Cultural History of the Islamic Garden (7th to the 14th Centuries)

This document is a syllabus reflecting course content developed for "Cultural History of the Islamic Garden (7th to the 14th Centuries)," developed by Dr. Gillian Barker.

Course Description

The central theme of this course is the articulation of medieval Islamic gardens in terms of their relationship to the history of the landscape beyond the garden, Islamic cultural and literary history, architectural history and contemporary ideas about perception. How gardens were understood in terms of diversity and different contexts clarify this theme: landscape and garden culture in the Umayyad period, Solomonic themes, mosque development in relation to the garden, and how Damascus served as an example of a city garden setting.


Two case studies develop the idea of unity. In twelfth and thirteenth century Sicily a sense of unity was achieved by setting gardens and architecture within the landscape around Palermo. Norman rulers, sometimes called 'Baptized Sultans', and their successor, Frederick II, developed and extended this landscape, and were all influenced by Islamic geography, science and learning. In the second case study, the Court of the Lions, at The Alhambra, a sense of unity was achieved by the garden's architectural setting and the role of inscriptions in guiding the viewers' perceptions.


Section One: Introductory Themes

The historical context of the Islamic garden
Definitions and classifications of garden and landscape
Ideas about perception and garden history
Islamic garden history: sources
The Islamic garden and the idea of paradise


Selected reading:

  • Ardalan, Nader, Bakhtiar, Laleh, The Sense of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).
  • Blair, Sheila, S, Bloom, Jonathan M., 'The Mirage of Islamic Art: Reflections on the Study of an Unwieldy Field', The Art Bulletin, 85 (2003), 152-184.
  • Clark, Emma, The Art of the Islamic Garden (Wiltshire: The Crowood Press, 2004).
  • Conan, Michel, ed., Perspectives on Garden History (Washington DC: 1999).
  • Conan, Michel, ed., Middle East Garden Traditions: Unity and Diversity (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2007).
  • Conan, Michel, ed., Gardens and Imagination: Cultural History and Agency (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2008).
  • Dixon Hunt, John, ed., Garden History, Issues, Approaches, Methods (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992).
  • Dixon Hunt, John, Greater Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000).
  • Elliot, Jason, Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (London: Picador, 2006).
  • Ettinghausen, Richard, MacDougall, Elizabeth, eds., The Islamic Garden (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1976).
  • Gonzalez, Valerie, Beauty and Islam: Aesthetics in Islamic Art and Architecture (London: I.B. Tauris, 2001).
  • Harrison, Robert Pogue, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008).
  • Lehrman, Jonas, Earthly Paradise: Garden and Courtyard in Islam (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980).
  • Moynihan, Elizabeth B., Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India (New York: George Braziller, 1980).
  • Richardson, Tim, and Noel Kingsbury, Vista: the culture and politics of gardens (London: Frances Lincoln, 2005).
  • Ruggles, D. Fairchild, Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 2000).
  • Ruggles, D. Fairchild, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 2008).

Section Two: Landscape History

Pre-Islamic and Islamic landscape history
Irrigation and water management
Agriculture and animals


Selected reading:

  • Blair, Sheila S., and Bloom, Jonathan M., eds., Water in Islamic Art and Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
  • Grabar, Oleg, The Formation of Islamic Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, (1973).
  • Hoyland, Robert, Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam (London: Routledge, 2001).
  • Irwin, Robert, Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature (London: Allen Lane, 1999).
  • Laureano, Pietro, 'The Oasis: The Origin of the Garden', Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre, 1 (1986), 65-71.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Islamic Science: An Illustrated Study (London: World of Islam Festival Publishing Company, 1976).
  • Schimmel, Annemarie, The Poet's Geography (London: Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2000).
  • Schimmel, Annemarie, Islam and the Wonders of Creation: The Animal Kingdom
  • (London: Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2003).

Section Three: Ideas About Nature and Culture

Pre-Islamic influences

Ideas about nature in Islamic culture

Some early Islamic texts

Selected reading:

  • Behrens-Abousief, Doris, Beauty in Arabic Culture (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1998).
  • Carroll, Maureen, Earthly Paradises: Ancient Gardens in History and Archaeology (London: The British Museum Press, 2003).
  • Evan Goodman, Lenn, trans., The Case of the Animals versus Man Against the King of the Jinn (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978).
  • Evan Goodman, Lenn, trans., Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (Los Angeles: Gee Tee Bee, 2003).
  • Haddawy, Husain, trans., The Arabian Nights (London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990).
  • Irwin, Robert, The Arabian Nights: A Companion (London: Tauris Parker, 2009).
  • Khansari, Mehdi, and others, The Persian Garden: Echoes of Paradise (Washington: Mage Publishers, 1998).
  • Francis Landy, 'The Song of Songs and The Garden of Eden', Journal of Biblical Literature, 98 (1979), 513-528 (p. 519).
  • Littlewood, Antony, Henry Maguire and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, eds., Byzantine Garden Culture (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 2002).
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, The Encounter of Man and Nature (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1968).
  • Nott, C.S., trans., The Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-Din Attar (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974).
  • Schimmel, Annemarie, Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam (New York: State University of New York Press, 1994).
  • Wood, Ramsay, Kalila and Dimna: Selected Fables of Bidpai (London: Granada, 1982). 

