Gardens of Antiquity
Gardens of Antiquity
Emperors of many of the ancient empires kept vast gardens filled with exotic plants they had collected from various regions of their realms, military expeditions and conquests. The ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks, Chinese and Aztecs all maintained extensive gardens filled with plants.
Ancient Egyptian Gardens
Information about ancient Egyptian gardens comes mainly from Old Kingdom texts like the Book of the Dead and the Pyramid
Texts, as well as archeological digs and tomb paintings. The Egyptians grew about 18 varieties of trees that included sycamore fig, pomegranate, nut trees and jujube. Fruit trees included date palms, fig trees and doum palms. They raised flowers for bouquets and for religious purposes. These would have included mandrake, daisy, chrysanthemum, anemone, and poppy, jasmine, and the rose. Archeological evidence that the gardeners included pools and groves. Many, if not all, of the plants grown in these gardens represented various gods and goddesses. The date palm represented the gods Re and Min while the Cos lettuce plant the god Min. Horus and Hathor were represented by the water hyacinth and papyrus. The garden represented to the Egyptian the process by which the gods and goddesses created and maintained the world.
Archeological evidence for gardens in Mesopotamia are sketchy, at best, however ancient literature and art provides references to their existence. Historians still dispute the existence of the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon, however many ancient Greek scholars described them. The Greek geographer Strabo, who lived from approximately 64 BC to 24 AD, described a complex irrigation system that pulled water from the Euphrates River to irrigate the garden. He also recorded that stairs allowed visitors to reach the garden’s different levels. The Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus described terraces built on pillars that reached 65 feet in height and lined with reeds and bricks at the bottom. The terraces apparently sloped up like an amphitheater. Other gardens have been mentioned in the region other than the Hanging Gardens, which were regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Babylonian writer Berossus Of Kos made the first recorded mention of the Hanging Gardens in 290 BC.
Ancient Greek Gardens
Like other ancient gardens, most modern knowledge of ancient Greek gardens comes from literature, art, coinage depictions and scarce archeological evidence. Historical evidence indicates that Alexander the Great’s (July 20, 356 B.C. – June 13, 323 B.C) exposure to the great gardens of Persian and other kingdoms of the East led him to establish public gardens in Greece. Alexander’s armies brought botanical knowledge back with them. Later Greek kings planted magnificent palatial gardens. Apparently few private pleasure gardens existed until 400 AD.
Ancient Chinese Gardens
In contrast to Western gardens, Chinese gardens seek to emulate the larger, natural world. Chinese garden design involves creating small scenes in each area of the garden. Visitors should strive to progress through the garden in the order the designer reveals it. The planner gives careful planning to each scene as well as how they are framed. The art of pleasure gardening in China precedes that of most other cultures. The first recorded Chinese gardens appeared around 1056 BC in the Yellow River valley. Chinese emperors had these gardens planted to serve two different purposes. One type of garden served as a habit for game animals for the emperor and the nobles to hunt. Other types created a refuge for the emperor to relax. Chinese aristocrats often planted gardens on a smaller scale. Garden design evolved to more complex designs over the centuries. By 220 AD many of the symbolic features of modern Chinese gardens began to appear. Gardens became a place for meditation and contemplation during this period. While all gardens are different, common features include a white wall to set off foliage, flowers and other features well as well as fountains, ponds, temples, bridges, galleries and towers. Emperors, considered the Sons of Heaven, had their gardens designed to emulate the mountains, rivers, forests and streams of their realm in miniature.