Pond Info Center > A Brief History of Garden Ponds: Part 1

A Brief History of Garden Ponds: Part 1

The First Water Gardens

The garden pond has a long and glorious history, stretching back as far as civilization itself. Remains of ornamental ponds have been discovered in ancient Mesopotamia, also known as the Cradle of Civilization, including a 5,000 year old water basin. Water gardens were known in Assyria as well, where water was sometimes lifted three stories high for use in temple tower gardens. Tomb paintings reveal that in Egypt garden ponds were greatly prized, partly because of the significance the lotus had in ancient Egyptian religion.

A bit later, the Persians copied their garden pond designs and wove them into rugs so they could enjoy them throught the colder months as well, thus giving birth to the Persian rugs that are stil so popular tody. Tradition also tells us that the Persian ruler Cyrus the Younger created the word "paradise" (Persian "pairidaeza") as a name for his garden by combining the Persian words for "around" and "wall."

Ornamental Ponds of the Romans and Greeks

Garden ponds were quite prominent in the culture of Rome. The city of Pompeii, pristinely preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, has several quaint spaces featuring basins with fountains. On a grander scale, the emperor Hadrian had a hippodrome (horse racing track) with an enormous water garden, including a central canal more than 1500 feet long. The Canopus, a curved canal that was part of Hadrian's Marine Theater, can still be seen today, almost 1900 years after its construction.

In ancient Greece, mythology taught that natural springs were the homes of gods and nymphs. Naturally, then, the Greeks of antiquity venerated these areas and dressed them with statues. Over time, the decorations became more elaborate, giving birth to water theaters known as "nymphaea." Possibly because of their great love of natural springs, the Greeks were not inclined to design and build artificial garden ponds.

Garden Ponds in the Muslim World

The Muslims inherited their great love of water gardens from the highly developed Persian society, whom they conquered in the seventh century AD. Several excellent examples of Muslim gardens are still in existence, including those at the Palacio de Generalife and Alhambra, both of which are in Spain. The most famous Muslim garden today is probably the Taj Mahal in India. Built by the Mogul ruler Shah Jahan as a memorial for his favorite wife, it features a spectacular pool in which one can see a reflection of the entire tomb.

Water Gardens of the Far East

At least as far back as the third century AD, Chinese royalty began constructing artificial lakes for boating and various other recreational purposes. While other societies tended to favor more formal garden designs, the Chinese sought to capture the look and feel of nature in their water gardens. Chinese gardens were arranged on the basis of "shansui" (the outdoor counterpart to feng shui), the purpose of which was creating positive energy through proper placement of rocks and other elements in the water garden. Numerous plants were employed in these water gardens, including pine, bamboo, and especially lotus plants, which are sacred in Buddhism.

Japanese water gardens were similar in many ways to Chinese designs. Stroll gardens were arranged to guide viewers through a journey of contemplation, while contemplative gardens were meant to be viewed from a terrace or other vantage point outside the garden. The Japanese were also quite ingenius at developing techniques to adapt plants and fish to make them more useful in the garden. Bonsai trees are an excellent example of this talent.

Continue to A Brief History of Garden Ponds: Part 2 to find the rest of this story, from the Renaissance right up to the present time.

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