The Landscape Guide

Other Byzantine palace gardens

It need not be said that all the other palaces had gardens round them; and of some of these we have a weak and very incomplete picture, as for example of the Anadendradion of the Magnaura. As the name tells us, it must have been rich in trees. One could pass into it directly from the bridal chamber; there was water flow ing through it, for it had a bridge over the canal leading to the bath at the end of the garden. At fêtes and on reception days the servants made the whole garden into a kind of large tent, with the help of Sidonian carpets that were hung up; and on both sides seats were erected for the chief parties concerned and for spectators. Also the court of justice, the Lausiacus, had a garden, called Mesokepion, where malefactors were chastised with rods. The Byzantine emperors were very fond of their balcony gardens, and we hear a great deal about them. A poem on Justinian I. has enthusiastic praise for a little house, open to the air, and yet protected from all winds, built in a balcony-garden with a lovely view over the sea. High terrace-gardens are often depicted in miniatures, in the prayer- books and gospels of the eleventh and twelfth centuries (Fig, 98).

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The chief garden at the palace was laid out by the art-loving Emperor Basil I., the Macedonian: it was near the new church he built, and was called Mesokepion. On the east was a great oblong space with porticoes on two sides, planted like a garden, or so- called Paradise, with trees and flowers of all kinds, and water incessantly flowing. In the galleries round there were pictures of martyrdoms. The narrow side on the west con- tamed the church, but on the other side the emperor erected the Tsycannesterion, a place for games, where Persian polo was played, a ball-game which was popular so early as the days of Theodosius’ court. The ball was thrown down by a player on horseback, and knocked backwards and forwards between the two contending sides.

Of the site as a whole we have no information from ancient sources, but we must make use of what we know about the gardens of Roman hippodromes and colonnades; in its whole area, which is a longish oblong, we see a Roman colonnade-garden that has pillars round it in the usual way, and the cloister of the Middle Ages will presently show something very like it as an addition to churches.