In the ancient Persian Empire, gardens were the epitome of life and survival. Hot summers followed cold winters, deserts and desert steppes were the core of Persia. The early gardens offered oases in the desert, protected by walls from sandstorms and wild animals, they shaped trees and water - more valuable than gold as protection from the heat. In gardens, the Iranians grow medicinal plants and food, enjoy flowers and the shade of the trees, relax and let the soul come to rest.
The paradise garden
Gardens express the connection between nature and culture. In the Greek text of the Bible, the Garden of Eden is called Paradeisos. In Persian literature, garden means "pardis". “Paridaiza” describes a fragrant and luminous place, populated by angelic creatures. Presumably, "paradise" in ancient Iran did not mean real gardens, but this spiritual "garden of angels".
When Muslims overran Persia in the 7th century, they also introduced their interpretation of paradise in Iran. The Koran says: “There are streams of water that do not spoil, streams of milk, the taste of which does not change, and streams of wine, delicious for the drinker; and streams of clarified honey; and in them all kinds of fruits and forgiveness before the Lord. ” Islamic paradise was also an ideal garden, and Muslims saw the gardens of Persia as a symbol of the rivers of paradise.
Earth, water, wind and fire
Ancient Persian rituals honored the plants of nature - these rituals were also an early form of science. The elements of the Persian garden have deep roots, and each of them is found in the structure of the garden: earth, water, wind and fire.
Ancient Persian philosophy was not hostile to nature, but honoring nature meant cultivating it - gardens are such a cultivated nature and played an important role in Iranian life. The ancient Persians believed that the “wild nature” needed a higher order, which can be seen in the rectangular pools of the gardens.
A place of security
The old descriptions tell of fragrant flowers, singing birds and lush greenery. For desert and steppe residents, the gardens therefore offered a place of security, security and peace.
Tulips, roses and almond blossoms
The Iranians were very successful in cultivating plants: tulips and roses, for example, come from Persia. Almond and fig trees, olives, pistachios and pines, cedars, walnuts and laurel trees not only provided food, but also shade and "soul food". Roaming through the Persian gardens for the almond blossom is a sensual experience that is second to none.
A diverse nature
Today's Iran and historical Persia include diverse floristic regions from the Zagros and Elburs Mountains to the humid Caspian Sea, hot deserts in central Iran and subtropical river forests in the southwest and southeast.
The flora of Iran
More than 8,000 plant species grow in Iran, and one in five of them is endemic. The north was once dominated by mighty mountains, primeval forests and lakes, the south is dry and extremely hot - the Persian Gulf is at the same latitude as the Sahara.
Some plants in the north are known to us from Europe, albeit in other species or subspecies. These include gentians and snowdrops, firs and spruces. The strip of land on the Caspian Sea is only a maximum of 60 kilometers wide and has four times as much rainfall as Central Europe. The masses of rain cannot cross the mountains, so the interior is very low in precipitation. Lush bush forests grow on the Caspisee. The Iranians call them Jangal, from which the words jungle and jungle are derived. Wild figs, ferns and climbing plants also grow here. Pistachios and almonds are common in the Iranian mountains below the tree line.
Today, forests only cover ten percent of the country, and only one percent of it is intact. In the mountains like the Zagros, the Elburs and the Caucasus, oaks, maples and hornbeams as well as tamarisks grow. In the very few wet and river forests, elms, beeches, poplars, willows, iron trees and chestnut-leaved oak thrive. Cypresses also grow in some locations. Not only the climate, but also culture, politics and security played a role in the appearance of Persian gardens. With a philosophy of life, the garden architects created places that used the power of nature on site.
Tamarisk and silk trees
Tamarisk trees are well adapted to the dry climate and thrive even on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir desert. They defy sandstorms with their long roots and tap into the groundwater, even growing on salt soils.
The silk tree is also called the sleeping tree because it folds its leaves when it is dry. It bears a widely spreading tree crown, its fruits are yellow-brown and up to twelve centimeters long with up to twelve seeds. It is widespread from Iran to China and has long been found in parks in Europe and the USA.
Lovage, also known as maggot herb, also grows in Iran. It smells of celery and is used in Persian medicine to stimulate urine flow and relieve cramps, as well as relieve constipation and gas.
Water - the source of the garden
Four elements - land, water, plants and space - belong to an Iranian garden. Water is the most important and has become a central element in garden design. A tree by the river is the most popular subject of art in this arid country. Iranian garden architecture without water does not exist - because, from a cultural point of view, a landscape without water is not a garden. When Iranians drive “into nature”, they would never come up with the idea of describing the desert, but beautiful nature is green and water.
