Safavid Garden Design Reconsidered: Bayramabad and the Topography of Kerman

Scholars tend to think of garden design in Iran as a fixed scheme, a chahar-bagh, applied regardless of the topography or historical conditions of a garden. This article challenges the assumption of a prescribed garden model by focusing on the Garden of Bayramabad in Kerman. It is located in the strategically important valley, near the two citadels of Qal`a Dokhtar and Qal`a Ardeshir, in a region that, in addition to its beautiful natural landscape, has a very ancient history. Its unique placement in the foothill, and a riverbed which dries up in the summer and which predates any existing architectural and cultural landscape in the area, imply that the history of Beyrom Abad garden is older than what has been discussed in historical texts.
This garden is known from at least the early Safavid period when it was first laid out by Bayram Beg Afshar during the reign of Shah Ismail. Ganj Ali Khan repaired and refurbish the gardens late in the 16th century along with his town planning in Kerman.

The challenge with garden studies is in that gardens are ephemeral; they do not survive in their initial stage of design. This is also true with regards to the Bayramabad Gardens in both of its two stages of development. Ganj Ali Khan’s interventions, however, are relatively well documented in the Safavid chronicles of Kerman, in the famous vaqf of Ganj Ali Khan, and in related vaqf documents preserved at the Awqaf of Astane Ghodse Razavi. The evidence suggests that Ganj Ali Khan’s refurbishment and expansion of the Bayramabad Gardens was carefully calculated to take full advantage of the topography of the site, a fact that was probably also evident in the initial design of the gardens. While we can no longer trace the ‘first’ design, the landscaping features and freestanding buildings (pavilions and gates, for instance) of the period of Ganj Ali Khan indicate that the layout was adjusted to several site-specific aspects such as the sources and flow of water. With the help of descriptions, geological and geographical studies, Qajar maps and pertinent Safavid sources, this paper will highlight the design features that support my contention: such gardens as Bayramabad’s were not based on an ideal model but on a fresh design that was specific to the site.