Happy Valentine's Day! Don't forget to let the important people in your life know how much they mean to you.... Since nothing says "I love you" like the rose, join me here on a brief trip around the world to my favorite rose gardens. What's your favorite rose garden?Read More
The Islamic gardens in Granada, Spain’s Generalife are legendary. “The best”…“most important”… “Moorish grandeur”…“most conserved”…”the greatest architectural wonder”… are just a few of the superlatives thrown at this garden and building complex. It was high on my bucket list of places to visit, and perhaps it’s on yours.
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers explains its history well in her book, Landscape Design:
“Around 1250, Muhammad Ibn Ben Ahmar, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, who took possession of Granada in 1238, climbed to the top of a bare red escarpment … and laid claim to a site for his palace… Here he ordered the construction of an aqueduct, the water from which has made possible the gardens…ever since.”
Many gardens make up the Generalife. One element unites them all – water. Water enters in an un-named section of the garden, at the highest point of the Generalife, and gently winds its way through the Water Stairway, the Acequia garden, lower gardens, a vegetable garden, and then into the neighboring Alhambra complex that incudes the Partal garden, the world famous Court of Myrtles, the Patio of the Lions, and Daraxa’s garden. Ultimately, excess water pours out of several release pipes back into the Darro River.
Moorish engineers enhanced Roman aqueducts to bring water from the Darro River. At its entry point the volume and speed of the water are awesome. Mostly covered, there are occasional open sections of barely controlled rushing water. By the time it reaches the tourist filled gardens below, it is completely tamed, intentional, and gentle.
I appreciated this garden for its wildness and isolation – a welcome break from the formality and geometry of the other gardens.
The Christian cloister garden and the Islamic garden flourished during the middle ages. They share a number of design features including enclosure, geometry, and explicit references to reflection and spirituality.
Differences in religious emphasis, however, resulted in quite different garden styles. The Christian cloister, set up for contemplation and prayer, is packed with literal depictions of saints and Christ. Plant material, while beautiful, clearly served as food, as medicine or as decoration for the altar.
In contrast, the Islamic garden is a representation of the paradise described in religious texts. Crisscrossing streams of water and pathways reference the four rivers leading to Eden. Plant material is luxurious and colorful. Ornamentation is figurative; it celebrates nature without literally representing living beings, a nod to the teaching that only God can make living things. Bountiful water inside the garden is a powerful contrast when the garden sits in a climate as arid as the one pictured above in Granada’s Generalife garden.
My favorite element of the Islamic garden is the seamless interweaving of indoor and outdoor space. Interior living space opens up to the garden; the garden then connects to and flows into another indoor space.
The garden I’ve photographed here is one of the most famous examples of an Islamic garden. It’s the Patio de Acequia in Granada’s Generalife. The name Generalife is derived from the Arab word Jianan al-Arif, which translates literally as “The Paradise Garden of the Overseer.”
Built in the 1300’s as part of the Sultan’s summer palace, the garden is bisected by a water canal and a stone walkway. Plant material is lush and colorful, selected for its beauty. It delights the senses on many levels: simple water jets sprinkle and provide rhythm; box hedges provide order; climbing roses and bougainvillea lift the eyes; a pool of water reflects the sky, and the fragrance of thousands of flowers permeates the air.
As with many historic gardens, this one has evolved over time. The water jets are ‘new’ - as of the 1500’s - and the planting beds have been raised. Originally the tops of the plants were meant to reach the same level as the walkway: to simulate a living Persian carpet. A covered pavilion once marked the central point where the metaphorical four rivers of Eden met. Even with these changes, this garden remains an icon.