Secret source: five fountains of Muslim civilisation
From Lisbon to Lahore, garden-lovers of Islamic civilisation built and enjoyed fabulous fountains. I have been working with 1001 Inventions since 2010, and recently I investigated five of the most splendid water gardens from the ninth century onwards. Read the full article, Secret source: top five fountains in the gardens of Muslim civilisation,
In particular I was thrilled to discover the story of a lost ninth-century city called Medina Azahara. For nine hundred years it lay undiscovered in farmland after being abandoned in the year 1010 during wartime. Today it is celebrated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because it shows Muslim civilisation at its peak in the Iberian peninsula.
Built in around 950 for the Caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, the city is laid out on the mountainside with a palace, mosque, residential streets and a marble-lined bath house. The gardens, however, are particularly special. They are the earliest well-preserved example in the Muslim world of a Paradise garden as the Qur’an describes it, with a four-way design, fountains flowing, and fruit and flowers growing in abundance.
What signs of the city could possibly remain after such a long time? The best image I found of the city, now partially restored, came from a Spanish company that offers paraglider tours in the area – so I contacted the owner, Antonio Rodriguez, in my best (not very good) Spanish who gave permission to use it.
There are rectangular planted plots with paved walkways, irrigation channels fed by pools and fountains as a centrepiece to many courtyards and open spaces. Sometimes they feature Roman stonework or are carved from marble with decorative leaf designs. The city had abundant water via a repurposed Roman aqueduct from which lead pipes brought water to the buildings, gardens and fountains.
Water pools and fountains, like this from Medina Azhara photographed by Alessandro Ferla, would have added delightful sound and movement in this ancient city. But behind the scenes, engineers required enormous ingenuity to supply water along pipework made from the materials of the day. The ability to control and use water was a key aspect of developing cities and towns during Muslim civilisation and it was fascinating to explore them.