Fountains and canals
Water is used differently in Persian gardens, for example in the form of fountains, waterfalls, canals or water basins. The sound of the water is said to attract visitors' attention and calm the soul. The layout of the gardens has a direct impact on the human psyche, and historical architects were very aware of this. Especially in the deserts that cover huge parts of Iran, green gardens with artificial waterfalls, almond trees or pavilions protect against the dangerous sun - practically and symbolically. Material life and spiritual imagination cannot be separated in Persian garden culture. In addition to the underground channels, the Iranians use a simple trick to water the trees in the low-rain climate. They plant the trees in water-filled trenches that protect against evaporation and water the roots.
Roses, pomegranates and badgirs
Persian gardens are divided by water channels and arranged by avenues and rows of trees such as cypress, almond, pomegranate, orange, lemon, pistachio or laurel. Grapevines and roses are also common. As a rule, gardens are hidden behind outer walls. Pavilions create shadows, under their roofs the Iranians can eat, gather and enjoy the wind while protected from the sun.
Some historic gardens contain different pavilions, a cool one for summer and one that opens to the south to keep warm in winter. Iranians use gardens as a summer residence, so there are houses in them, and paths are often decorated with stucco. An Iranian specialty are the badgirs or wind towers. These catch the wind, divert it and thus cool the houses. Especially in gardens in extremely hot areas such as Yazd and Shiraz, these "ecological air conditioners" are standard.
Asia and Europe, Zoroaster and Islam
Choosing plants for Persian gardens is based on sensual stimulation: in the background is the foliage of trees and bushes, while aromatic plants stimulate the sense of smell. Large areas with green grass and mature trees that cast deep shadows define boundaries and inspire relaxation, self-awareness and release from stress.
The principles of the old Zoroastrian gardens have survived to this day in the Iranian garden constructions, but other elements have been added over the centuries: Islamic art changed the shape of the gardens, for example in the Middle Ages in Tabriz, and in modern times European styles influenced the design, which visitors in particular in the parks of the Pahlavi dynasty in northern Tehran.
Inside and outside
In Iran, arches often separate the inner courtyard gardens from the outer gardens. The inner gardens stand for the domestic, the outer for the outside world. The outer gardens are often freely accessible, but the inner ones are not, and the arches can be closed with gates. These gardens are primarily used for recreation and relaxation, the outer gardens also for the cultivation of social relationships: what is British for the pub and the pub for the Germans is for Iranians the public garden.
Relaxation and religion
The ideal Paridaiza based on land, water, earth and wind has not only a symbolic meaning, but also a practical one as a place to relax and absorb new energy for daily life. It combines the beauty of flowers with food through all the fruits of the region and thus creates a “micro-ecosystem” regardless of the uncontrolled nature. The Persian “paradise” is the place where fruits and vegetables feed all year round, where trees provide shade in hot summer and wind towers ensure a mild climate within the garden walls.
The royal garden
The earliest surviving material manifestation of these ancient gardens in Iran is the garden of Cyrus the Great (558 to 530 BC) in Pasargad. It is based on the Zoroastrian division of the universe into four areas, four seasons and four elements: water, wind, earth and fire. Pasargadae was the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire. For garden historians, the rectangular patterns of the watercourses set in stone are of particular interest. This type of garden was known by the Achaemenids as chaharbagh (four-garden). In later times there was no evidence for this designation.
Pasargadae, the best preserved trace of an Achaemenid garden city, spanned a wide area and was divided into four sections, divided by the two main watercourses. Pasargadae comprised a collection of palaces and gardens, built on paved terraces, and became a model for other garden towns in the ancient Persian Empire.
The British archaeologist David Stronach reconstructed a palace garden in the size of 145 meters by 112.5 meters in Pasargadae in the 1960s, bordered by two canals that led to the northern palace wall and to a small pavilion in the south. He suspected that the throne of Cyrus II was on one axis of this garden. The Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization identified more channels. Only a few relics of the pavilion still exist.
Nothing is left of the garden in Pasargadae today, but visitors can still see the ruins of Cyrus' reception palace, the gate palace, the citadel and the private palace, and imagine the expansion of the 300-hectare area of the royal city. The best way to get to Pasargadae is to hire a private driver from Shiraz and combine the visit with a day trip to nearby Persepolis and the tomb of Cyrus II. The latter was also surrounded by a tree garden in ancient times.
The sky in the heat
Pasargadae is located 130 kilometers from the city of Shiraz. While Pasargadae has been abandoned since ancient times, Shiraz has developed into the modern capital of the Iranian province of Fars. Fars was the core of ancient Persia - and the name Persia is derived from Fars. Temperatures are very high here in summer, but the Kushk River has brought civilizations to life - for thousands of years. The rich cultural heritage includes a number of historical gardens, one of which is the Erampark. The Persian word "Eram" is found in the Arabic language as "Iram" in the Koran and means "heaven". The sky garden is located near the river bank of the Kushk, originally in the northwest of the city, but today in the middle of the sprawling city.
