The old Persian word for garden is „Paradaidha.“ There must be a reason so many languages have adopted that word as the word for paradise! Intrigued, we went to see the gardens of Persia for ourselves during our travel in Iran this spring.
A long and narrow water basin stretches in front of us in the Chehel Sotun garden in Isfahan. Twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion of a summer palace mirror in the water. Chehel Sotun, we learn, means “forty columns”. The small palace behind the columns and the impressive entrance houses colourful frescoes and tile work.
The garden itself, stretching to the left and right of the water basin, consists mainly of lawn with pines and, very sparsely, some flowers. The water system may have worked with a sophisticated channelling system in earlier times. In spite of the theoretical importance of those channels, today the gardeners use water pipes, taps and hoses, like everywhere. The main reason to visit Chehel Sotun, nowadays, is clearly the pavilion with its splendid architecture and the paintings.
The four gardens of Persia
In 2011, the UNESCO included nine different gardens in nine different provinces of Iran on its UNESCO world heritage list. Under the heading “the Persian Garden” they are praised for their variety and for the influence they had on world-wide garden design.
The archetypal Persian garden always consisted of four rectangular sectors. This principle is called char-bagh, or “four gardens”. These four parts of the garden represent four elements in Zorastrianism, the ancient Persian religion: Sky and earth, plants and water.
Especially the water, which is important for irrigation as well as ornamentation in channels and basins, plays a significant role. The natural elements of plants and water are usually complemented by man-made buildings like palaces and pavilions.
During our stay in Iran we managed to visit three of the UNESCO gardens.
A Persian garden in Shiraz
In Shiraz, we made some effort to visit the garden of Bagh-e Eram. We even had to come back the next day to visit the garden, because it was closed on a national holiday. Not just any old holiday: It was the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini and EVERYTHING was closed. The Bagh-e Eram is a quite an old garden and today serves as the botanical garden of the University. As such it has small name tags at all the plants, and far more flowers and diversity than the garden in Isfahan.
Unfortunately the famous rose garden is in a replanting process and there is only an earthy field to see. The channels and water basins are empty. The irrigation here is also achieved via pipes. But with all the green and flowers the garden has a pleasant atmosphere, and a lot of young couples and families are strolling through the grounds.
The garden we liked most was the Bagh-e Dolat Abad in Yazd. It was laid out around a small palace by the ruler, Karim Khan Zand, in about 1750. The palace has lovely coloured windows.
Visitors can go inside and look at the workings of the attached wind-tower, a rather typical feature in South-Iranian buildings. The 33 m high tower traps the wind and leads it into the lower rooms, comparable to an energy-saving air-conditioning system.
In this case, we quite enjoyed the garden itself. Interestingly, it sported not only flowers but also a lot of crop plants like a field with golden wheat, some vine and pomegranate trees.
Is it worth visiting the gardens of Persia?
We enjoyed all three gardens, although not primarily for the garden, i.e. the plant part. In comparison to botanical gardens in Europe or British gardens the Persian gardens do not show a wide variety of flowers. Of course, the botanical garden in Shiraz is an exemption. Still, we liked visiting the palaces and pavilions and we also enjoyed the fact that the gardens are places for the locals to relax.
All the Persian gardens we visited were in walking distance from the respective town centre. Entrance fees were quite steep at 150 000 Rial (5€) for each garden.
***We organised, and paid all expenses for our trip to Iran ourselves and we did not receive any funding.***