Section Four: The Garden in Early Islamic Culture: Themes and Diversity

The Umayyad garden and Khirbat al-Mafjar

Solomonic themes

The mosque and the garden

The city and the garden: Damascus


Selected reading:

  • Behrens-Abouseif, Doris, 'The Lion-Gazelle Mosaic at Khirbat al-Mafjar', Muqarnas, 14 (1997), 11-18.
  • Bennison, Amira K., Gascoigne, Alison L., eds., Cities in the Pre-Modern Islamic World: The Urban Impact of Religion, State and Society (London: Routledge, 2007).
  • Bianca, Stefano, Urban Form in the Arab World: Past and Present (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000).
  • Brend, Barbara, Islamic Art (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991).
  • Broadhurst, Roland, trans., The Travels of Ibn Jubayr (London: Goodword Books, 2004).
  • Creswell, K.A.C., A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture (London: Scolar Press, 1989).
  • Degeorge, Gerard, Damascus (Paris: Editions Flammarion, 2004).
  • Flood, Finbarr Barry, The Great Mosque of Damascus: Studies in the Makings of an Umayyad Visual Culture (Leiden: Brill, 2001).
  • Hamilton, R.W. Khirbat al-Mafjar: An Arabian Mansion in the Jordan Valley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959).
  • Hillenbrand, Robert, Islamic Architecture: Function, Form and Meaning (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994).
  • Keenan, Brigid, Damascus: Hidden Treasures of an Old City (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000).
  • Mackintosh-Smith, Tim, 'The Secret Gardens of Sana'a', Saudi Aramco World, 57.1 (2006).
  • Soucek, Priscilla P., 'Solomon's Throne/Solomon's Bath: Model or Metaphor', Ars Orientalis 23 (1993), 104-134.
  • Strika, Vicenzo, 'The Umayyad Garden: Its Origin and Development', Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre, 1 (1986), 72-75.

Section Five: Two Case Studies

Landscape and garden in medieval Sicily

The Court of the Lions at the Alhambra


Selected reading:

  • Gonzalez, Valerie, 'The Comares Hall in The Alhambra and James Turrell's Space that Sees: A Comparison of Aesthetic Phenomenology', Muqarnas XX (2003) 253-278.
  • Irwin, Robert, The Alhambra (London: Profile Books, 2004).
  • Leone, N., and others, eds., Siculo-Norman Art: Islamic Culture in Medieval Sicily (Vienna: Museum Without Frontiers, 2004).
  • Johns, Jeremy, The Royal Diwan: Arabic Administration in Norman Sicily (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  • Massetti, Marco, 'In the gardens of Norman Palermo, Sicily', Anthropozoologica, 44 (2), (2009), 7-34.
  • Masson, Georgina, Italian Gardens (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961).
  • Petruccioli, Attilio, and Khalil K. Pirani, eds., Understanding Islamic Architecture (London: Routledge Curzon, 2002).
  • Rabbat, Nasser, 'The Palace of the Lions, Alhambra and the role of water in its conception', Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre, 2 (1985) 64-73.
  • Ruggles, D. Fairchild, 'Arabic Poetry and Architectural Memory in Al-Andalus', Ars Orientalis, 23 (1993) 172-178.
  • Ruggles, D. Fairchild, 'The Eye of the Sovereignty: Poetry and Vision in the Alhambra's Lindara Mirador', Gesta XXXV1/2 (1997) 180-189.
  • Tabbaa, Yasser, 'Towards an interpretation of the use of water in Islamic courtyards and courtyard gardens', Journal of Garden History, 7 (1987), 197-220.
  • Tabbaa, Yasser, The Transformation of Islamic Art during the Sunni Revival (Washington: Washington University Press, 2001).

 Section Six: Conclusions and Suggestions for Further Study

  1. The interdisciplinary nature of garden and landscape history
  2. Issues raised by the study of the Islamic garden history
  3. Influences on the work of twentieth and twenty-first century Western garden designers, for example: Jacques Majorelle, John Brookes, Russell Page, Fernando Caruncho.
  4. Suggestions for further study: poetry and the Islamic garden, Islamic garden history and the decorative arts, the role of science and technology in Islamic garden history, redefining ideas about paradise, Islamic garden history and environmentalism.
Barker, Gillian. "Cultural History of the Islamic Garden (7th to the 14th Centuries)." Syllabus, [location and date not given.]
Gillian Barker