Following a trip to the stunning gardens of Andalucia, Arwa delves in the world of Islamic gardens
About two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take a tour around the south of Spain and see the spectacular gardens of Granada, Seville, Malaga and Cordoba. I was completely spellbound.
Built during the Islamic-era, these gardens beautifully combine water features, secluded walkways, geometry and stunning mosaic work. They are little oases of calm situated right in the heart of the city. Walking through the weaving pathways, all your worries just fade away and you’re transported to a world of tranquillity.
Indeed, in Islam paradise is often portrayed as a garden with running water, shade from the sun, sweet scents and exuberant foliage. These gardens also remind you of the calming and rejuvenating power of nature – something we could all do with a little bit more of in our hectic lives.
The most famous garden of Andalucia is undoubtably the Alhambra gardens (called Generalife) in Granada. Situated just across the place, the garden’s main feature is constantly flowing water which trickles in the countless fountains, channels and even a water staircase which leads to the upper gardens. The gardens were constructed to be a recreation area where leaders and their officials escaped the routine work. Courtyards are separated by hedges and trees and so although they are open, you still get a sense of seclusion and serenity.
The Generalife is also full of Islamic symbolism such as geometric shapes representing earth (square), heaven (circle) and the octagon which represents paradise. The use of water is also important as water means everything is reflected which highlights the notion that there is two of everything except god. As Emma Clark who has written the definitive guide on Islamic gardens notes, “The great love and knowledge of plants, flowers and trees in, for instance, Islamic Spain and Mughal India, was a love born of the deep belief that the beauty of nature was a reflection of a transcendent truth; these plants and flowers are the shadow of their heavenly archetypes, their beauty a radiation of God’s glory on earth.”
Although the Alhambra is no doubt one of the most stunning sites of Europe, I found the smaller Alcazaba (fortress) garden in Malaga more enchanting. It was a perfectly formed sumptuous palace right in the heart of the city. Once you climb the steps, the soft breeze carrying the scent of orange blossom and the tinkling of water fountains just transport you to a different world. The Alcazaba is also not as busy as the Alhambra, you don’t have to pre-book tickets and I even managed to get in for free (something I put down to the soothing effects of the garden)!
The Alcazar in Seville is also a must visit. A World Heritage-listed building, the palace was originally a fort which was expanded by rulers and conquerers over the years to form a sometimes mismatched building but a stunning maze of gardens, patios, courtyards, squares and fountains. It also happens to be very close to the city centre as most of the other gardens are. In fact I found their proximity to the hub of busy city life a surprising but happy fact of life in Andalucia.
:: Photos by Arwa Aburawa.
For more on gardens in the Middle East see: