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Islamic Gardens and Landscapes pdf download

  • Book Title:
 Islamic Gardens And Landscapes
  • Book Author:
Fairchild Ruggles
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Islamic Gardens and Landscapes by D. Fairchild Ruggles


Book’s Preface

Gardens are at once highly meaningful, expressing the position of humankind with respect to the earth and cosmos, and utterly ordinary, reflecting the need to produce a food crop in order to survive the fallow season and plant anew another year.

Moreover, the urge to garden, to domesticate the wild landscape by clearing it of all but selected plants, watering them, and tending them until they flower and bear fruit, is a basic human endeavor that requires few resources and no grand conceptual scheme.

Although gardens and landscape works requiring complex irrigation or drainage systems may occur on a large scale and reflect either the ambition of kings or the ability of a community to organize itself, others are quite humble and occur spontaneously.

This book looks thematically at Islamic gardens and cultivated landscapes, placing them on a continuous spectrum with the city and architecture at one end and nature and wilder- ness at the other.

 The Islamic garden is a popular theme among architects and enthusiasts, and every year a new volume is produced with handsome illustrations of stunning gardens. However, a great many of these focus entirely on elite formal gardens, defining them as enclosed spaces that are geometrically laid out and interpreting their symbolic meaning narrowly as “paradise on earth.”

 The removal of the garden from the broader context of landscape, agriculture, and water supply results in a limited and superficial view, giving extraordinary emphasis to religion and dynastic politics while ignoring other factors that contributed equally to garden form and meaning.

This is not a book about the origins of the Islamic garden or its formal properties. Un- like Islamic architecture—where we can observe highly recognizable forms in mosque, palace, and tomb design—in Islamic history there is really only one formal garden plan, with a few variations on it.

This is the so-called chahar bagh, or the four-part garden laid out with axial walkways that intersect in the garden center, discussed in Chapter 4, and the various stepped terrace variations of it that proliferated in the Safavid and Mughal realms, discussed in Chapter 0 and throughout.

Gardens begin as secular endeavors, stemming from the practical need to organize the surrounding space, tame nature, enhance the earth’s yield, and create a legible map on which to distribute natural resources. Three early chapters address these practical issues. Symbolic interpretations of the meaning of such domestication and fertility came later in the history of garden making, so that the good garden became a sign of human success, and a productive landscape a sign of divine favor.

There have been several inspiring theological interpretations of gardens as signs of paradise for Muslims, but the evidence suggests that the actual early gardens were not regarded thus.

In this respect, it is important to remember that while theology and history both seek the truth, they ask and answer different ques- tions. With respect to the built environment and the interpretation of it, the questions that I attempt to answer here are purely historical.

One of the traps that writers about Islamic gardens often fall into is the emphasis on extant gardens, interpreting the historic past by means of easily visible and attractive gar- dens that have not been explored archaeologically and whose plantings are historically inaccurate.

For instance, the Generalife Palace’s Patio de la Acequía in Granada has been celebrated as a living and authentic Islamic garden, when in fact its soil levels and plantings are entirely modern.

Among architects, historians, and site conservators there is a regret- table tolerance for botanical inaccuracy at historic sites, despite the fact that we now have an array of archaeological techniques to identify many of the plants and trees that were once grown there.

Examples of successful garden archaeology help explain what we can and cannot learn about gardens from such approaches in combination with written texts and painted representations of gardens.

Equally problematic are the attempts to interpret the real gardens of this earth through the shimmering veil of Arabic and especially Persian verse; lacking historical reference and archaeological data, these are more successful as studies of poetry than as descriptions of actual gardens.

The Taj Mahal has been studied thus: the references to judgment and the Throne of God in its program of inscriptions have prompted scholars to interpret the monument in compelling theological and political terms.

But these Qur’anic inscriptions explain neither the unusual position of the tomb in the garden nor the relationship of the Taj complex to the pleasure garden on the river’s opposite bank.

Finally, the garden form was such a powerful artistic form in many areas of the Islamic world that it was adopted by non-Muslims—such as the Rajputs of Mughal India—as a way of expressing alliance with Muslim rulers and thereby indicating a shared cultural identity that transcended their more obvious religious differences. T

he garden was not an exclusively Muslim production; it arose from a specific climate and set of techniques for controlling the landscape and thus reflected regional concerns that were common to all the peoples sharing that landscape.

The point here is not that the garden was produced outside of religious and cultural contexts—indeed, the transformation of landscape is one of the most powerful expressions of the human experience, the awe at regarding the cosmos, and the fear and hope at contemplating death.

But it is a fundamental argument of this book that neither religion nor culture alone can explain the meaning, mechanics, and productiv- ity of that set of gardens that historians, in retrospect, label “Islamic.”

Perhaps because the history of Islamic gardens was written, until quite recently, by persons who were outsiders to Islamic religion and culture, the range of scholarship on gardens varies from a kind of a historicity to insulting stereotypes.

While the worst of such endeavors can be dismissed as outrageous orientalist fantasy, one must wonder whether, in trying to re-create the experience of landscapes and inhabitants that vanished long ago, any historian is liable to project his or her own desires and expectations. For myself, I am aware

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