The style of garden design represented by Persian gardens may originate as early as 4000 BC. Displays of plans of Persian gardens can be seen on decoratively painted ancient pottery. There is a description of a Persian garden which dates back to the first half of the fourth century BC, found in Xenophon’s Oeconomicus. The story talks about Spartan general Lysander visiting the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger. There is a beautiful description of Lysander’s impressions of “paradise at Sardis”; the beauty of the trees within, the perfect regularity and straight rows of branches.
The oldest illustrations of Persian gardens come from travelers, such as Engelbert Kaempfer (17th century) who made careful drawings of the gardens he saw. They show garden pavilions, rectangular pools, a network of canals and lush planting.
The garden’s purpose was to show the idea of an earthly paradise and also to provide a place for relaxation in a manner of spirituality and the leisure. The construction of the garden may be with an emphasis on nature, or it may be formal or structural.
During the period of Zoroastrianism (third to the seventh century), water in the art of gardens developed in significant cultivated trends. This was manifested in Persian garden designs with an emphasis on ponds and fountains. The invasion of Persia by the Mongols led to a new accent in creating gardens, such as highly artificial structures.
The Taj Mahal garden is a worldwide known example of the Persian concept for a paradise garden. However, European garden designs began to influence Persian style after the 18th century and led to changes in the use of water. Traditional forms and style of Persian gardens appear in historic sites, and also they are applied in modern Iranian gardens.
The effect of sunlight was an essential element in the structural design of Persian garden. The architects very carefully chose shapes and textures which harness the light. The shade was also a crucial detail. Therefore, the use of biotic shade such as trees was common practice, but also walls and pavilions were structurally used to block the sun.
Water is also a significant element i the maintenance of the Persian gardens. The designs provide a form of underground tunnel (Qanāt) to transport water from an aquifer to the surface for irrigation. The vaulted arches were very often used as architectural elements to divide the interior of the garden from outer areas. With the connection between the inner courtyard and the surrounding garden, integration of indoors with outdoors is also included in the Persian style.
There are a large number of styles in Persian gardens, six of them are primary. Bāgh style usually refers to an enclosed area, and its main function is familial relaxation. It is a private area with permanent cultures and flowers, with emphasis on the natural part of the garden. The elements of a Bāgh include physical conditions such as soil, plant materials and rocks, and also man-made items such as paths, lighting, and pools.
There is also Chahar Bāgh style, which is a Persian quadrilateral garden. The four quadrants of the backyard are separated with pathways and waterways, with plants around the paths. Meidān is a formal style of a Persian garden with a plant range from trees to grass including shrubs and bedding plants. Pavilions are often built to provide shade in this public garden area.
The Hayāt style is a classical Persian layout with an accent on aesthetics over function. Gravel flagged with stone is very typical for this type of garden. Man-made structures are essential elements, with arches and pools which can be used for bathing. The pools serve as a source of humidity, and are a focus of the atmosphere.These gardens are planted very simply with a line of trees, primarily to provide shade. The last primary style of Persian gardens is the Park, which is very similar to any other public park, created with a purpose for relaxation and socialization. The most famous examples of Persian gardens are the Fin Garden in Kashan and Eram Garden in Shiraz.