Delight In Feeling Close To Water
Islamic gardens are often designed to make you feel close to water. Large royal gardens did this in some dramatic ways.
Delight In Feeling Close To Water
At Shalamar Gardens, Lahore in Pakistan, Mughal Emperor Jahan (the man who built the Taj Mahal) had a throne on a white marble island, reached by a causeway across a large man-made lake which contained rows and rows of fountains, 152 in all. He could sit there, surrounded by water and fountains on all sides.
Elsewhere in Shalamar Gardens is another throne platform which directly faces the bottom of a steep waterfall. A fountain is placed right in front of where the Emperor would be sitting.
At Nishat Garden in Kashmir, stone platforms for thrones are placed across the tops of waterfalls. You can sit there with the waterfall thundering underneath you.
Sitting platforms, surrounded by water, are quite common in gardens in India and Pakistan and are called “chabutras”.
Another way Islamic gardeners made people feel close to water was to have a fast-flowing water-course on both sides of a path. You can see this near the entrance to the Alhambra at Granada in Spain, built in the days when southern Spain was a Muslim kingdom. You can see it too at the far eastern end of the Islamic world, in the Samanid gardens in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Sometimes sheltered seats were placed with a water-course flowing on either side.
In the same way, in the Generalife gardens at Granada, there’s a stone staircase which has water flowing and gurgling down channels cut in the banisters on both sides. There’s a description from a visitor there 500 years ago about how people would suddenly turn up the taps controlling this water flow so it overflowed and splashed people on the staircase. Nowadays you are not allowed to play with the taps on this staircase. But you can still splash people further down the staircase by holding back the water stream on the banister with your hand, then suddenly letting go. Visitors there quite often do this.
In the Abbasi Hotel tea garden in Isfahan, Iran, there’s a broad water channel with very many high, fine jets of water from fountains along both sides of the water channel. They form a graceful high arch of fine water spray over the whole length of the water channel. In the middle, a little bridge crosses the water channel. Standing on the bridge, you get lovely sights and sounds of water raining down around you.
Ways of feeling close to water were especially popular in Indian gardens.
In Deeg palace gardens, India, a beautiful white marble arch supported a swing on which people could swing out over a water channel, lined with fountains, through the spray from the nearest fountain.
At Deeg there was also a pavilion which was completely surrounded by curtains of water. Water poured down from its eaves and rose up around it from rows of fountains. Nor did the rainstorm effect finish there. Water was forced up a hollow pillar to make large stone balls roll around above the ceiling of the pavilion, to make a sound like thunder.
In the Garden of the Maidens of Honour at Udaipur, India, you can see another method for giving the feel of rain during hot, dry times of the year. One part of the garden is surrounded by tall, leafy, overhanging trees, thickly planted. High-rising fountains are hidden at the bottom of these trees. You enter this “monsoon garden” and the gardener turns on the fountains which rise up into the trees. At first not much happens. But, once the trees have got soaked, water suddenly starts raining down from their branches all around you, just like a real rainstorm. These fountains are still powered by water from a lake in a higher place than the garden, the traditional method, without any electricity.
These were ways wealthy owners of large gardens made themselves feel close to water in hot, dry weather. You can seek the same liking for water on a smaller scale in smaller gardens in the homes of less wealthy people and in the gardens of teahouses and restaurants throughout the Islamic world. Gardens for tea drinking always have fountains or pools and people sit close to them. In the gardens of Central Asian countries like Iran or Uzbekistan, you sit or lie on raised wooden beds called ‘tahkts’, which are covered very comfortably with carpets and cushions. Sometimes in teahouse gardens, these ‘tahkts’ are placed over part of a pool or across waterchannels so you eat and drink with the water beneath you. Large numbers of small fountains are used to give a sense of water all around you. There are fountains, pools and flowing water-channels inside many traditional houses, as well as in their courtyard gardens.