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Middle East Garden Traditions

MEGT cover image Drawing by Mahvash Alemi.

A product of rigorous, collaborative work that was undertaken from 2004 to 2007 by an international roster of scholars of “Islamic” garden traditions from the eighth century to the present, this web-based research tool offers selected catalogues, glossaries, and bibliographies on Umayyad, Abbasid, Andalusian, Ottoman, Mughal, and Safavid gardens. These 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 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).

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. 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 narrative 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.

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 12,000 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 explores the market gardens (bostans) of Istanbul as they were depicted in photographs of Nicholas Artamonoff, Robert Van Nice, Cyril Mango, and the Byzantine Institute, many of which are held by the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives. A future contribution of Deniz Turker Cerda will discuss European travelers’ accounts of Islamic gardens, preserved in the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks.

 

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