In Muslim regions, gardens are seen as places of peace, an escape from the noise outside, and perhaps the best place on earth to feel close to God. Indeed, the Qur’an offers several references to the idea of jannat al-firdaus or gardens of paradise, ranging from blissful retreat to secure refuge. These images have fed centuries of Muslim art, narrative, and design. Along with being an integral feature of Islamic architectural design, particularly for palaces, gardens have also served as final resting places for the dead.
“Ever since the earliest palace gardens were wrought from the arid conditions of the deserts of the Middle East in the seventh century, the Islamic garden was a place of lush vegetation, repose, and leisure, as well as an expression in intimate detail of all the processes by which humankind makes the earth hospitable and productive. As gardens evolved, their shade was equated with the promise of paradise, a place of rest and pleasure. The fruit-bearing trees and plants likewise were understood to provide a foretaste of the heaven to come.”* Gardens are also rich with esoteric symbolism not only because of the Qur’anic references, but also because of the way a garden organizes space to appeal to both the outer and inner dimensions of a person.
The development of formal gardens became an art form in Persia (modern day Iran) from at least the fourteenth century as can be seen from their frequent depiction in miniature paintings of the period. The widely used term chahar bagh (“four gardens”) is a Persian term that seems to have been derived from the Qur’anic reference to two sets of gardens (Sura 55). The famous Persian gardens, always divided into four sectors with water playing an important role, was conceived to symbolize the four Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water, and planets. These gardens, which date back to various periods since the sixth century BC, often featuring sophisticated irrigation systems, have influenced the art of garden design as far as Spain and India. Amongst the largest interpretation of the Persian garden are the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb, a landmark in the development of Mughal architecture. Restoration work on the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb was completed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in 2004.
*D. Fairchild Ruggles, “The Aga Khan Park: An Urban Oasis,” Pattern and Light Aga Khan Museum, Skira Rizzoli Publications Inc., New York 2014
Marianne Barrucand. “The Garden as a Reflection of Paradise.” Islam: Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius (Konemann, 2000)
Aga Khan Trust for Culture Historic Cities Programme
Research Nimira Dewji.