vWe can trace this sort of activity very clearly in Samaria, that marvelous town whose whole time for building was only about forty years (836—876), and which in that short period grew up out of nothing at all,
v so that in the tenth century its size was amazing and incredible to strangers. Its founder was Mu’tasim (a son of Haroun-al-Rashid), whose first care was to conduct water from the Tigris by canals.
vHe entrusted the cultivation of a piece of land to each of his prefects, and trees such as date palms, also vines and many other things, were imported from Basra and Bagdad.
v As there was so much water at hand, everything prospered on the virgin soil. The geographer Ja’kubi, writing about Samaria in the year 889, says: “The country places were converted by Mu’tasim into houses for the upper class.
v In every garden there had to be a villa, and therewith halls, ponds, and playgrounds, for riding and the game of ball,” (The Persian polo was only lately known to the Arabs, but by this time no large house was complete without a play- ground.) The estates did extremely well, and rich people were eager to buy land, so that the price rose high.
number of Islamic palaces with gardens sprang up, with a row of finely ornamented private houses near them.
vThen, to add to the marvellous, fairy-like character of the place, Mutawakkil, the son of Mu’tasim, made a second wonderful town to the north.
v It rose up in one year, was inhabited also for one year, and then, after the caliph had been murdered by his son, completely forsaken; and yet there was built in this place a palace whose area covered one and a third square kilometres—almost thirty-five times the size of Diocletian’s palace at Spalato
v. GROUND-PLAN OF THE PALACE OF BALKUWARA, SAMARIA
vA palace like this is entered by wide courts which are no doubt paved, and ornamented with flowering plants in pots in the ordinary Oriental fashion.
vOne would walk through these garden courts before arriving at the state-rooms, and as a rule only after passing the master’s own part.
v On both sides were the servants’ apartments, and the storerooms, and very often other large places, possibly tree-gardens and courts for games.
vThe chief palace generally looked towards the river and often had large gardens in front. Such is the picture of the palace of the successors to the throne—the only one unearthed at present, and that imperfect—to the south of the town, the Balkuwara.
v Its most striking feature is the strict axial plan, which makes it possible to get a view on every side by help of the raised site of the chief palace.
v The garden on the river side is enclosed by a wall, with pillars that end on the bank with finely decorated pavilions. At the very extremity is a harbour for boats—an arrangement that calls to mind the palace of Tel-el-Amarna. In the middle is a kind of pond or large basin.
vThe same axial arrangement appears in the palace of the caliphs, which is in the centre, so far as the very superficial excavations allow us to judge
v CONJECTURAL PLAN OF DAR-EL-KHALIF
vHere, too, both the palace and its courts stand above the high river-bank as on a prominent platform, which may possibly be a garden.
v Farther inland one passes through an immense door into a great ornamental garden court, which is watered from a basin in the centre by means of a long canal.
v At the end there is a sort of grotto, with a basin in front of it, but its significance is obscure. Behind and crosswise to the main line is yet another enclosure, perhaps meant for the ball game—an arrangement that makes one think of the Byzantine Mesokepion.
vBy the side of the garden is a large round place deeply dug, possibly for an arena) possibly for a large tank. All the pictures, and all the attempts at reconstruction (including the one given here), are purely hypothetical; but descriptions of other gardens are helpful for color and form.
vEven when there is a better supply of information from literary sources, as for Bagdad gardens, it is difficult to distinguish between the influence of Hellenistic and Sassanid art.
v The straightness of the main lines of plan and site is here, as at Byzantium, very like the Western style, whereas the ornament in plantation, water devices, and fountains, points to Asiatic influence.