The Greek historian, Xenophon, describes a conversation between Lysander and Cyrus, the ruler of Persia in 407BC:
- “When Lysander brought gifts to Cyrus from the friendly cities of Greece, Cyrus entertained him, and among other things showed him his garden, called the Paradise of Sardis. Lysander was astonished at the beauty of the trees, their regular planting, the even rows, their positions at rectangular angles to one another: in a word, the rectangular symmetry of the whole, and the delightful smells they gave out. He couldn’t help extolling the beauty of this fair scene, especially admiring the skill of the hand that had arranged it.” (Ancient Inventions, P. James and N. Thorpe, P. 567).
The botanical gardens built by the Persians gave rise to the word Paradise, which originally simply meant “park” in Persian. This meaning carried through right through Roman times. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes described with some awe the parks that surrounded palace of the Indian king Chandragupta Maurya, around 300BC:
- “Tame peacocks and pheasants are kept, and they [live] in the cultivated shrubs to which the royal gardeners pay due attention. Moreover there are shady groves and herbage growing among them, and the boughs are interwoven by the woodman’s art. The actual trees are of the evergreen type, and their leaves never grow old or fall: some of them are indigenous, others have been imported from abroad” (Ancient Inventions, P. James and N. Thorpe, P. 568).
A few hundred years before the Paradise of Sardis and the gardens of king Chandragupta Maurya there were the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Botanical collections, the precursor to botanical gardens, were in existence from as early as the 12 century BC. The Christian idea of the eternal paradise of the blessed is to some degree influenced by the idea of the beautiful gardens of ancient times. Often the Christian idea of paradise looks remarkably like a well looked-after botanical garden. The fact that there are so many botanical gardens throughout the world in diverse cultures seems to me to suggest that the human race has an built-in desire to have places of Paradise where they can experience the wonders of the natural world, and experience true peace.
The first recorded Sabbath is recorded in the book of Genesis, and it takes place in a garden – the famed Garden of Eden. Exactly where this garden was located is not known, although 2 of the 4 rivers mentioned in the description of the garden are clearly in the Middle East, so it seems that would be the approximate region where it was located. Sabbath just gone we spent part of it in the Albury Botanic Gardens, and that got me to thinking about gardens in general, and our desire to experience them.
The Albury Botanic Gardens, photos of which appear in this post, were established in 1877. Over 4 hectares (10 acres) in size, it features over 1000 native and exotic species. The garden is somewhat sheltered from the cold and hot westerly and north westerly winds which are so common in the region. This, and it’s location on the flood plains of the Murray River, have helped in the establishment of species that are normally found in more tropical areas such as northern New South Wales and Queensland.
The gardens of today are part of what was once a 20 hectare (50 acres) allocation of land, most of which has since been transformed into other types of parkland and sporting fields. The botanical gardens were originally laid out in straight paths and rows of various types of trees, somewhat reminiscent of the Paradise of Sardis mentioned earlier in this post. In 1901 a new curator, Mr J.E.R. Fellowes, was appointed who remained Curator for 36 years. During his time as curator the gardens were transformed from having straight paths and flower beds to more rounded / curved elements which gave the park a softer, more natural, less formal appearance. Also during that time shrubberies, borders for annuals, and collections of Australian rainforest trees, exotic trees and palms were established.
So back to the question in the title of this post. “Is it a park or is it paradise?”. The answer should be “both”. In any case, to the Persians, Greeks, Romans and Christians of the ancient world it means the same thing!