Book Review of 'Islamic Gardens and Landscapes' by D. Fairchild Ruggles

Ranging across poetry, court documents, agronomy manuals, and early garden representations and richly illustrated with pictures and site plans, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes by Dr Fairchild Ruggles is a book of impressive scope sure to interest scholars and enthusiasts alike.

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Margaret Morris*

Table of contents

1. Presentation of the book

2. About the author

3. Table of contents

Preface ix
Chapter 1: The Islamic Landscape: Place and Memory 3
Chapter 2: Making the Desert Bloom
Transforming an Inhospitable Earth 13
Chapter 3: The Science of Gardening
Agricultural and Botanical Manuals 29
Chapter 4: Organizing the Earth
Cross-axial Gardens and the Chabar Bagh 39
Chapter 5: Trees and Plants
Botanical Evidence from Texts and Archaeology 51
Chapter 6: Representations of Gardens and Landscape
Imagery in Manuscript Paintings, Textiles, and Other Media 63
Chapter 7: Imaginary Gardens
Gardens in Fantasy and Literature 75
Chapter 8: The Garden as Paradise
The Historical Beginnings of Paradisiac Iconography 89
Chapter 9: The Here and Hereafter
Mausolea and Tomb Gardens 103
Chapter 10: A Garden in Landscape
The Taj Mahal and its Precursors 117
Chapter 11: Religion and Culture
The Adoption of Islamic Garden Culture by Non-Muslims 131

4. Further reading
4.1. Articles on www.MuslimHeritage.com
4.2. Books
4.3. Web links

Book review of Islamic Gardens and Landscapes by Dr Fairchild Ruggles (Hardcover), Hopkins Fulfillment Services, Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture series, 2008. 296 pages. ISBN-10: 0812240251 - ISBN-13: 9780812240252. Dimensions: 7 1/2 x 10 | 28 color, 177 b/w illus.

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1. Presentation of the book

This book looks thematically at Islamic gardens and cultivated landscapes, placing them on a continuous spectrum with the city and architecture at one end and nature and wilderness at the other.

The first chapters address the practical issues of organising the surrounding space, taming nature, enhancing the earth's yield and creating a legible map on which to distribute natural resources. These chapters set the garden in the broader context of landscape, agriculture and water supply and attempt to answer purely historical questions not move into the realms of theology and symbolic interpretations of gardens as Paradise. Later chapters deal with such subjects as mythic gardens and manuscript representations. The book ends with a list of Islamic Gardens and Sites by geographical region, selected because they are historically important, well-preserved, or representative in some way (especially in the case of nineteenth- and twentieth-century residential gardens, which are too numerous to list). Each garden and site in this section is illustrated by a plan or photograph and is followed by a brief bibliography. There are more than eighty plans, many corrected or redrawn for the first time. There are detailed notes for each chapter.


Figure 1: Front cover of Islamic Gardens and Landscapes by Dr Fairchild Ruggles.

Chapter One: The Islamic Landscape ranges widely over the Islamic world in geography from India to Morocco and in time from the early days of Islam to the Ottoman Empire seeking to discover what exactly defines the Islamic landscape. The work of designing and building landscape and gardens begins with the existing terrain and throughout time Islamic gardens have expressed the intersection of nature, design and history.

Chapter Two: Making the Desert Bloom describes the various ways in which the water required to transform an inhospitable earth was transported and managed at various locations over time. The use of canals, aqueducts, waterwheels, shaduf and qanats are all discussed and illustrated.

Chapter Three: The Science of Gardening describes agricultural and botanical manuals.

The fact that there were so many written works on medieval Islamic botany, agriculture and land management reveals the acute interest of farmers, scholars and princes in the cultivated landscape. However, specific information on layout, actual plantings and meaning must be sought in the gardens themselves as recorded through descriptions, surviving remains and archaeological excavation.


Figure 2: Professor D. Fairchild Ruggles. (Source).

Chapter Four: Organising the Earth looks at the chahar bagh a highly structured scheme of garden design laid out with four axial walkways that intersect in the garden centre. This plan appears almost entirely in palace settings. There is a bias towards the survival of royal and aristocratic dwellings, the same ones as described in works of history and literature commissioned by wealthy patrons. The four-part plan was certainly not the only formal garden type nor was it universally adopted by royalty to express power. The gardens of the Ottoman Empire were more sensitive to the natural topography of their sites and did not impose an artificial grid.


Figure 3: Sketch diagram of a traditional Islamic garden. (Source).

