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 Post subject: The oldest surviving landscape garden in Asia
 Post Posted: Sat Sep 24, 2005 4:41 pm 
The oldest surviving landscape garden in Asia

@ CDN / 23Sep2005

Sigiriya, One of World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka has the oldest surviving landscape garden in Asia.

Prior to Sigiriya the Mahavamsa tells us of two gardens in Anuradhapura. The oldest historic tree in the world, the Sri Maha Bodhi, was planted in the Mahameghavana garden in the 3rd century BC, where it is still venerated.

The Mahameghavana was also the site for the Maha Vihara, headquarters of the first nikaya in this country.

The Nandana Garden, renamed Jotivana, gave its name to the biggest stupa in the island - the Jetavana built in the 3rd century AD in that park.

The Water Gardens of Sigiriya, created in the 5th century AD, were famous for their extensive use of water in ponds, cisterns, streams, fountains, island pavilions, and the intricate manner in which the water was supplied via underground conduits and surface channel to these places.

If you look down from the summit of the rock, you will see the cental pathway that bisects the gardens, going straight down from the slope at the base of the rock to the Western rampart.


The gardens were laid out in a grid pattern using the central pathway as the main axis in an east-west direction.

In the higher regions of the slope there are traces of pavilions and ponds, and the restored Octagonal pond.

Lower down is a long narrow brick-walled terrace, which contains the miniature water gardens.

On either side of the path in this terrace are winding shallow channels made of limestone slabs.

They were meant to carry streams of water, giving the impression of movement in an otherwise static landscape.

There are also two cisterns, one on either side, and four fountains which you will be surprised to learn still function during the raining period.

On either side of this linear terrace there were two island pavilions, connected to the land by rocks and boulders. Only traces of the pavilions can now be seen among the trees on the two islands.

The pathway finally leads you to the piece-de-resistance of the water gardens - a large rectangular precinct surrounded by brick walls.

Within this precinct is a square pool divided into four with an island in the middle, which must once have had a large pavilion. The pools could have been used for bathing.

The underground conduits bringing water to the square pool are said to be still functioning.

The ponds are connected by a cross-path to a rectangular extension on either side.

In each of these extensions there are traces of buildings (evidenced by the base stones and pockets for timber supports) surrounded by ponds.

Very briefly that's it - the excavated and conserved remains of the water gardens of Sigiriya.

They may look a little bare and forlorn now.

But you can imagine how beautiful they must have been in their heyday with decorative pavilions and mandapas in the cool environment of the ponds, and the shade of systematically planted fruit and ornamental trees which provided an ecological balance and contributed a natural charm to the built environment.


Water gardens of Sigiriya

By Dr. Maggie McVay Lynch
Portland State University

Sigiriya is approached from the west over a moat that encloses an elaborate water garden that runs up to the foot of the rock. The picture here is of the second moat. There was evidently a moat previous to this one but it is no longer available. It is said that the King kept alligators or crocodiles in the moat to make it very difficult to cross.

@ Maggie McVay Lynch

Directly after the moat is the beginnings of the excavated water gardens, or pleasure gardens, that lead up to the foot of the fortress. Only the southern side of the garden has been excavated, leaving the identical northern half for the archaeologist of the future.

The water gardens of the western precinct are symmetrically planned, while the boulder garden at a higher level is asymmetrically planned. The water garden displays one of the worlds most sophisticated hydraulic technologies, dating from the Early Historic Period.

The pleasure gardens are studded with ponds, islets, promenades and pavilions. Some underground and surface drainage systems have been discovered during excavations. We were visiting during the dry season, so very little water remained in these pools. However, our guide assured us (and we have seen pictures) that during the normal part of the year, this pools are filled with water and the fountains still bubble.

This shows an interconnection of macro- and micro-hydraulics to provide for domestic horticultural and agricultural needs, surface drainage and erosion control, ornamental and recreational water courses and retaining structures and also cooling systems.

The Macro system consisted of the Sigiri Maha weva, the manmade lake with a 12 km dam, running south from the base of the rock, a series of moats, two on the west and one on the east fed from the lake. At micro level are, the water control and the water retaining systems at the summit of the rock and at various levels with horizontal and vertical drains cut in to the rock and underground conduits made of cylindrical terracotta pipes.

It amazing to realize that all of this was built and engineered over 1,600 years ago!

The fountain garden is a narrow precinct on two levels. Western half has two long and deep pools, with shallow serpentine streams draining into the pools. These had been paved with marble slabs. These streams display the fountains, which have been made from circular limestone plates with symmetrical perforations, which are fed by underground water conduits and operate by gravity and pressure. There are two shallow limestone cisterns which would have served as storage and pressure chambers for the fountains.

The fountains were not bubbling when we visited as it was the dry season. However, this picture shows the fountain location. These fountains are evidently still active during the rainy season from November to January.

@ Maggie McVay Lynch

This overhead view of the gardens seen from about half-way up the rock, shows the extent of the development and planning.

The miniature water garden just inside the inner wall of the western precinct, consists of water pavilions, pools, cisterns, courtyards, conduits and water courses. The pebbled or marbled water-surrounds covered by shallow slowly moving water would have served as cooling devices with an aesthetic appeal with visual and sound effects, which could be visualised by a visitor who could spend a little time.

The water is in four L-shaped pools, connected by underground water conduits at varying depths, to provide different water levels. The pool on the south-west, is divided into a large bathing pool, with a corbelled tunnel and steps leading down into it. The other pool is smaller with a central boulder on which was a brick-built pavilion.

On either side of the fountains are four large moated islands , oriented north-south, cutting across the central axis of the water garden. This too shows the symmetrical repetition. The flattened surfaces of the islands were meant for the Summer Palaces or ‘water pavilions’. Access to the pavilions were across bridges cut into the surface rock.[/size]

More on Sigiriya in LankaLibrary
:arrow: Sigiriya: The Lion Rock of Sri Lanka

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