The garden has been inextricably tied with Iranian culture since the Emperor Cyrus planted fruit trees at Pasargardae, just north of Shiraz. Indeed our word "Paradise" derives from the Persian word for an enclosed garden. For the formerly nomadic tribes of central Asia, the concept of a permanent place in which flowers and trees were planted to be enjoyed over successive years, became a powerful symbol.
The concept of garden is fundamental to an understanding of Shah Abbas I's intention in rebuilding Isfahan. The palaces he built were small since each had a definite purpose; the entertainment of visitors, the dispensation of justice, but they were linked by gardens set out along his great central avenue, Chahar Bagh (or four
There are few gardens left today in Isfahan but every house has its own miniature enclosure which will normally include some shade and a small pool around which people may gather when the weather permits.
The architectural conception of garden reflects the "sense of place" - makan -, the garden being viewed as a defined space encompassing within itself a total reflection of the cosmos. At the same time it reflects for the intellect the essence, the hidden dimension latent in positive space, symbolised in the picture on the right which shows men relaxing or discussing their affairs in the tea garden attached to the palace of Chehel Sotoon.
An architectural parallel is found in the cloistered study spaces of the Masjed-e-Imam or the garden in the Madrasa Mader-e-Shah. There is a poignant story that seventy years after the death of Shah Abbas I his pious but ineffectual successor, Sultan Hussein, who built the Madrasa Mader-e-Shah, laid out a new garden within Isfahan at Farahabad. When he was defeated by the Afghanis in a battle which marked the end to the Safavid
dynasty, he offered to surrender the city of Isfahan in exchange for a peaceful life in Farahabad. The Afghanis took the city and the garden and destroyed the latter.