The exact date of its foundation is unknown, but historical evidence shows that the garden was built during the Seljuq period (11th-14th centuries CE), under the rule of Ahmad Sanjar. In the Zand dynasty (1750-1794) the kings had it renewed. Later, a Qashqaei tribal leader, Mohammed Qoli Khan, planted numerous cypresses, pines, oranges and persimmons. Mirza Hassan Ali Khan Nassir al-Molk bought the Bagh-e Eram from the Qashqaei and began to build the pavilion that still exists today.
The Iranian government donated the garden to the University of Shiraz in 1963 and turned it into a botanical garden with a wide variety of plants from all over the world. The Eram garden has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011 - as a symbol of Persian gardens. Today it attracts visitors of all ages, not only because of its historical identity, but also because of its beauty and importance as a botanical research center. In the middle of Shiraz, it is easy to reach for visitors.
Isfahan - The jewel of the Orient
Isfahan, the city in cobalt blue, was famous in early modern times as the jewel among the metropolises of the Orient and remains so to this day. While Pasargadae was a residence of antiquity and the sky garden dates from the Middle Ages, the pavilion garden Chetel Sutun in Isfahan leads back to the early modern period. The palace was completed in 1674 and new areas were built up until the second half of the 20th century. It is a palace garden. The palace itself has many murals and painted ceramics, some of which show historical scenes are exhibited in a museum on the west side of the park.
The garden from the Safavid period extends over 60,000 square meters with main axes from west to east, the plane trees line. Chetel Sutun means forty columns, of which there are still twenty that frame a pool of water.
Almonds, cherries and cypresses
The Safavid Shah Abbas I had the fin garden created in Kashan. The royal family expanded the park under the Quayaren ruler Fat Ali Shah. Fin Garden is one of nine gardens in Iran with the World Heritage status of “Persian Garden”. It covers only 2.3 hectares with a main courtyard, which is bordered by four round towers. Inside the walls are numerous fountains, which are fed by a natural spring, the Soleimanieh spring. The technical sophistication of the pools and the constant water supply make a pump system unnecessary.
The cypress trees in the garden are up to 500 years old, and the park is famous for the fragrance of the flowers of many orange trees. Other garden plants are rose bushes, lilies, jasmine, daffodils and tulips that draw the lines of the garden shape. There are also apples, almonds, cherries and plums.
A forest garden
This garden is located in the hills of the Albor Mountains in the south-east of Beshar in the middle of a forest and also bears the title of a World Heritage Site. It is one of Iran's best-known gardens outside the desert and contains a lake, a water reservoir, a flower garden, a bath, a windmill and two brick towers. The lake alone is 10 hectares in size
The Prince's Garden
Shazdeh means prince, and this modern prince's garden is located near Mahan in Kerman in southern Iran. He comes from the Qajar Dynasty (1799 to 1925). Unique in this desert region, it offers an oasis with extraordinary buildings, a garden and an underground irrigation system. This garden is a fine example of a Persian garden adapted to the dry climate. It is rectangular, 5.5 hectares and walled.
It houses a two-story building, the second floor of which served as the Qajar dwelling. The main summer house belongs to the garden houses. Hasan Qajar Sardari Iravani had the garden created around 1850 and Abdolhamid Mirza Naserodollehand continued to develop it around 1870. The garden consists of a number of pines, cedars and fruit trees that benefit from the underground water channels.
Yazd, one of the oldest continuously populated cities in the world, is also one of the hottest and known in Iran as the “bride of the desert”, an oasis in the middle of nowhere. The Dowlatabad Garden is another Persian garden on the list of World Heritage Sites. Mohammad Taghi Khan had it created in 1746. It includes countless pines, cypresses and fruit trees, plus roses and wine, which spread their scent everywhere. The harem is built so that its architecture is reflected in the water. The octagonal Badgir in Dowlatabad is the largest fan in the world with a height of 33 m. Such wind towers emerged from the knowledge of the desert dwellers and spread from southern Iran in the Abbasid period to Egypt. Dowlatabad was a state garden and was used for official ceremonies and urban politics.
In the province of Yazd there is another important garden, the Pahlavan Pour Park, also a World Heritage Site. He is particularly famous for his huge trees, the historic summer house, the winter quarters, the public bathroom and the kitchen.
Apricots, figs and pomegranates
The garden in Birjand covers 45,069 square meters and was created between the late Zand dynasty and the early Qajar period. A building by the architect Shokat Al-Molk shines with wooden decorations, colored glass, arabesques and geometric design. This garden has also been on the list of World Heritage Sites since 2011. The complex consists of two gardens, the northern one is larger, while Shokat Al-Molk's house is in the south. The larger garden is determined by a place with a pool of water. A network of streets with pine trees connects the two parts of the structure.
The gardens show an impressive collection of Iranian trees such as cedar, cypress, juniper, pistachio, pomegranate, fig, black fig, peach, apricot, mulberry and pear, as well as a number of roses such as the Damascus rose and amaranth. Both gardens are fed by underground water channels called Qanat. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)