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Garden Design in the palace gardens of Andalusia

Posted on 4th Dec, 2017

Visiting palace gardens in Andalusia this summer was a real lesson in early garden design.  It is said that there is nothing new under the sun, and exploring the Alhambra Palace and Real Alcazar palace, one sees that the current trend for ‘bringing the outside in’, has its roots firmly in these Moorish gardens dating back to the 12th century.  The palaces were designed with outdoor courtyards, each filled with garden plants imported from the East, with the all important element of water fed around the courtyards via channels and rills.  The courtyards form an integral part of the overall architecture for the enhancement life in the Royal Palaces and as a showcase for exotic plants. 

The intent of Moorish, or Islamic paradise gardens is to appeal to the senses and to the soul, and visiting during the intense heat of September, one appreciates the design and layout of these gardens in every sense – the water running along stone carved channels and spilling from fountains has an instant, cooling and soothing effect.  Planting too is used to practical, beneficial effect, with the tall dark Cypress hedges absorbing the heat of the day, allowing the visitor to enjoy cool shade out of doors, even in the height of summer.

The gardens of the Generalife at the Alhambra Palace are perhaps the finest example of garden-making of the period.  A series of courtyards are framed with intricate carved stone Islamic arches, offering views outside, both at ground level and upper stories.    One of the most striking courtyards, designed to impress important visitors to the Palace, is the stark, white marble Court of Lions, featuring the carved stone lion fountain at the centre, fed by channels from lotus shaped bowls.

In the wider gardens of the Generalife, a water staircase flows from the highest point of Alhambra.  The sound of water running down the raised channels flanking the steps, invites one to dip into the chill mountain water, and creating a place for refreshing the body and mind, as well as a vantage point to enjoy the vast vista of the Sierra Nevada beyond the confines of the Palace.

The Real Alcazar or Royal Palace in Seville is renowned as the most beautiful in Spain.  Built on a more intimate scale, the impact is no less stunning.  The Courtyard of the Maidens has central rectangular pool with a parterre of scented evergreens and standard Orange trees.

A quieter, more contemplative garden, Carmen de Los Martires is set out on the hills overlooking the Alhambra Palace.  One enters the garden through an Islamic archway, and immediately one is drawn into the cool of the garden, where an early version of a greenwall fills a narrow passage leading to the wider garden. 

A rectangular reservoir at the top of the garden feeds into an intricate irrigation system running throughout the grounds. It is still largely controlled manually via a series of culverts and channels which are opened and closed to flood areas of planting throughout the day. 

In the depths of winter, it is good to look back memories of visits to warmer climes, or even plan for future visits to a treasure trove of gardens such as the palaces of Andalusia.  

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