Funky cool medinas

Emma Duncan in The Economist:

MedinaThe origins of Le Jardin Secret lie in a dentist’s waiting-room in Mayfair. Sante Giovanni Albonetti, an Italian businessman, had acquired a development site on the ruins of an ancient riyad and its garden at the centre of Marrakech’s medina with his business partner, Lauro Milan. They had planned to build a hotel, but after the crash of 2008 started contemplating other possible uses for a space that was both huge and, because of the high walls in the medina, invisible to the outside world. Browsing through a magazine, Albonetti saw an article about a “secret garden” that Tom Stuart-Smith, Britain’s most celebrated garden designer, was creating – and thought, “That’s it!” So the developers hired Stuart-Smith to make one for them too.

There is nothing unusual about creating an ambitious garden in Morocco. It is a wonderful place for cultivation (the region does much of Europe’s market gardening), for the High Atlas mountains keep temperatures down and provide snow-melt that flows into underground aquifers. Gardens are central to Islam. While Christianity’s paradise is a vague notion of proximity to God, Islam’s is firmly rooted in a garden, with a detailed planting scheme described in scripture: fig and pomegranate, olive and date-palm. The basic chahar-bagh (four-garden) shape was first used by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great two and a half millennia ago, and the idea of a formal garden came to Europe from the Muslim world via Moorish Spain. The illustrations for the “Roman de la Rose”, a 13th-century French poem, show a garden clearly modelled on an Islamic one.

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