Islamic Gardens and their Heavenly Symbolism

“There is a certain divergence between the popular image of Islam, as the religion that emanated from the desert and carried its ethos, and the notion of the garden: lush, green, shaded, moist, and fragrant, among other pleasant qualities that are all antithetical to the desert environment. But it seems that precisely because Islam came out of the desert that gardens occupy a substantial space in the Islamic imaginary and in the history of Islamic design.”

Nasser RabbatDirector of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture MIT

Fountain in the centre of a courtyard, Alhambra, Granada, Spain

From Spain and Morocco in the West to India in the East, Islamic gardens were always fascinating. Unlike the European gardens, which are often designed for walks and social meetings, Islamic gardens are intended for rest, reflection and contemplation. Small oases in the “desert” of life, full of greenery, shade and water, fairly represent the paradise.

Islamic gardens are traditionally enclosed by walls, an influence of Persian architecture. They have symmetry and harmony, characteristics always beloved in the Islamic art. The irregular flow of water and the angles of sunlight are the primary tools used to create a mysterious and sensory experience.

Running water along with aromatic plants, major elements in any Islamic garden, stimulate the senses and the human intellect. Water is the origin of life. It serves as a means of physical and emotional cleansing and refreshment. It is recycled in fountains to provide movement and melodic sound to the stillness of a walled Islamic garden, enlivening its imposing atmosphere. At the same time, various fruit-bearing trees and exotic flowers contribute to the aromatic aspect of the garden, such us cherries, peaches, almonds, jasmine, roses, narcissi, violets and lilies. With their constant bloom and withering, they become symbols of the human life.

Manuscript (c. 1420) created by unknown Persian artist, shows the princely cycle with a scene of hunting on an estate.

Many times, Islamic gardens were places of hunting for the caliphate princes, while the size of the gardens symbolized the power and wealth of the owner.