar periods.

Afif-Abad Garden (also known as Golshan Garden) is a museum complex in Shiraz, Iran. Located in the affluent Afif-Abad district of Shiraz, the complex was constructed in 1863. It contains a former royal mansion, a historical weapons museum, and a Persian garden, all open to the public. Afif Abad Garden is one of the oldest gardens in Shiraz. During the Safavid Period it was used as a palace by the Safavid Shahs. The current main building was constructed by Mirza Ali MohammadKhan Ghavvam II in 1863. He bought a nearby ghanat to water his garden. After his death the garden was eventually inheritted by Afife, thus being called Afif Abad (Prosperasized by Afif). In 1962 it was restored by the army. It is now functioning as a weapons museum.

Eram Garden is a famous historic Persian garden in Shiraz, Iran. Bagh-é Eram (Garden of Paradise) is a large garden with a wonderful looking palace in it. Built in the Qajar era, the compound was used by the feudal elite and tribal leaders of Fars Province, and later used by the royalty of Iran. The compound came under the protection of Pahlavi University during the Pahlavi era, and was used as the College of Law. It is today still a property of Shiraz University, and is open to the public as a museum, protected by Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization.

Qavam House (also widely called "Narenjestan e Ghavam") is a traditional and historical house in Shiraz, Iran. It was built in the mid to late 1800s by Mirza Ibrahim Khan. The Qavam family were merchants originally from Qazvin. But they soon became active in the government during the Zand dynasty, followed by the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasty as well. The Qavam "Naranjestan" preserves the elegance and refinement enjoyed by the upper class families during the nineteenth century. The paintings on the low ceilings of the house are inspired by Victorian era Europe. The mirrored porch was a focal point of the house, overlooking onto gardens lined with date palms and flowers.

During the second Pahlavi era, the House became the headquarters of Pahlavi University's "Asia Institute", directed by Arthur Pope and Richard Nelson Frye. Frye and his family also lived in the house for a while as well. The house today is a museum open to the public.

Shazdeh Garden meaning Prince’s Garden is a historical Persian garden located near (6km away from) Mahan in Kerman province, Iran. The garden is 5.5 hectares with a rectangular shape and a wall around it. It consists of an entrance structure and gate at the lower end and a two-floor residential structure at the upper end.

The distance between these two is ornamented with water fountains that are engined by the natural incline of the land. The garden is a fine example of Persian gardens that take advantage of suitable natural climate. The garden was built for and during the eleven years of the governance of Abdolhamid Mirza Naserodolleh (during Qajar dynasty). The construction was left unfinished due to death of Abdolhamid Mirza in early 1890s.

Iranian sites on the World Heritage List

1. Chogha Zanbil, Khuzestan Province, 1979

2. Persepolis, Fars Province, 1979

3. Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan Province, 1979

4. Takht-e Soleiman, West Azerbaijan Province, 2003

5. Pasargadae, Fars Province, 2004

6. The city of Bam and its Cultural Landscape, Kerman Province, 2004

7. Soltanieh Dome, Zanjan Province, 2005

8. Bisotun, Kermanshah Province, 2006

9. Historical churches of St. Thaddeus and St. Stephanus, West Azerbaijan Province, and Dzordzor (Zorzor), East Azerbaijan Province, 2008

10. Shushtar’s ancient water system, Khuzestan Province, 2009

11. Mausoleum of Sheikh Safi ad-Din Ardebili, Ardebil Province, 2010

12. Tabriz Bazaar, East Azerbaijan Province, 2010

13. Persian Garden (nine gardens from the provinces of Fars, Yazd, Isfahan, South Khorasan, Mazandaran and Kerman), 2011

*Link for Further Reading: Palaces and Gardens of Persia By: Yves Porter http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Palaces_and_Gardens_of_Persia.htm

*Watch the Videos:

Persian Gardens’ Design: http://www.jadidonline.com/images/stories/flash_multimedia/Persian_garden_design_test/des_high.html

Persian Gardens’ History: http://www.jadidonline.com/images/stories/flash_multimedia/Persian_garden_history_test/his_high.html

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