Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain

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Islamic gardens, with their waterways and beds of plants and trees, are generally regarded as an earthly reflection of paradise. D. Fairchild Ruggles offers a new interpretation, contending that the palace garden was primarily an environmental, economic, and political construct.

She discusses three aspects of medieval Islamic Spain: the landscape and agricultural transformation documented in Arabic scientific literature, the formation of the garden and its symbolism from the eighth through the fifteenth centuries, and the role of the gaze and the frame in the spatial structures through which sovereignty was constituted.

Although the repertory of architectural and garden forms was largely unchanged from the tenth through the fifteenth centuries, Ruggles explains that their meaning changed dramatically. The royal palace gardens of Cordoba expressed a political ideology that placed the king above and at the center of the garden and, metaphorically, of his kingdom.

This conception of the world began to falter in later centuries, but patrons clung to the forms and motifs of the golden age. Instead of creating new forms, artists at the Alhambra in Granada reworked and refined familiar vocabulary and materials. The vistas fixed by windows and pavilions referred not to the actual relationship of the king to his domain but rather to the memory of a once-expanding territory.

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Editorial Reviews

Ruggles (Near Eastern studies, Cornell U.) approaches the topic from a new angle, that of vision and the experience of the viewer. Ruggles shows that Islamic gardens held a variety of meanings, including symbols of power, and most interestingly, she connects the gardens in Spain and their development to concurrent developments in agriculture, specifically in botany. Finally, she discusses each garden as closely allied to the architectural context in which it occurred (the estates of C<'o>rdoba, the palace at Madinat al-Zahr<'a>, the palaces of the Taifa, the Alhambra) as part of her larger thesis on how<-->that is, from where<-->they were seen. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271022475
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

D. Fairchild Ruggles is Associate Professor in Landscape History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the editor of Women, Patronage, and Self-Representation in Islamic Societies (2000).

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Pt. 1 Landscape
1 History and Landscape 1
2 Botany and the Agricultural Revolution 15
Pt. 2 Gardens and Architecture
3 Palaces and Estates of Cordoba, 711-936 35
4 Madinat Al-Zahra 53
5 Madinat Al-Zahra, Samarra, and the View 86
6 Later Cordoban Palaces and Gardens 110
Pt. 3 The Garden Legacy
7 Palaces of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries 135
8 The Alhambra 163
9 Illusion and Paradise 209
Notes 223
Bibliography 251
Index 267
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