Travels in Iran by Ruth and Alan Fagg
In 2017, when there was a brief thawing of international relations with Iran, we took the opportunity to travel to Iran (formerly known as Persia). Although it was not exclusively a garden tour we did visit several gardens.
The gardens in Iran usually follow a Persian paradise garden structure, which is an enclosed rectangular garden split into four quarters with a pond in the centre. The walled space provides shade and protection from the harsh, arid climate. The most important feature of paradise gardens is water; using ponds, canals, rills, and fountains to create the relaxing sound of running water and to cool the air. Scent is also an essential element with fruit trees such as olive, fig, date and pomegranate and flowers selected for their fragrance.
We landed in Tehran at 5am and queued nervously for passport control, each person in our group seemed to be interrogated at length, only to discover once it was our turn, the border guard wanted to fully practice his English! Whilst in Tehran we visited the National Jewels Treasury, the National Archaeological museum and the totally overwhelming Grand Bazaar; a complete assault on the senses, where a vast array of fruit, vegetables and spices along with everything else you could ever want was available.
It was an early start the following day for the fairly lengthy train journey to Kashan. Iran covers a vast area (over twelve times the size of England). In Kashan we visited two historic Merchants’ houses the gardens of which illustrate the traditional symmetrical Persian Paradise garden design:
The next garden visited was The Fin garden which is considered to be the oldest of its type in Iran and is a UNESCO world heritage site:
The water for the garden comes from springs on nearby hills and is channelled in qanats, an ancient method of transporting water over long distances in underground channels to avoid evaporation. The garden uses a limited selection of plants and trees to create a simple but tranquil environment.
We left Kashan for Yazd to see the Dolat Abad garden which contains one of the tallest wind towers in Iran. Wind towers are designed to act like giant chimneys where hot air rises up the tower, drawing cooler air into the building.
This garden featured pomegranate trees which were in season during our visit:
Isfahan was our next destination and featured many spectacular sights. The enormous Naqsh-e Jahan square, the second largest square in the world (after Tiananmen square in China) and which contains two mosques, a palace and the Grand bazaar.
A short walk away was the Chehl Sotun garden and pavilion palace, built by Shah Abbas in the eleventh century.
Whilst in Isfahan we spend an evening at the Abbas Hotel garden, where we enjoyed dinner in an immaculately presented modern Paradise garden:
Our final destination was Shiraz where we took a tour of Persepolis, the ruins of an ancient ceremonial capital built by Darius I over 2,500 years ago:
The Eram garden is the final example we saw of a Persian garden. The garden is within the Shiraz Botanical Garden of Shiraz University and is popular with Iranian students:
Strangely there was another gardening connection with the trip. We had to attend the Iranian Consulate in London to obtain a visa. Whilst waiting patiently in the basement room to be called forward to present our travel documents, a man burst into the room and went straight to the counter asking to be dealt with immediately as he was in a hurry to catch a flight. He was told in no uncertain terms to sit down and wait his turn. At that point we realised it was Monty Don who we discovered later just happened to be, like us, touring the gardens of Iran for a TV series.