Gardens of Medina Azahara and its fountains
Among many contributions of Islamic civilization to the arts and science of architecture, one of the most important is the concept of the Persian Garden. This is particularly true of large monuments. Both for public and private use. Most important Islamic monuments across the world are located at the centre of a carefully designed gardens. With a constant supply of water, which not only flowed through channels, but danced on beautifully designed fountains. One of finest examples of such gardens with numerous fountains used to be in the 10th century city of Medina Azahara, now in Spain. Azahara city was founded by Abdar Rahman III, when he was the first Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate, between 912 and 929 CE.
The vast Medina Azahara
Sadly, the huge fortified palace-city, spread over 112 Hectres, was abandoned in 1010 following its sacking in a civil war. Only 10 per cent of the original city has so far been excavated and restored, since 1910. At present it is among the handful of archeological sites that have been marked by the UNESCO as a ‘world heritage site’. This is to be preserved for posterity. Excavations have revealed that the city had at least three gardens. One small and two vast.
Persian gardens come in many thematic designs. Out of which the most important is known as the Chahar Bhagh, or Charbhagh. At least of the gardens at Medina Azahar, the eastern one, was certainly a superb example of a Chahar Bagh. Chahar in Persian means four and Bagh is garden. The four quadrants of eastern garden, with a carefully designed network of water channels, fountains and pathways combine to present a fine example of a Chahar Bagh.
Intricate designs of Azahara
It is clear that these gardens, all the three of them, were peppered with beautiful fountains. These gardens were inspired by the garden of paradise described in the Holy Quran. Therefore each of them had an unerring balance among various essential elements of the gardens. Fruit trees, flowering trees and plants, waters in interconnected channels and fountains placed at strategic visual centres. Fountains often formed the centrepieces of each of the quadrants. They were made of marble and Roman floral designs were carved on them.
The fountains were also decorated with various kinds of water dispensers, many of which were made of bronze. Three replicas have been made of one such beautiful piece, known as the ‘deer of Medina Azahara’, and are at present on display in three major museums: the National Archeological Museum of Madrid, one at the National Museum of Qatar, and another at the visitor centre of the restored lost city itself.
Incidentally the replica which is on display at the Qatar museum has been donated by an Arab gentleman, who purchased it in an auction spending four million US dollars! These small decorative pieces are testimony to the care and love that went behind designing and building this city. No wonder it is considered to be a masterpiece of Hispano-Islamic architecture and sculpture of the Umayyad era.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)