History of the Project

This web-site results from the cooperation between a small group of scholars from many different countries: Iran, Israel, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, and the US, who gathered in Istanbul at the joint invitation of Professor Nurhan Atasoy and Michel Conan (Dumbarton Oaks), in June 2004. They decided to discuss in a comparative spirit the recent advances of research on garden history in their different countries and to call upon a few other colleagues to join in these discussions. A second meeting was held in October 2005 in Granada, Spain, at the invitation of Antonio Almagro, then director of the Escuela de Estudios Arabes in Granada. This project has already achieved the publication of an edited volume of essays: Middle East Garden Traditions: Unity and Diversity; Questions, Methods and Resources in a Multicultural Perspective, edited by Michel Conan. (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2007 and distributed by Harvard University Press).


We would have liked to include other contributions from Egypt, Germany, Iraq, Syria, Uzbekistan and Canada to name a few. For various reasons it did not happen at the time. So, we missed the opportunity of exploring aspects of the history of gardens in Mesopotamia, Egypt and ancient Persia, as well as others. Yet, in many ways we felt that this was a beginning for a new kind of international discussion of garden history in a comparative framework.

Summary Presentation of the initial content: Works in Progress

Much information about the gardens et tondeuse anglaise that we are discussing can only be found in local archives, which are difficult to reach, and inaccessible for scholars who are not familiar with the language. It quickly became clear that a documented description of all the important gardens of the different countries we studied would be very useful, as well as a multilingual vocabulary of garden terms giving a sense of the shifting meanings of words borrowed from one language to another, or even better a historical dictionary accounting for the historic variations of meaning of each word included, a dictionary of ornamental plants used in gardens in the various regions, and, of course, a joint bibliography of sources and reference studies. Preparing such tools was beyond the scope of the project as first conceived, but the authors felt that they should be created. Consequently, they volunteered to lay the initial foundation and share with other scholars the first stage of several works in progress inviting future contributions from other scholars: an ongoing catalog of known gardens, a multilingual vocabulary, a historical dictionary of Ottoman terms for gardens and gardening, a catalog of ornamental plants of al-Andalus, and a joint bibliography. These works in progress are all presented on this website that is open to the public for consultation. Additional contributions should be submitted to the webmaster of the site on Internet. See <>

The Ongoing Catalog of Gardens (Deniz Çalış, (Ed.))

No complete catalog 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. It seemed useful to give 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 Ongoing Catalog of Gardens that we present also 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 catalog prepared by Antonio Almagro and Luis Ramón-Laca has provided a useful and practical guideline.

The authors (Munazzah Akhtar, Mahvash Alemi, Antonio Almagro, Nurhan Atasoy, Seyit Ali Kahraman, Luis Ramón-Laca, Abdul Rehman, and D. Fairchild Ruggles) provided a short narrative of the history of garden making in the region they surveyed as an introduction to a dictionary presentation of the gardens they have selected. Each entry gives the name, location, and dates of creation and, eventually, the destruction of the garden. 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.

Multilingual Glossary (Mahvash Alemi, (Ed.))

This mainly consists of Andalusi Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Ottoman, and Urdu words. It should be noted that the Ottoman language incorporated a significant number of Arabic and Farsi words, but their meanings did not always coincide with the original. A template for presenting the information was prepared by Deniz Çalış, Michel Conan and Yücel Dağlı; and the first vocabulary prepared by Mahvash Alemi, for Farsi, has provided a useful and practical guideline.

The authors (Mahvash Alemi, Nurhan Atasoy, Yücel Dağlı, Mohammed El Faïz, Rona Evyasaf, Expiración García Sánchez, Yizhar Hirschfeld, Abdul Rehman) selected the most commonly used words: for describing ancient gardens in Judea by archaeologists; garden names used in al Andalus, words used by authors of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Persian, Ottoman and Mughal texts about gardens; and indirectly related to royal gardens. All other terms were excluded, such as those regarding plants, which deserve a multilingual vocabulary of their own. The authors agreed upon a few common rules. First, each word is listed in alphabetical order of the transliteration of the original word, which is also given in its original script. Second, a short translation into English is provided, and accompanied by an etymology only when it adds to the understanding of the direct translation. Third, whenever available, indications of a vernacular source or of the use of the term by an ancient European traveler have been provided. For a few words, such as chaharbagh, meydan, khiyaban, ayvan, a longer article, eventually underlining controversies about their meanings, has been provided.

The Historical Dictionary of Ottoman Terms for Gardens and Gardening (Yücel Dağlı (Ed.))

This is a completely different work. It is written primarily in modern Turkish with an English translation mentioned for as many words as possible. This is an historical dictionary of all the terms regarding gardens, plants and gardening used in treatises and dictionaries of the Ottoman language since 961 C.E. Yücel Dağlı has compiled the definitions provided by 250 Ottoman and Turkish documents or dictionaries, for each entry, eliminating only definitions copied in one dictionary from an earlier publication. Each definition is followed by an abbreviation of the reference allowing a clear indication of the date and the nature of the source.

The Catalog of Ornamental Plants of Al-Andalus (Expiración García Sánchez and J. Esteban Hernández Bermejo (Eds.))

This is a catalog derived from the analysis of historical sources and meant to provide a scientific translation, according to contemporary botanical classifications, of the plants mentioned in horticultural and botanic texts of al-Andalus. Each entry includes: the scientific name in Latin; the name in different languages (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Greek, English, Spanish, French and other possible languages); synonyms; and when the language used has its own script such as Arabic or Hebrew the name of the plant in this script followed by a transcription into the Roman alphabet; the plant family; and authors who have referred to this species. This is followed by a brief morphological description of the species. All the information on this subject in the texts being used is included. The origin, distribution and function of each plant in the garden are also noted (ornamental, for shade, for making hedges, etc). Whenever possible it is illustrated.

Joint Bibliography (D. F. Ruggles, (Ed.))

After discussion with D.F. Ruggles, all the bibliographies used by the authors of this book have been compiled by Deniz Çalış into alphabetical order setting apart sources in the various vernacular languages and reference studies in Arabic, English, Farsi, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, and Urdu. This should be taken as a reflection of the interests of the authors, and not as an authoritative bibliography selecting the most important texts out of a much larger domain of publication. We hope that the international character of this bibliography will encourage further developments and expect the list to grow as a result.

The book of essays was presented and discussed at a symposium jointly organized by Dumbarton Oaks and the Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington DC, on April 27-28, 2007. It was then decided to open the web site to the public and to encourage other scholars to participate in its development.