The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 5: Gardens in Asia, America, Africa, Australia

Damascus gardens in Syria

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729. The gardens of Damascus are described by Egmont and Heyman as perfect paradises, being watered with copious streams from Lebanon; and in the Account of the Ruins of Balbec, the streams are said to be derived from Libanus and Anti-Libanus; and the shades of the palms and elms are described as exquisite in that burning climate. The time of the singing of birds is mentioned in Solomon's Song as a season of great pleasure; and then, as now, they no doubt constituted a material article in fine gardens. Russcll observes, that 'in Syria there are abundance of nightingales, which not only afford much pleasure by their songs in the gardens, but are also kept tame in the houses, and let out at a small rate to divert such as choose it in the spring; so that no entertainments are made in this season without a concert of these birds.' (Natural History of Aleppo, p. 71.) William de Bouldesall, who wrote an account of his peregrinations in the East in 1331, visited the monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai, and was delighted with its gardens and scenery. At Damascus he was astonished at the splendour of the gardens which surrounded that city, which, he says, amounted to 40,000. In crossing the mountains to Sidon, Buckingham met at least fifty mules laden with myrtle for the supply of families in Damascus to strew on the graves of their deceased friends. He was told that a similar caravan went every month. (Travels among the Arab Tribes, p. 408.) The same traveller informs us that Lady Hester Stanhope, who resided in Syria, had her summer residence at Mount Lebanon, and her winter one in the convent of St. Elias, near Seyda, the ancient Sidon. In the latter she had turned one of the courts of the convent into an English flower-garden; and into this garden all the doors of her living-rooms opened. (Ibid., p. 421.) Near Vostizza, the ᆭcium of the ancients, on the beach of the stream Selinus, Hobhouse found 'the enormous plane tree, which was notorious in the time of Chandler. One of its largest branches, as thick as the trunk of most trees, has lately fallen off; and many of the other boughs are supported by long beams of wood.' (Journal of Travels in Albania, &c., p. 229.) The same tree is described by Buckingham as being fifteen feet in diameter, and 100 feet in height, and as being covered with rich and exuberant foliage.