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Paradise

If there is a Paradise on the face of the earth,
it is here, it is here, it is here.

Inscribed on the Black Marble Pavilion, Shalamar Bagh, Kashmir, built for the Emperor Jahangir (1569 – 1627)

Seven Couples seated in a Persian garden

Seven Couples in a Garden, Mir ‘Ali Sir Neva’i ©

The first recorded gardens grew in Persia. The Greek writer Xenophon (c.430  – 354 bc) was entranced by reports of the enclosed hunting garden that had been created by King Cyrus II (d. 530 bc) on a dry Persian plateau. Xenophon created the term ‘Paradise’ or paradeisos (translating the Persian term pairidaeza from pairi ‘around’, and diz, ‘to form’) to describe this lush desert haven. The term was to have huge resonance when it was used to describe the Garden of Eden in the first Greek translations of the Old Testament.

The Persian love of gardens was reflected in the high concentration of garden scenes in Persian illustrated manuscripts. These provide the first truly comprehensive range of garden images of any kind in art. The Persian art of manuscript illumination was perfected in Herat and practised in Bukhara, Shiraz and Tabriz under the Timurid (1370 – 1506) and Safavid (1501 – 1732) dynasties in Persia. After the Timur prince Babur (1483 – 1530) invaded India in  1526, his Mughal successors, as emperors in India, established court workshops where the techniques established in Persia were developed into a distinctive Mughal style. Historical narratives, poems and legends all featured gardens, and every aspect of the garden was brought to life in what the Emperor Shah Jahan’s court poet, Abu Talib Kalim (d. 1651) termed ‘the garden of the page’.