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What is a Charbagh?

By Gregory Hanson
Updated May 16, 2024
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A charbagh is a style of garden that originated in ancient Persia. This type of garden is generally very regular in design and layout, and is often split into geometrically identical portions, as evidenced by the fact that the term charbagh roughly translates as "a garden in four parts." These gardens existed in the time of classical antiquity and have remained common ever since. Formal gardens in this style are found in areas that had cultural or commercial contact with Persia and have frequently been used to enhance the beauty of major monuments.

All gardens represent idealized versions of the natural world. Different cultures produce different gardens, as each culture has a particular set of views on what constitutes natural perfection. In some cases, such as in an ornamental French garden, nature is carefully tamed, and forced into meticulously groomed and tended order. Other gardens, such as a certain style of English garden, focus more on the natural aspects of nature, although still seeking to present an idealized version of the natural world.

A charbagh has much more in common with the French style of gardening, particularly in terms of its basic structure, and is typified by a careful and meticulously ordered layout. In a charbagh, the space is typically divided evenly into four parts, with pathways or water used to divide up the garden. Any formal structures included in the charbagh are usually located at the center of this organizational pattern. In larger examples of this type of garden, each quadrant may be further divided, yielding sixteen smaller gardens of identical size.

This variety of garden most commonly includes a wide variety of plant species, but the plants within a charbagh are not generally maintained with the same perfect precision as the overall layout of the garden. Such formal gardens typically include flowering plants, shrubs, and larger trees. Water features frequently include fish, and the trees are often intended to attract birds to further enhance the aesthetic appeal of the garden.

The Taj Mahal located in northern India, which is located in an area influenced by Persian culture through the Mughal conquest, is, perhaps, the most universally famous example of a charbagh. This garden breaks with tradition, as the mausoleum is located at one edge of the garden rather than in the center, but it is otherwise an excellent example of this style of garden.

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