#Central Courtyard, paradigm of paradise in traditional #Persian #architecture


Central Courtyard(Hayat) as the name implies, is an open space surrounded by high walls in the center of the building. In the organism of traditional architecture of Iran, Hayat was an inseparable element, unifying(and connecting) different parts of the building ; It was a gathering space for the family and the visitors, a place for holding religious ceremonies and matrimonies, and at last a climate moderating space with natural and artificial elements.

Indeed,  central courtyard was a multi-purpose space, used for relaxation, gardening, eating, sleeping and as source of water.  Some researchers would call “Hayat” a projection of paradise in urban scale. This research would explain the concept of “paradise” in Persian culture and its configuration in the traditional architecture.


In ancient Parthian period(247 BC – 224 AD), in Avestan language, a garden or a place surrounded by trees and water flows had been called “Pairi Daeza”; this word is divided in to two syllables: Pairi , which in Mithras cult means the connection between the sky and the earth and Daeza (root” Daiz”), meaning enclosure.

“Pairi Daeza”, in fact, is an intermediate space between human being and sky( between the material world and the spiritual one)which is surrounded by walls and separated from the environment.

Later this word found its way from Avestan language to Greek language and  changed in to “Paradises” which means the perception of heaven.

athanasius kircher paradise
athanasius kircher paradise

Nature has had a great importance in Persian culture, Ancient Parthians considered  the nature, profuse of spirituality in which Gods are present and where the existence of human being is dependent to the water and agriculture. In Persian culture, the sacredness of the natural elements on one side and the ancient organization of the nature on the other,  configured the Persian garden.

The sanctity of water

In ancient Persia(in the 4th century BCE), the idea of water as the source of living was such an important matter that the Persians configured a Goddess for it. Anahita or Nahid in the Avestan language is the name of a cosmological figure venerated as the divinity of ‘the Waters’ and hence associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. There were different temples built near the source of water to pray for these Goddesses.

“Anahita ” The Goddess of water

The sanctity of vegetation and trees

Trees in Persian culture, cause of the territory climate and the cultural belief in tree of life “the source of healing”, were sacred. In Achaemenid era, Amurdād was the divinity of plants.

Persian Garden

Eram Garden
Eram Garden

The pattern of the Persian garden demonstrates  an example of the Universe in Zoroastrian culture. It is divided into four geometrical sections called “chahar bagh” (four orchards), based on four elements of Zarathustra :  water, soil, fire and the sky,  usually connected by two perpendicular water flows and a pound with fountains in the center. This garden recalls an image of heaven even in Islamic religion, thus the tradition of Persian garden continued after the Islam and was spread out in other countries; the Koranic Paradise is a garden where tranquility reigns and in which warriors can enjoy the otherworldly reward.

The geometrical structure of Persian garden goes back to the earlier times when mankind started to farm its own land and to prepare soil used the plow, meanwhile, he learned that the easiest way to plow is to move in parallel direct lines. Thus, he begun to divide the land in different square and rectangular sections. Besides, this division facilitated the irrigation of the land and became a common structure of the farms.

On the other hand, some researchers relate the principle of the garden’s geometry to the cultural beliefs of Persians; Geometry creates discipline and discipline creates a scenery which connects the mind to the built space.  We can say that the geometry in Persian garden creates a virtual extent space, from which the identity of the garden is originated.

Persian Garden appears in two scales: Urban scale and the Architectural one.

Persian Garden in architectural scale

The garden divides in to two different schemes:

1- Extensive garden scheme, where the building is contained in the garden.

building as a container of garden, building is contained in the garden
building as a container of garden, building is contained in the garden

The physical body of the garden is regulated by geometrical structure(square or rectangular), and it is completely separated from the environment by walls. As the 70% surface area of Iran is desert, the object of the garden is to create an earthly paradise using geometry in placing natural and artificial elements inside the wall.

water system: The garden is shaped through tanks, channels, and fountains of water, and is the most essential element of the garden(like the soul of the garden) .The secret to this impression, is in the solutions adopted to mitigate arid-semiarid climate.

planting system: The trees in the garden are carefully chosen for their symbolic meaning: so the cypress trees represent eternity and the beauty of the woman; pomegranate life and hope, the almond life and palm fertility dates. the vegetation was made up of trees such as poplar (shading trees) for public walks, cypress, pine, ash and others; while the orchards were planted with oranges (nārinjistān), lemon, almond, vineyards (angūristān) and palm (nakhlistān);

Building placement: The architectural elements of a certain importance were constituted by Imarat with lodges on three sides and paintings galleries. The position of the building obeys the geometrical shape of the garden. It usually is  situated in the main axis in order to create the best view .

