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    Cover Story

    All is calm
    Persian garden: A space far from the uproar of cities and human unrest

    October 12, 1998
    The Iranian

    The Persian Garden: Echoes of Paradise
    By Mehdi Khansari, M. Reza Moghtader, Minouch Yavari
    Mage Publishers, 1998

    From the preface by Gerard Grandval:

    An exercise in remembrance - and particularly this voyage on which we are invited, to a land of sleeping gardens - demands a kind of silence and restraint before these remarkable examples of survival. Life there seems fragile, improbable, always in question. If travelers' accounts are sometimes all that remain of once-mighty temples and cities, what traces can there be of these places that are vulnerable to the wind, the sand, erosion, drought, and the indifference of man? (See images below)

    Yet they bear witness to the rather extravagant hope of inventing paradise on earth; of creating, despite the rigors of the climate, a space far from the uproar of cities and human unrest, where the splendor and profusion of plants gives a picture of nature pacified and tamed. Is not this dream a nostalgic memory of the first garden, where man and woman experienced a golden age before being driven from it by the angel with a sword of fire, condemned to wander in arid lands? Or should we imagine the reverse: That the garden east of Eden is a buried memory of the paradises constructed in ancient Babylon?

    God was the first gardener, but when man donned his gardening clogs he dared not only defy nature but to reinvent it and give it life through irrigation, distributing scarce and vital water with a lavish hand. The arrangements and the lives of these gardens follow the flow of the water that is their guiding thread. Water, captured and brought from often distant mountains, cleverly pressurized by superimposing two streams, gushes from central basins, and also creates the garden and dictates its design. A Persian garden is above all else a story of water passing through the halls of life, defying death.

    This is accomplished in Persia, as in ancient times, through skillful engineering according to rigorous plans and precise geometric layouts. The Persian gardeners were architects, as were, much later, the French and other European landscapers of the classical period. Yet they worked in very different settings. Le Notre and his disciples laid out sunny spaces and orderly clearings; they sought to achieve a sense of distance and a relationship with the sky by hacking away forests and establishing a geometric order in opposition to the complex, disturbing, shadowy chaos of the surrounding forests. Persian landscape architects, on the other hand, invented islands of vegetation, a succession of cool moments in a hostile desert land.

    Thus Western gardens represent a battle with surrounding nature, where trees and bushes are given strictly defined shapes, while Persian gardens confront and defy an omnipresent inorganic world. Centuries apart and in different; latitudes, these sibling gardens are opposites but resemble one another in that they demonstrate a desire to impose order and a conscious design on the disorder of their surroundings.

    Their disappearances, slow or rapid, also follow opposite paths. Each succumbs in its own way. In the West, abandoned gardens are invaded by brambles, weeds, and bushes, and are once more overwhelmed by the forest. In Persia, deserted and forgotten gardens are obliterated by the sand and return to dust, to an inorganic world without life.

    This book allows us to imagine, by way of tiny fragments - the detail of a curbstone, a section of mosaic, a drawing of an ancient plan - what these gardens were like in their prime, at the height of their splendor, and it leaves us uncertain. What image should we retain? The garden changes depending on the day, the year, the blooming of the flowers, the growth of the trees. At daybreak it is different than at sunset; the garden is manifold and moving, like all life.

    We are invited to restore these vanished gardens in our imaginations. Will they perhaps be replanted and rebuilt some day? Should we desire that and hope for it, or should we shrink from it and cherish a memory of these last, nostalgic images of landscapes belonging to another time and fated for oblivion?

    For now, we are left with a memory of the autumn - or rather the winter - of these gardens, a winter which is blazing hot, and a vision of their summertime, which was fresh and cool.

    Click on images to see larger pictures


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