Persian Gardens

So-called Salting carpet, wool, silk and metal thread. about 1600. 226 × 162 cm. About an ottepas-shaped medallion with arabesques is a rectangular panel with phoenixes and other exotic birds in tendrils with Chinese-inspired flowers. Public Domain: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before Darius the Great of Persia came Cyrus the Great. Scholars are not entirely sure about the details that led Darius to assume the Persian throne about 8 years after the death of his non-father Cyrus. Cyrus had co-ruled with a son, Cambyses II. Cambyses took over when his father died, in 530 B.C.; then, when Cambyses died, in 522, his successor was either another son of Cyrus, Bardiya (aka Smerdis), or an impostor named Gautama. It was this person whom Darius, who had served as spear-bearer under Cambyses, ousted.

Cyrus the Great is also known as Cyrus II. He (ostensibly) founded the ancient historically important Achaemenid Dynasty (c. 550-330 B.C.) [see Basic Eras Timeline], the dynasty that fell to Alexander the Great of Macedon. [I think I’ve mentioned that everything here ties in one way or another to Alexander.] Cyrus the Great is also known for the cuneiform, baked clay, Cyrus Cylinder, which many call the first human rights charter. He is also known for his garden. [See Persian Garden – Cyrus the Great’s Model for the Garden of Eden, by Kris Hirst.]

The chances are you are familiar with some aspects of the garden tradition Cyrus started at Pasargadae. For one, the Taj Mahal is said to be built on its char (four [chambered]) bagh (garden) model. The four square chambers might have represented four quadrants of Persian empire. Walkways and water channels divided the squares. Nine hundred meters of limestone channels of water provided irrigation, aesthetics, and moderation of the climate. [See Persian Gardens, Chahar Bagh, from “Zoroastrian Heritage,” by K. E. Eduljee and Pasargadae: The Persian Gardens, by Kaveh Farrokh]

For another, and the one I find most interesting, many Persian carpets, including the famous Safavid era Ardabil medallion carpets [see The Ardabil Carpets, from Getty Publications; Rexford Stead, 1974 and “Religious Symbolism in Persian Art,” by Schuyler V. R. Cammann; History of Religions. Vol. 15, No. 3 (Feb., 1976), pp. 193-208. For background and pictures, see Khan Academy’s Ardabil Carpet], incorporate Persian garden design elements, including, but far from limited to the flora. Such Persian carpets also contain images related to Paradise. This is not really a coincidence. Pairi-deeza was an old Persian word for exceptional gardens, with the pairi part referring to the enclosure. The walled garden Cyrus created was supposed to provide shade, a micro-climate, vegetation, a refuge, and healing. In short, it was supposed to create an earthly taste of the celestial paradise. The beautiful, functional carpets give you a symbolic taste of this.


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