Shahzade Garden(Kerman)
Shahzade Garden(Kerman)
Bagh e Shahzadeh
Imarat building, Shahzadeh Garden
Fin Garden( Kashan)
Fin Garden( Kashan)

2-  Central Courtyard- garden plot, where the building is a container of the garden.

In urban scale where creating the extensive garden is not possible economically and spatially, the courtyard house, a generating centripetal force, is a practical solution to connect the Persian life to the nature. Indeed, the courtyard garden is a type of Persian garden which is used in places with limited spaces like houses in the cities. The courtyard shaped the main space structure of houses, schools, mosques and caravanserais in the past architecture.

The courtyard principle is to unify houses with worship places, caravanserais with schools and indeed to unify all the architectural components in to one unique architectural manufacture that can be recognized through the spaces, surfaces and shapes all over the city.

The courtyard- garden is divided into two categories:

  • Introverted courtyard


The inner central courtyard is mainly adopted for living in a hot& dry climate, in hot summers with peak daytime temperatures reaching 36-37 degrees C and with night time lows at 19-20 degrees C, with relatively little annual rainfall;

The characteristics of the building forms in this climate are:

  • Enclosed and inwardly oriented
  • A planted courtyard within each building – that sometimes has a basement and wind catcher, which directs the winds down to a below-ground water cistern. In this way the air entering the courtyard, and surrounding rooms, is cooled via natural processes that do not require artificial sources of energy. The courtyard is an excavated inner area that lies below the level of the surrounding rooms and passages.
  • Use of thick walls and use of high thermal capacity materials such as unbaked mud and baked bricks.
  • High walls that provide shade in the open spaces


Iranian architects constructed building bodies around one or more intermediate space and have separated the building from outside and only these two together would make a vestibule. This vital characteristic of buildings, have shifted the main focus on the central part of building by using natural elements, and making an amalgamated relationships among these elements, and other main parts of building. The predominant roles and functions of yard in both objective and subjective point of view are geometry, symmetrical equilibrium, reflection, transparency, and more specifically centralization and introversion can be assumed to be the most significant features. Centralization has been the main reason for unifying and appearing numerous elements into one unified single set. These pieces demand a center which is usually empty, and this vacantness itself, represents introversion. The other subject that can be mentioned as an interpretation of centralization is symmetry, observable in many of the elements that are used in the central courtyard. In many of the oriented center houses, the shape of the yard is symmetrical; consequently, the shape of basin, cascade, garden and especially view of the house including the openings, the arch views, and column are all well-matched to bring about that kind of unity.

Central courtyard-Agha Bozorg Mosque-Kashan


central courtyard-Ameriha House-Kashan


Mihan saraye raheb House
Mahin saraye raheb House


Borujerdi House plan- setting of the central courtyard

-Sunken garden

In traditional buildings, the yard was built or placed at a lower level than the surrounding floor or ground floor, this space was called sunken garden. Sometimes the depth of sunken garden reached four meters. The main reasons of using sunken garden were including: facilitate access to water of subterranean in order to irrigate the garden and the plant in the yard, increasing the height of the yard wall and consequently increasing the height of the shade in yard to keep the air of yard cooler during the day. going forward to the depth of the garden, temperature fluctuations is lessened and it has a tendency toward a fix annual temperature.

In  center of Iran, there is a wind catcher situating in 50 meters away from the building. This air pocket is connected to the building by means of an underground canal. On the top of this canal there is garden. Having irrigated the garden, moisture penetrates into the walls of the connected canal and the wind that blew from the air pocket to the building became cooler.


Sunken yard- Abbasian house- Kashan
Sunken yard- Abbasian house- Kashan
Sunken yard- Abbasian house- Kashan


A section of sunken yard- Abbasian House


  • Eccentric courtyard

Where the house is merged in the courtyard(garden). The eccentric type houses in Iran could generally be found in areas that their climate is friendlier. The vernacular architecture in many settlements in north and west of Iran follows the eccentric type of housing.




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