The Landscape Guide

Byzantine villa gardens

We have little information about the gardens of those Byzantine villas that were outside the town walls. But some of the names stir our imagination, such as the Pearl, beloved of the Emperor Theophilus, and the Philopation (a park near the city), well known later on. Private pleasure-gardens were probably not very different from those of the palace. Among the Byzantines it was the same as with their neighbours in the East—they all took great delight in the chase and in keeping up extensive hunting parks. 

Their summer homes were generally in such parks, and often there were many houses in the same park. In the year 1146 Odo de Diogilo accompanied Louis VII. to Constantinople. He describes the Park of Philopation : “ In front of the town is a beautiful, spacious, enclosed place with all sorts of animals for game, also canals and ponds, and ditches and caves, so that, instead of woodland, the creatures have hiding- places. At this delightful spot there are shining palaces, built by the emperor for coolness in summer—all indescribably grand.” The Philopation was destroyed in the German invasion; its site was lower than that of the palace, whence the devastation could be seen.

All this is very like the magnificent castle upon which the enemies of Byzantium, the last Sassanid rulers, had spent so much. Dastogard, so loved by Persian Chosroes II., “ the Conqueror", under whose rule the power of the Persians came to an end. He preferred it to all places to live in. It “was surrounded by fine hedges, and there were gazelles and ostriches, wild asses and beasts of the forest, even lions and tigers. Here lived this art-loving prince, till he was conquered by the Byzantines, and his beloved Dastogard was destroyed.” But this was only an anticipation of the last fatal destruction that the Persians were to suffer at the hands of a new and growing foe, the Arabians. King Chosroes preferred to live in a castle of his own than at the Residence at Maidan (the Greek Ctesiphon). There are still to be seen ruins of that commanding edifice, the imperial palace, which show the size of the throne-room.  It was 300 yards long and 120 broad. Wonderful gardens lay round the palace, where the Sassariid rulers held their proud feasts, Only when the rough winter forced them did they leave their garden, which even then they could not altogether forgo. The artistry of his people came to the help of their lord.