In Islamic Landscapes it is evident that the ideas of symbolism and metaphorical concepts, are present within the Designs. As Elizabeth Barlow Rogers writes within her book Landscape Design, A Cultural and Architectural History, the word ‘paradise’ is derived from the Persian word Pairidaeza which signifies a royal hunting park or orchard enclosed by a series of walls. This paradise is literally separated from the rest of the world, and made special by its enclosure. It is supposed to be a place where there is no confrontation, there is bountiful crops, and everyone can exist in peace. As we observe the progression of the Islamic Gardens over the years, we begin to notice similarities within their designs.
The first and most obvious design concept present is water. Water becomes the heart and the key component of the majority of Islamic Landscapes and Gardens. Water is both a necessity for the success of the gardens as well as must be protected by walls to prevent outside sand from blowing into the gardens and into the water itself. The walls become the second most important design aspect, as they not only provide the aforementioned protection but they also create the boundaries for this ‘Islamic Paradise’ to be created. The walls separate the gardens from the landscape around it, creating an escape from the landscape, and providing for an experience one cannot have outside its walls.
Some examples to clarify these first two components are: The Garden of the Alcazar at the Mudejar residence of Spanish Royalty (Rogers pg 106). As is shown in the image, the garden is enclosed by a series of walls, which have flora growing upon them, allowing for their presence to become hidden by nature, but their prominence to be announced by the verticality of the flora itself. The key central water feature too is highlighted by a variety of native flora, as well as the free standing columns shown in the back, which again create a sense of symmetrical verticality within the scene. These columns are place directly in line with the edges of the pool-like feature in the center, which create a magnificent extension of the ground planes’ design (the reflections within the water are quite interesting as well).
Also looking at the Court of the Lions in Alhambra, Grenada (Rogers pg 106) and the Acequia, Generalife, Grenada (Rogers pg 107), one can again see the centralized water feature, which in these two in particular is designed in a linear fashion in the longer portion of the garden design leading the eye from one end portico to the other. The architectural design of the portico-like ends to the Court of the Lions, as well as the columnar details of the Acequia, enhance the overall composition of their respective gardens. Here, it can be discussed that while the gardens are the featured components, the architecture surrounding it is a key component to the symmetrical and visionary success of the projects. The additional opportunities for views within and surrounding the Acequia should be noted as there appears to be a balcony style opportunity towards the back of the provided image, which would allow for one to experience both sides of the walls at the same time.
This repeated mentioning of symmetry leads to the 3rd design component of within the Islamic Landscapes: the harmony of symmetry itself. As can be seen in numerous Islamic designs, the range of geometries used all typically have one thing in common: they are symmetrical. This allows for a sense of fluidity, repetition and harmony to be constructed each and every time. Looking at the Shalamar or Abode of Love (Rogers pg 110-111), the beauty of the design lies within the repetition and symmetry of the landscape. A progression of water features leads the eye along a centralized axis (again the idea of the axis mundi seems to still be present) with numerous cross axis present, allowing for various outlets of exploration. And all of this is constructed with ‘walls’ defining the boundaries of the garden but also providing for the edges of the Paradise within the Indian Landscape. The walls provide an enclosed mystery for one to explore, yet a serene, harmonious, private exploration once inside.
Lastly, a grand landscape which should be mentioned is that of the foreground to the well-known Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It too features the dominant centralized water feature, however this time the water feature highlights both the main central axis as well as the main cross axis. The grounds are sub-divided into 4 symmetrical plots, which are each individually sub-divided once again into 4 symmetrical plots. Amazingly enough, even THESE are individually sub-divided one more time into 4 symmetrical plots. The symmetry across the entire grounds, the centrality of the water components, and the progressive sub-division of the plots creates an exciting landscape leading one up to such an exciting architectural presence. The grounds of the Taj Mahal are one of the greatest examples of the three components of the Islamic Landscape ‘Paradise’: Water, Enclosure (walls and the transition from mystery to privacy), and the harmony of symmetry.
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