Thursday 16 February 2012

C is for Chahar Bagh

OK, OK, I know.  For those of you who have visited the blog before this may seem like a little bit of a repeat of my Gardens of Islam post, but please accept my self-indulgence.  For I simply adore Islamic gardens.  
Babur Supervising the Laying Out of the Garden of Fidelity (Manuscript c. 1590). Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland
The words chahar bagh literally mean ‘fourfold garden’ and it is a form that has provided the blue print for the Islamic garden since the 7th century AD - and continues to do so.  However, origins of the quadripartite garden form can be found in the palace garden of Cyrus the Great at Pasargardae (Iran), which dates to the mid-6th century BC.

This quadripartite garden form became popular within Persian gardens and was subsequently assimilated by the Muslim invaders for it fits perfectly with the  ‘Garden of Paradise’ as described at length in the Qua’ran.  At the centre is a fountain or source of water that flows into four rills (narrow canals), which run at right angles and divide the garden into the four beds – hence the name, and which symbolically represent the four rivers of life.  
A small chahar bagh in the cafe of the new Al-Azhar Park, Cairo.
In the earthly expression of the chahar bagh the four beds could be approached in a number of ways:  paved with polished stone laid in patterns the ‘bed’ provide the perfect surface on which to lay carpets and cushions, they can be raised as shown in the  Bagh-e Vafa (Garden of Fidelity), the first garden of the first Mughal Emperor Babur and crated in Afghanistan - see above  Or they can be sunken as was originally the case with the Court of Lions in the Alhambra Palace) to give the impression of walking by a carpet of flowers.  In all cases flower beds were filled with brightly coloured flowering plants.

The Court of Lions in the Alhambra, Grenada in Spain
As Islam spread, so did their garden making, and the conquering artisans assimilated local traditions.  Chahar bagh gardens can be scaled to fit any space from a tiny courtyard to enormous palace complexes, and these gardens can be found from Moorish Spain and North Africa in the west, through the Middle East, Iran and Iraq, to the awesome palaces of Mughal India in the east.  All are different, but all are based on the same core values.  

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