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Middle East Garden Traditions

This web-based research tool offers selected catalogues, glossaries, and bibliographies on Umayyad, Abbasid, Andalusian, Ottoman, Mughal, North African, and Safavid gardens from the eighth century to the present.

Drawing by Mahvash Alemi.
Drawing by Mahvash Alemi.

An international roster of garden and landscape historians have culled invaluable inventories from temporally and regionally diverse primary source materials, which they believed would be indispensable to researchers in the early stages of their academic inquiries or course design. Moreover, the regional, architectural, and horticultural diversity of the sites outlined in these inventories also allows for researchers to take comparative approaches to the study of garden cultures of the larger Mediterranean and Islamic world.

This project, which was originally created in between 2004 and 2007, is related to a symposium that was jointly sponsored by Dumbarton Oaks and the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the subsequent publication of a volume of essays: Middle East Garden Traditions: Unity and Diversity; Questions, Methods and Resources in a Multicultural Perspective, edited by Michel Conan (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks; distributed by Harvard University Press, 2007).

In 2023, the tool was migrated to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s ArchNet program, to expand access and broaden opportunities for enrichment. Click here to view the collection on Archnet’s website.

Navigating the Project

The core of the project is a searchable catalogue of the most well-known gardens that existed under the Ummayad, Abbasid, Ottoman, Mughal, and Safavid dynasties, as well as in al-Andalus and North Africa. No complete catalogue of the gardens included in Middle East Garden Traditions will ever be produced. Travelers like Evliya Çelebi sometimes mentioned the existence of hundreds of gardens in a single city without mentioning their names or their precise locations. However, the number of gardens whose names we know is itself staggering. The garden catalogue provides a sense of these numbers and of the distribution of these gardens, at least in the regions and for the periods studied by the initial authors.

The garden catalogue results from very different approaches: archaeological studies of gardens are not numerous but provide extremely precise information, while archival studies discover larger number of gardens but are very often much less detailed. A template for presenting the information was prepared by Deniz Çalış, Michel Conan, and Yücel Dağlı, and the first catalogue, by Antonio Almagro and Luis Ramón-Laca, provided a useful and practical guideline.

The authors composed short narratives of the histories of garden making in the region they surveyed as an introduction to a dictionary presentation of the gardens they have selected. The site includes updated versions of these introductions, with the original versions available as downloadable PDFs. Each catalogue entry provides the name, location, and the dates of the garden’s creation, destruction, and/or attestation in the primary sources and archaeological record. The entry also provides the major sources of information available for this garden, a short commentary about the history of the garden, and key bibliographical references.

In 2014, the original catalogue entries were recreated on the Dumbarton Oaks website by the William R. Tyler Fellows Deniz Turker Cerda (2013–2015) and Aleksandar Shopov (2012–2014) and Graduate Digital Humanities Fellow Lain Wilson. The structure and view of the catalogue entries were created by Database and CMS Developer Prathmesh Mengane and Web and Graphic Designer Michael Sohn. Tyler fellow Abbey Stockstill contributed nine entries on North African gardens, as well supplementary essays on Hydraulics and the Atlas Mountains.

In addition to the the garden catalogue, a number of other resources are available to scholars. A multilingual glossary of plant and gardening terms allows users to trace the transformation of these terms as they were adopted into various languages (Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hebrew, and Ottoman Turkish). The botanical texts of al-Andalus serve as the basis for the glossary of ornamental tree and shrub species of Andalusia, which includes wherever possible the identification of the species and their use. A Turkish-language historical dictionary of Ottoman Turkish terms for gardens and gardening includes over twelve thousand individual entries, available here as a downloadable PDF. A project bibliography includes primary source and secondary literature references for all sections of Middle East Garden Traditions.

Finally, William R. Tyler Fellows have created new content for the project’s migration to the Dumbarton Oaks website. Aleksandar Shopov (2012–2014) explored the market gardens (bostans) of Istanbul as they were depicted in photographs of Nicholas Artamonoff, Robert Van Nice, Cyril Mango, and the Byzantine Institute. Abbey Stockstill (2016–2018) added North African gardens and essays on hydraulics and the Atlas Mountains. Sasson Chahanovich (2018–2020) expanded the Multilingual Glossary and Bibliography to incorporate new terms and literature, respectively.