Land and
People


Iran is a land of contrasts; in its people and in its culture. Two thirds of the country is desert, it has only one navigable river and its largest lake is almost as salty as the Dead Sea, yet our very notion of garden, the oldest word that we have, is Persian in origin. Our archetypal garden, Paradise, derives its name and its symbolism from the old Persian, Pardeiza, meaning an enclosed area. This has translated directly into our own European tradition as the hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden, which came to symbolise Eden. I shall aim to show how the concept was influenced partly by the climate of Iran with its strong light, its high altitude and its lack of permanent rivers, and partly by the culture of the Iranian people themselves, whose antinomian tendencies separated them from the mainstream of Islam, and gave them a concept of an earthly paradise as well as a heavenly one, in which the garden fulfilled several roles; as a place of spiritual solace, as a meeting place for friends,and as a formal adjunct to the house or palace which it surrounded.