The Persian Garden, Echoes of Paradise

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Mehdi Khansari, M. Reza Moghtader and Minouch Yavari, The Persian Garden, Echoes of Paradise (Washington, DC: Mage, 2004), 176 pp., 240 illus. in colour and black-and-white, £39.95 (pbk), ISBN 0- 934211-75-2

Persian gardens have been the subject of renewed discussion since the publication of the report of the excavation of the Royal Garden at Pasargadae by David Stronach in 1956.* Later, this subject was researched by Donald Wilber (1962), Ralph Pinder-Wilson (1976), and Elizabeth Moynihan (1979).** The handsomely produced The Persian Garden, Echoes of Paradise contributes to this field by its concentration on the morphological evolution of gardens in Persia/Iran. This volume is divided into eight major sections of varying lengths. Starting with a Preface, it continues with essays in chronological order from Achaemenids to Pahlavids, and closes with a detailed description of a plant list (which duplicates Pinder-Wilson’s in Bagh and Chahar-Bagh). Compared with its predecessors, the current book contains a richer collection of photographs, old plates and engravings, architectural renderings and plans of the sites and gardens, some of which are drawn by one of the authors. In addition, the authors’ style of exploring the Persian garden in its historical context motivates the reader to further exploration of the subject-matter.

In producing this book, attempts have been made to relate not only to an academic audience, but also to the general reader. However, the book suffers from a lack of referencing, which diminishes its power as a reliable academic source. There is also the feeling that the authors prefer narrating the history rather than critically examining and criticizing previous knowledge. This becomes problematic in the section on pre-Islamic gardens, when information about different regional areas is not integrated coherently. For example, it is not easy for the reader with a broad interest in ancient history to form a direct connection between the Babylonian and Achaemenid gardens or to appreciate the importance of the usage of the originally Persian term ‘paradaeza’ in neighbouring countries.

The authors have also failed to investigate the reports of the recent excavations in ancient sites in Iran, such as Jiroft, which could lead to new debates on the evolution of pre-Achaemenid gardens in Iran. This is, perhaps, the most ambiguous part of the history of Persian gardens; and one which needs further study. In some sections, simplification of the issues becomes misleading. For instance, by overemphasizing the role of Shah Abbas, the contribution of his vizir Sheikh Bahai in Safavid architecture is somehow neglected. Despite these concerns, this book is a successful summary of the work of previous scholars and the authors are to be congratulated on producing a comprehensive, illustrated introduction to Persian gardens.

Mohammad Gharipour
Department of Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA

* David Stronach, Pasargadae: A Report on the Excavations Conducted by the British Institute of Persian Studies from 1961 to 1963 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978), pp. 107–12.

** Donald Wilber, Persian Gardens (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962); Ralph Pinder- Wilson, The Persian Garden: Bagh and Chahar Bagh. The Islamic Garden (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks and Trustees for Harvard University, 1976); Elizabeth B. Moynihan, Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughul India (New York, NY: George Braziller, 1979).

33:1 (Summer 2005)

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