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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Places of Earthly Delight

August. I usually miss the garden, this being the month that in more regular times we are out in the field. I return in September to find it noticeably showing my absence. It is indeed at its peak now; petunias, coleus and impatients giving it colour, the heady perfume of jasmine, cumquats and mirabilis, the first figs touched with purple and small green lemons slowly ripening. The white jasmine flowers and purple-blue morning glory blooms drop into the fountains, and butterflies, birds and cats are frequent visitors. For the past few days, the weather has been mild for the season and the mosquitoes have strangely vanished from the garden, quite suddenly. I don't know why, nor do I care; it is a pleasure to sit outside again.

Gardens are a source of spiritual health. They have always been recognised as such and we should not regard them as things of luxury. They are essential to our wellbeing and it is a mystery to me that so many people are unappreciative of their therapeutic qualities. The history of gardening is as long as is the history of the house and the history of farming, who knows... longer still perhaps. In the bible the garden is the ideal place, too ideal indeed for the likes of us erring humans. In the Odyssey Homer describes the beautiful island garden of Alcinous, its fruit trees and its waters, and the gardens of Babylon are described in wonder by various classical sources:

He [Nebuchadnezzar] also erected elevated places for walking, of stone, and made them resemble mountains, and built it so that it might be planted with all sorts of trees. He also erected what was called a pensile paradise...

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, X.XI

Of Roman gardens we can get a good idea from those that have been reconstructed in some of the excavated villas in Pompeii, and of the Roman ideal of a garden, of its luxurious foliage and flowers, furnishings and animal life we are given a delightful visual display in the painted walls of the Pompeiian House of the Golden Bracelets.

In the Middle Ages gardens were an integral part of the finer urban houses, of monastery cloisters and even of fortresses, and in the Islamic world the urban courtyard houses enclosed delightful mini-Edens. Sources dating to the Fatimid period frequently mention the gardens outside the cities of the Syria-Palestine littoral and many of these, though intermittently the object of destructive raids, continued to function through the Crusader period, indeed right up to the destruction of the coastal towns by the Mamluks in the second half of the thirteenth century.

City gardens were located both inside and outside the fortification walls, sometimes even between them. In Jerusalem, according to a document dated 1129 confirming gifts made to the Hospitallers during the reign of Baldwin II, there was “a garden with cisterns next to the Tower of David, with roads on either side, one of which runs to Bethlehem”.[1] Also outside the walls was the famed Garden of Gethsemane which was shown to pilgrims, just as it is today, perhaps with some of the same olive trees observed there today, though then nearly a millennium younger. Inside the city, indeed until the early twentieth century, the area within and adjacent to the walls was left open for use as gardens, and fields, some of which served as open markets. The pilgrim Theoderich describes "an abundance of gardens" belonging to the Templars that could be observed above Solomon's Stables on the Temple Mount. [2]

At Caesarea according to William of Tyre there were irrigated gardens (horti irrigui), and some of these (presumably those outside the walls) even survived the city's destruction in 1265 and were described in the fifteenth century as "a great abundance of gardens, meadows, and running streams." [3] Today, walking the dunes south of the city one can still observe their terrace walls and channels, and pick up pieces of glazed 11th century Egyptian vessels that may suggest their former use as pleasure gardens. At Tyre a garden (ortus) was situated between the sea wall and sea forewall, and such use of intermural spaces was probably typical of most walled cities. [4] The fourteenth century maps of Acre that show the appearance of the city in the thirteenth century, depict several large open spaces inside the walls and adjacent to them, one of these indeed occupied by a church named S. Romanus in the Gardens (S. Romanus de çardino). Outside Acre's walls, according to the Templar of Tyre, there were gardens with garden towers and mills. [5] In Latakia, a garden is referred to as being located in half of the theatre, perhaps an ancient ruin.[6]

Gardens were frequently attached to churches. A document dated 1173 records the gardens of a church in Beirut, and there was a garden attached to a church in Gibelet and to the Church of St Mary of the Latins on Mont Pèlerin near Tripoli. Not only gardens but even gardeners were granted as gifts to ecclesiastical institutions. Among the gifts given to the abbey of St Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat was a viridarium or verger, together with the gardener, referred to as a hortolanus, who was responsible for cultivating it.[7]

Gardens had names, often, like houses, simply of the owner - the garden of Pandolfus, the gardens of the Knights Templar, the garden of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, the Genoese garden, the garden of Andreas de Wienna, the garden of dominus Rollandus. [8] Others had their own place names. Among these were such names as Gapsarmelee and Hamdaraca, [9] the garden of Feissa, perhaps near Caesarea[10] and one in Tripoli called the garden of de la Gloriete. [11] Outside of Acre between the cemetery of St Nicholas and the city ditch was a garden known as Quatreboches, a name meaning "Four Humps", which probably refers to four hillocks located in or around it.[12]

1. Regesta Regni Hierosolymitani, ed. Reinhold Röhricht, Innsbruck, 1893, [henceforth RRH], nos. 130, 293.

2. Theoderich, Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, vol. 5, trans. Aubrey Stewart, London 1896, p. 31.

3. William of Tyre, Chronicon, 10.15. Also John Poloner, Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, vol. 6, trans. Aubrey Stewart, London, 1894, p. 29.

4. RRH nos. 109, 202, 220, 309, 354.

5. Paul Crawford, trans., The Templar of Tyre, Aldershot and Burlington, 2003, p. 55.

6. RRH no. 331.

7. Revised Regesta Regni [online - henceforth RRR], nos. 182; 244; RRH no. 114b.

8. RRH nos. 1067, 1093.

9. RRH no. 1082.

10. RRH no. 425.

11. RRH no. 679a.

12. RRR no. 2310.

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