Pasargad: The Persian Gardens
Dr. Kaveh Farrokh
1st Edition: May 25, 2011
2nd Edition: July 24, 2016
Dr. Kaveh Farrokh
Pasargardae (Pasargad) was the imperial capital of Cyrus the Great and it was here where the “Persian Gardens” were formed. These were in essence an Achaemenid project which further developed, refined and expanded the Babylonian-Assyrian concept of the garden. The end-result of this was Pari-Daeza (Old Iranian: Park, Walled Garden) or the “Persian Garden”. The term Pari-Daeza is of Iranian origin and originally refers to the enclosed hunting grounds of the Median kings.
The Persian Gardens at Pasargardae were built in accordance with mathematically based geometric designs. There were 900 meters of channels constructed of carved limestone; these transported water throughout the garden. This was essentially a sophisticated irrigation system featuring stone water-channels and open ditches that were designed to channel water into small basins at every 15 meters in the garden.
An overall top view of Pasargardae at Cyrus’ time. Note the canal, water channels; the two rectangles are gardens.
The garden itself was planted with a variety of fruit and Cyprus trees, flowers such as roses, lilies, Jasmines and exotic grasses. Arrian has described the gardens as “a grove of all kinds of trees…with steams…” and encompassed by a large area of “…green grass” (Arrian, Expedition of Alexander, VI, 29).
A top view of a reconstruction of the Persian Garden at Pasargardae. Note water channels at rim of garden (see also History Channel program “ Engineering an Empire: The Persians “).
The Pasargardae complex was indeed a unique symbiosis of Iranian (Medo-Persian), Anatolian (i.e. Ionian) and Mesopotamian civil engineering techniques. These would be the harbinger of Persepolis city-palace and other Achaemenid sites such as the recently discovered palace at Tang e Bolaghi.
The Persian Garden has certainly survived into the post-Islamic era. The basis of such a design was built into the pavilion of Shah Abbas the Great (r. 1588 – 1629 AD) of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736 AD).
The Meydan-e Shah in Isfahan dated to the Safavid era.
Many small towns and villages in modern Iran today continue to have gardens that derive their inspiration from the Achaemenids of old.
A garden in Tehran in 1971
Cyrus’ gardens have exerted a profound legacy outside the borders of Iran, and especially in Europe. The Greeks adopted the Persian garden after Alexander’s conquests of Persia and most likely during the ensuing Seleucid era. The Persian term Paradise entered the Roman lexicon which facilitated its transmission to other European languages. The Greeks, Romans and succeeding European civilizations were to build parks and gardens on the Persian model. The breathtaking gardens of Versailles France, the baroque gardens of Belvedere Palace of Austria or the Butchard Gardens of Victoria Canada may never have existed today had it not been for Cyrus’ gardens at Pasargardae. Even the Bible commemorates the word “Paradise” in its lexicon.
The gardens at Versailles Place in France.
The influence of the Persian Gardens has also spread to the Orient, notably China and then Japan, probably mainly due to the arrival of Sassanian refugees to China after the collapse of the Sassanian Empire in the 650s AD, although earlier influences cannot be ruled out.
A Chinese Garden
The most notable example of the influence of Persian Gardens in the Indian subcontinent can be found in India’s Taj Mahal place built by the Mughals (1526-1707).
The Taj Mahal, completed by 1648, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The structure exemplifies a synthesis of Indian, Turkish and Iranian architectural themes. One of the most striking Iranian influences can be seen in the design of the gardens and waterworks of the locale. The term “Taj Mahal” is Persian for “The Royal Grounds” or more literally “The Crown Locale”.
The Role of UNESCO Today
Iranian news services have reported that since December 2005 UNESCO has been cooperating with experts in Iran to tabulate a list of heritage sites pertaining to Persian Gardens in Iran. Dr. Adel Farhangi (the advisor of the director of the Research Center of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization – ICHTO) reported that a team of experts is compiling documents on sites (for submission to UNESCO) in the Fin Garden of Kashan, Shazdeh in Mahan, Fat’habad in Kerman, and Dolatabad in Yazd.
The initiative to register the Persian Gardens was first made in a conference in Iran in 2004 which witnessed talks and presentations on the subject. It was also agreed that the submission of a registry for UNESCO would entail the study and classification of the architectural and civil engineering styles utilized in the construction of each of the gardens, as these would vary according to era (i.e. Achaemenid, Partho-Sassanian, Safavid, etc.)
The Persian gardens have indeed withstood the test of time.
Iran at War: 1500-1988
New Book by Kaveh Farrokh - Preview
Iran’s complex, violent military history encompasses two world wars, foreign intervention, anti-government revolts, border disputes, a revolution, a war against Iraq that lasted over eight years, and its desperate quest to become a nuclear power.
Iran at War: 1500-1988 by Kaveh Farrokh
Following his award-winning book, Shadows in the Desert, which explored the military history of ancient Persia, in Iran at War Kaveh Farrokh turns his attention to modern Iran's wartime history. Beginning with the Safavid dynasty of the 16th and 17th centuries, he traces Iran’s political and military progress to its dramatic turning point in 1979. In doing so, Farrokh demonstrates how Iran’s current bellicosity on the world stage was shaped by centuries of military defeat and humiliating foreign influences from the likes of Russia and Great Britain.
Including illustrations and photographs, this book provides an unparalleled investigation into the bloody history of modern Iran.
Dr. Kaveh Farrokh was born in Athens, Greece, in 1962 and immigrated to Canada in 1983. Kaveh has collected data and primary sources on Sassanian cavalry for 18 years resulting in travels to locations such as Naghshe-Rustam (Iran). He has given lectures and seminars in the University of British Columbia and the Knowledge Network Television Program of British Columbia and has written articles for various journals. Kaveh obtained his PhD in 2001 from the University of British Columbia where he specialized in the acquisition of Persian languages. He is currently a learning and career specialist in Langara College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He acted as a historical advisor on the film Cyrus the Great, and has appeared on the History Channel documentary as an expert on the Persian Empire.
Read Kaveh Farrokh Books
For further reading, we recommend these books by Kaveh Farrokh:
Chahin, M. (1975). Ararat the ancient kingdom of Armenia. History Today, XXV (6), pp. 418-427.
Farrokh, K. (2007). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
Frye, R.N. (1984). The History of Ancient Iran. Munich, Germany: C.H. Becksche Verlagsbuchhanndlung.
Arberry, A.J. (Ed.) (1953). The Legacy of Persia, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Stronach, D. (1985). Pasargardae. In I., Gershevitch (Ed.), Cambridge History of Iran: Vol.2 The Median and Achaemenean Periods, Great Britain, Cambridge University Press, pp. 838-855.
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