Chapter Five: Trees and Plants looks at botanical evidence from texts and archaeology to attempt to reconstruct the botanical contents of historic sites. Data on flowers and shrubs and their arrangement within the garden is very difficult is obtain by archaeological means but this data can be obtained from the botanical treatises and agricultural manuals which not only name plants grown by farmers but also sometimes provided illustration. Literary references give a sense of the general characteristics of a garden and the place of nature imagery in Islamic discussions of beauty.

Chapter Six: Representations of Gardens and Landscape looks at imagery in manuscript paintings, textiles and other media, asking to what extent the images in manuscripts are more accurate than those of texts.

Chapter Seven: Imaginary Gardens looks at gardens in fantasy and literature. On one hand fantastic architecture and gardens could lead its owner to damnation, on the other hand paradise was envisioned as a garden. Imaginary gardens and their real-life evocations can be found in all periods and places in Islamic history.

Chapter Eight: The Garden as Paradise looks at the symbolism of paradise in mosques and tomb gardens. In Islamic Spain, India and Ottoman Turkey nature was welcomed into the spaces used for religious worship. This shift in the use of gardens happened because tombs and commemorative structures were placed in garden settings that allowed the living faithful to catch a glimpse of the afterlife where the dead enjoyed the perfection of nature.


Figure 4: A part of the Generalife garden in the Alhambra, Granada. (Source).

Chapter Nine: The Here and Hereafter looks at mausolea and tomb gardens. Gardens did not become a metaphor for paradise until they were used as the setting for tombs when they were metaphors for the perfect gardens where the faithful lived for all eternity.

Chapter Ten: A Garden in Landscape looks at the Taj Mahal and its precursors. It focuses on this single site, examining its response to specific elements in its own landscape context and the way that it reflects previous experience of garden design in very different landscapes elsewhere in South Asia.

Chapter Eleven: Religion and Culture looks at the adoption of Islamic Garden culture by non-Muslims and asks the question of how to explain the meaning and context of gardens built by non-Muslims using a clearly "Islamic" set of forms.


Figure 5: Garden of Taj Mahal in Agra, India (Source).

2. About the author

D. Fairchild Ruggles is Associate Professor of Landscape History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain.

3. Table of contents

Preface ix
Chapter 1: The Islamic Landscape: Place and Memory 3
Chapter 2: Making the Desert Bloom
Transforming an Inhospitable Earth 13
Chapter 3: The Science of Gardening
Agricultural and Botanical Manuals 29
Chapter 4: Organizing the Earth
Cross-axial Gardens and the Chabar Bagh 39
Chapter 5: Trees and Plants
Botanical Evidence from Texts and Archaeology 51
Chapter 6: Representations of Gardens and Landscape
Imagery in Manuscript Paintings, Textiles, and Other Media 63
Chapter 7: Imaginary Gardens
Gardens in Fantasy and Literature 75
Chapter 8: The Garden as Paradise
The Historical Beginnings of Paradisiac Iconography 89
Chapter 9: The Here and Hereafter
Mausolea and Tomb Gardens 103
Chapter 10: A Garden in Landscape
The Taj Mahal and its Precursors 117
Chapter 11: Religion and Culture
The Adoption of Islamic Garden Culture by Non-Muslims 131
List of Gardens and Sites 147
Glossary 225
Notes 227
Bibliography 241
Index 255
Acknowledgments 261

4. Further Reading

4.1. Articles on MuslimHeritage.com

4.2. Books

  • Brookes, John, Gardens of Paradise: the History and Design of the Great Islamic Gardens, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1987.
  • Clark, Emma, The Art of the Islamic Garden, Crowood Press, Marlborough, 2004.
  • Crowe, Sylvia, and Haywood, Sheila, The Gardens of Mughul India, Thames & Hudson, London, 1972.
  • King, Ronald, The Quest for Paradise: a History of the World's Gardens, Whittet Books, Weybridge, 1979 (see chapters 6 & 9).
  • Moynihan, Elizabeth B., Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India. Scolar Press, London, 1980.
  • Ruggles, Fairchild, Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.
  • Ruggles, Fairchild, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. Hopkins Fulfillment Services, Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture series, 2008. To read the book on Google books, click here.
  • Villiers-Stuart, Constance (1913) Gardens of the Great Mughals, Adam & Charles Black, London.

4.3. Web links

* Margaret Morris is Office Manager for FSTC and its associated group of companies. She is also a member of the Muslim Heritage Publishing Group within FSTC and Secretary to the Muslim Heritage Awareness Group.

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