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Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain

Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain
D. Fairchild Ruggles.
University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 275 p.,  $65

D. Fairchild Ruggles has produced a scholarly work that serves to inform those interested in history, gardening and the interplay of building and landscape architecture. With Islam's arrival on the Iberian Peninsula in 711, the Jordanian and Syrian Umayyad rulers vastly changed the look and landscape of al-Andalus over the next six centuries. The Umayyad rulers' plans were influenced by the Quranic theme of paradise, described as a "garden watered by four streams."

The cities of Cordoba and Granada soon included grand palaces and estates with gardens focused around the theme of four intersecting streams that would meet in the center, sometimes joined by a grand fountain surrounded by lions spouting water from their mouths. The four sectors formed by the intersecting streams were filled with plants the Umayyads brought to Spain from India and China. These grand gardens were filled with plants including vegetables, melons, citron, capers, legumes, cotton, sesame, saffron, poppy, henna, spices, herbs and flowering aromatic plants such as the rose, gillyflower, violet, lily of the valley, chrysanthemum, narcissus, basil, marjoram, marshmallow, camomile and absinthe. Trees and vines were also an integral part of the garden and included nut, olive, fruit, ash, elm and cypress.

While the focus within these grand courtyard gardens was important, architects of the grand estates also created a seamless flow to the outside world. The buildings and courtyard walls included miradors, which served to frame the surrounding landscape from the usually elevated viewpoint of the dwelling. Ibn Luyun wrote a guide to the placement and design of the manor house within a garden: "With regard to houses set amidst gardens an elevated site is to be recommended, both for reasons of vigilance and of layout."

The year 1492 marked the symbolic end to what had been a slow evolution of the Christian control of Spain. With the expulsion of the Islamic rulers went the ideas of a Quranic paradise and its accompanying culture. Only vestiges remain of the "mythic concept of the sovereign as creator and steward of the land, expressed in the visual continuities that united architecture with garden."

— Amy M. Lewitz, Master Gardener and Volunteer, Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden