The surviving, partially destroyed, and lost Persian gardens of Kerman, Iran

The extensive loss of Persian gardens in the last few decades across Iran was discussed by Mahdizadeh and Rajendran (2019), who focussed on the struggle to preserve famous gardens in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan. They outlined that over the last hundred years political and legislative forces have led to a loss of many Persian gardens in Iranian cities. The major reason for the loss of most of these gardens was considered to be the marginalisation of gardens as second to dominant architectural interests, apathy towards the gardens, and the absence of conservation protection (Mahdizadeh and Rajendran, 2019). They noted that “existing legal rules regarding cultural heritage do not specifically address the historical gardens”. Instead, the idea of significance in cultural preservation in Iran has focussed on a “monument-centric approach”. There is now an urgent need to address the significance of remaining Persian gardens as green sites of trees, urban nature, and societal health.

Currently, famous Persian gardens are treated as museums throughout Iran, and this widespread attitude suggests a limited view of their potential in modern Iranian life to provide green spaces. However, Iranian cities are now suffering from the lack of green infrastructure, with few public parks and gardens available (Beiranvand et al., 2013). As an indicator, Iran’s Ministry of Roads & Urban Development (MRUD) gives the per capita standard and acceptable urban green space in Iranian cities as between 7 to 12 m2 per person, less than half that of the United Nations Environment recommendation of 20 to 25 m2 per person (MRUD, 2016). Iranian cities have all experienced major population increases, with resulting urban expansion. Iran’s population, which was 16.4 million in 1950, is now nearly 83 million, with about one-third of the population aged below twenty years old (Statistical Centre of Iran, 2021).

Due to the perceived lack of greening in Iranian cities, the form and use of potential green spaces in Iran are currently under discussion. Part of this conversation is asking how existing Persian gardens, which are regarded as successful public places (Rostami et al., 2016), might provide opportunities to increase urban green spaces, but this is not without controversy. For example, Pouya et al. (2015) decried the use of the famous Tabriz garden, El-Goil, for increasing use as a public park. Others (e.g., Mansouri, 2005; Barati, 2011; Motedayen, 2020) are asking to what extent Persian gardens could be used as public parks for leisure activities. Yet behind this question is an even more simple one —how many Persian gardens has Iran already lost in the last century? The aim of this study was to provide an indication of how much greening has been lost and what potential greening is possible within the famous garden cities of Iran, in particular Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Yazd, Mashhad, Kerman, and other cities located in the north. Such a study has not been done despite Persian gardens being internationally renowned.

In this paper, we build on Mahdizadeh and Rajendran’s (2019) concern for the loss of Persian gardens in Iran. Vestiges of Persian gardens that remain in Kerman, south-eastern Iran, were documented, and we propose new conceptual approaches to assist in decision-making for the preservation of surviving gardens or their remains for future use as urban green spaces.

Kerman, in south-eastern Iran, the centre of pistachio-growing and carpet weaving, is an old city founded in the third century by a Parthian (Ashkanian) King. The city flourished due to its position between Bandar Abbas, a port city, and the capital, which from 1597 to 1736 was Isfahan, about 700 km north. Kerman has an elevation of 1755 m and is surrounded by mountains; those to the south and south-east have snow all year around; some have an annual precipitation of 300−400 mm. For centuries, Kerman was known for its gardens. Yet Kerman is desert country (Koppen BWk), and its gardens were an extraordinary contrast to the nearby southern part of the desert known as the Dasht-e Lut. Qanats watered the gardens but are now abandoned, destroyed, and defunct, at a time when both regional and international landscape architects and water experts laud qanats as a brilliant example of water care and efficiency that could make major contributions to urban greening (Daneshmir and Spiridonoff, 2012; Bensi, 2020). With the qanat systems destroyed in Kerman by the 1970s, without water, gardens failed.

Kerman’s population in 1956 was 61,000 and grew nearly nine times to approximately 544,000 by 2021. Rapid population growth in Kerman led to urban expansion. In 1973, a new masterplan was drawn up for Kerman (Diba, 2018). One of the important goals of the master plan was to prevent urban expansion beyond the city’s existing boundaries. However, in attempting to avoid sprawl by increasing density, the masterplan led to the destruction of Persian gardens and their replacement with new apartments and streets. The masterplan failed to protect Kerman’s Persian gardens and most of them were destroyed by housing and road building; in many cases even their names have disappeared and the avenues of trees within the gardens that were a feature of the city have gone. The city now appears dry, with fewer trees and poor easy access to green spaces for a growing population. In recent decades, the government of Iran has endeavoured to protect some Persian gardens in Kerman. Some are museums but while this approach saves the structure of these very few gardens, it fails to provide greening opportunities for local people, and does not address the protection of surviving remnants of other Persian gardens in the city.

Scientists, scholars, and the locals believe that gardens were built in Kerman in the traditional Persian style between 1501 and 1925 (Gulabzadeh, 2004; Khaleghi, 2017). We sought to find and document the current state of Persian gardens in Kerman, now of uncertain number; a small suite remains known today. Most appear to have been destroyed. The objective of this study was to ascertain the number of gardens in Kerman and their physical condition as an indication of the state of Persian gardens in Iran today.

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