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14th century Alhambra Gardens replicated in New York

Source : Islam Today
New York | 16 Jun 2011

The New York Botanical Garden has reproduced the medieval Alhambra gardens for its most recent exhibition.

This year's summer exhibition is entitled: Spanish Paradise: Gardens of the Alhambra. For this purpose, the Garden's Enid A Haupt Conservatory has been into a microcosm of 14th century Islamic Spain.

The path from the Garden's main gates to the conservatory sets the stage with Poetry Walk: a sampling of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, who was born in Granada in 1936, is posted along the path in the outdoor gardens.

Once inside the glass-enclosed conservatory, the soothing sound of water trickling in a fountain mixes with air is sweetly perfumed by citrus blossoms and jasmine.

"Everybody talks about the fragrance," says Karen Daubmann, the director of exhibitions and seasonal displays at The New York Botanical Garden.

The Alhambra is, of course, one of the jewels of civilisation. A cornerstone of Islamic Spain, it was rediscovered by the Romantics and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Alhambra blends medieval Spanish architecture with Roman, Islamic and Renaissance elements.

The Botanical Garden seeks to replicate this in feeling and spirit.

Fountains and pools are a key element of the Alhambra's courtyards and gardens, made possible in its arid climate by the sophisticated hydraulics the Muslims brought to Spain, a significant advance over Roman and northern European techniques.

Using canals and aqueducts, they moved water six kilometres from the River Darro to create Granada's water supply and, not least, the system of channels and pools that enabled the lush gardens in the Alhambra to thrive, and became things of beauty in themselves.

The exhibit pays particular homage to the Patio de la Acequia at the Alhambra with an installation (pictured right).

A path through the conservatory, punctuated by small scallop-edged fountains, takes the place of a channel in vintage photos of an Alhambra garden. To enhance the reflections from one pool, the water is dyed black - with the side benefit of reducing algae growth, since less light penetrates the water.

"Our goal is to evoke the Alhambra for those who've been there and those who want to go," said Todd Forrest, the vice president for horticulture and living collections. "They learn how innovative and inquisitive each of the builders were" as they worked to achieve beauty while making the gardens ever more productive. "That extends all the way from the garden's creation to today," Forrest added. "It's still a vibrant, living garden."

The curators have put together a collection of plants that speak of not only the Alhambra, but the entire Mediterranean region - among them olive trees, bay laurel, myrtle, cypress, citrus and date palms.

Serving as the honorary curator is Penelope Hobhouse, the eminent British garden designer and author. "She came and went through our plant list, making sure we were on the right track," Daubmann said.

The exhibition is, in Forrest's words, "a garden for all the senses," not just the most obvious one: sight. Small signs scattered throughout the beds ask "What do you smell?" and "What do you hear?" The latter answers itself: "sounds of running water and wind in the trees." Being enclosed by glass, the trees here make no such sound, but there is the occasional call from a bird that has found its way inside. And there is music - Spanish guitar, flamenco, Middle Eastern - soft enough that you can hear the fountains.

The exhibition will continue until 21 August.