Descriptive Essay on Garden

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The garden is an attempt to create an earthy paradise, a slice of the beauty that will be presented to those of who follow the doctrines and principles laid out by the Prophet Muhammad. The marriage of the Islamic Garden and architecture is through its earthly relationship to symbolize the divine: Islam is a monotheistic religion that operates on units and equilibriums, mathematical ratios that represent the unity and the oneness of God. In this essay, I want to explore the two monuments to the Islamic Garden showing the complex histories and cultures that thrived on the knowledge of Islam, and how the architecture interacted this the everyday lives of people of these eras.

Alhambra, meaning red in Arabic is one of the first major Islamic gardens I want to explore. This palace and fortress complex is located in Granada, southern Spain. The multifaceted history of the Islamic empire was located in what was termed the ‘Iberian Peninsula’ a collection of countries situated around the Mediterranean belt (Southern Western Europe and Northern Africa). The founding of Alhambra was much later in this golden Islamic empire period, from as early as 1250 to 1492, when the Catholic armies of Ferdinand and Isabelle invaded, marking the end of the Islamic West (Anderson, 605). But in this death of the Islamic core of Granada, the true beauty of the garden and architecture flourishes in contrast to the heavily imposing architecture of its catholic renaissance neighbors. While both religions strive to strengthen the relationship between “humankind and God”, the architecture of Islam fully incorporates itself inside the faith (Ruggles, 263) this translates to the overall structure of Alhambra and its various garden dwellings.

The site follows an orthogonal layout that relates to the ridged and hierarchal sequences of Islamic royalty and how intimacy is affected further inside the palace and its many rooms: central to the plan you see the Court of Myrtles, a place where business and negations were held and to the east the Court of Lions is located. I want to focus on the Court of Lions as I believe it is a beautiful example of how an Islamic Garden should be orchestrated to personify a true Djanna Adn (Garden of Eden) in an earthly form.

Showcases the court in its architectural form from an aerial view, the court is comprised of a quadripartite garden, divided horizontally and vertically to allow a stream of water originating from the adjacent halls to channel through to the central water basin which is held up by sculpted lions (Ruggles, 162). Water is an essential element of the Islamic Garden, it is a finite luxurious element that is valuable in such a warm humid climate, the architecture of the palace is a response to warm air and creates microclimates in the courts to naturally circulate cooler air to regulate the temperature within to allow a garden to blossom. The palace site of Alhambra is connected to a very delicate water channeling network, connecting the Islamic site to various other gardens and green spaces, providing clean water to orchids that feed those who remained close to the Sultan. Offers a glimpse into the world of the Nasrid royalty, a court bathed in sunlight and the stream of water channeling through the court. This ecosystem of water and its relationship with the garden is imprinted with the site, it operates on a fragile equilibrium. Without the water, the gardens are nothing and without the gardens the water is nothing. There is a continual reminder of equilibrium in the Court of Lions: every factor inside the Garden is reliant on one another. The water nourishes the gardens where a small orchid once lies, the fruit from the trees then nourishes those of the royal court.

The Court of Lions is an example of an Islamic earthly Garden because of its harmony with religion and the natural sciences that operate. The quadripartite form of the garden, the number four is a unified number because of its symmetry and even proportionality correspond with the systems of irrigation that transport water to the gardens.

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An additional feature of the garden is the very walls that surround them. Shows ornamented heavily, tiling, and beautiful carved stucco detailing, similar to those that are in the Court of Lions. A reminder of the geometric and mathematical core of the religion, a form of nature that is reduced and simplified, transformed into a “visual language” (Anderson, 613). One could suggest that this artistic language is communicating an Islamic Garden through its geometric components of proportion and calligraphy on the vertical platform of a wall: a constant reminder of the core components of Islam and how the garden remains a central definition of both unity and equilibrium.

Rather than focusing on a particular Islamic Garden to communicate the relationships between the religion and the culture the garden architecture is related to. I want to look at a garden's architectural style and how it celebrates the Islamic Garden as a paradise and creates a sanctuary on earth; the Omani style.

Located in the horn of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman showcased an “Islamic potency” from as early as the seventh century after the expulsion of the Persians (Alexander Smith 189). Oman has been a country devoted to Islam as it is intertwined with its history, meaning the very architecture of the land is Islamic rather than containing Islamic elements. This founding Islamic Garden style may have been the blueprint for many famous gardens around the Islamic West including the Nasrid Spain and the Alhambra Palace. Traditional Omani-style gardens were simplistic and lacked the luxuries and wealth displayed in the Alhambra, it was seen as “utilitarian” and allowed for “Qur’anic conversation” (Alexander Smith, 189). I believe that the humble construction of this garden allowed for it to almost transform into a sanctuary you wouldn’t find on earth because of the sheer honesty of those who took part in its creation. These Omani gardens transform into sanctuaries outside of human understanding through their simplicity, they become paradises which holy scripture refers to.

One of the most important elements of the garden is the accessibility to water. The irrigation system that was developed created an underground and overground network where the water can travel and moisturize the land. Bisects the landscape and shows us the water distribution. It simplifies the distribution of the water networks working underneath the landscape. It is this falaj system that optimizes the growth of vegetation in gardens. Groundwater networks like these are what make growing vegetation and agriculture in dry and hot climates possible. The “irrigated garden” became one of the key components of the Islamic Garden (Finlayson, 77). These gardens the simple and practical. Shows the section of palm settlements located in Oman’s mountainous areas. This garden still operates as an Islamic Garden, water being the bridge to the “stylistic convention of paradise” (Finlayson, 77) that binds these palm gardens to paradise which is beyond our earthly reach.

In both examples of the Islamic Garden, they are connected by water. Water acts as a “skin” in Oman (Alexander Smith, 194) like a thin membrane that wraps around the courtyard house, both affecting the travel of air through the home and the water channels to moisturize the gardens. The water binds itself to the domestic houses and estates, a subtle reminder of the connotations that water has to paradise and it's being a ‘skin-link’ bond to the natural world and the Islamic mathematical and rational lenses of the clean channeling of water. The Court of Lions in Alhambra “unites the disparate spaces” as if their separate spaces are not linked without the presence of water, the intersecting channels part the garden into four quadrants. These quadrants contained what may have been an orchard, a physical tether to geometric and garden imagery. These systems unify the harmonization of religion and sciences to regulate the vegetation that thrives within. In Alhambra, not only is water used for the Islamic garden’s purity but also for other aspects of the Nasrid culture in Southern Spain or the people of Oman showcasing their garden irrigation system.

Despite the simplicity of the conceptual idea of the Islamic Garden, it seems there is a large and plentiful range of its constructions and influences because of intersecting cultures that adopt the Islamic faiths into their own. These earthy gardens transform into paradises, the final destinations for the souls on earth who spend an eternity surrounded by the pleasures of nature.


    1. Dodds, J., 1992. Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    2. Finlayson, C., 2001. Behind the Arabesque: Understanding Islamic Art and Architecture. 4th ed. Brigham Young University.
    3. Fletcher, B. and Anderson, G., 2020. Sir Banister Fletcher's Global History of Architecture. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts.
    4. Hillenbrand, R., 2003. Studying Islamic Architecture: Challenges and Perspectives. Architectural History, 46.
    5. Smith, J., 1991. The Islamic Garden in Oman: Sanctuary and Paradise. Garden History, 19(2).
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