Site Map
Ancient Egyptian Gardens and Garden Living
Section › 9   Set    Search  Previous Next


Ancient Egyptian Gardens ☼

A paradise is assumed to be an ideal place, positive and harmonious. The word 'paradise' probably comes from an ancient Iranian word for "walled (enclosure)" - referring to walled royal parks and menageries. In other, old context it means garden and orchand too. As for delightful Persian gardens, they were at least in part built up according to ancient Egyptian designs.

The garden of Eden contains descriptions that correspond with some of the very ancient Egyptian gardens as well. Some were house-gardens or garden-houses. Below are extracts from a longer article by Jimmy Dunn, called "The Gardens and Ponds of Ancient Egypt".

1. Trees, flower-beds, areas and ponds survived, and also villas, pond bridges, and a garden house concept

May I refresh myself under the shadow of my sycamore [Platanus occidentialis]. - Egyptian tomb inscription

Gardens were very popular and played a large part in the lives of ancient Egyptians. Gardens were much to them, highly esteemed, and allowing garden owners to see life nicely regulated within the large or small strip of land - one that fostered life. Ancient Egyptians designed and thrived in Garden Houses, it was no modern architect who invented the Garden House concept.

Ancient Egyptian gardens often consisted of both trees and other plants. There were about eighteen varieties of trees grown by the Egyptians. Popular trees included the sycamore fig, pomegranate, nut trees and jujube. Willows, acacia and tamarisk were also there.

From an enclosed yard with a few fruit trees to botanical and zoological gardens with exotic trees, ponds, often stocked with fish, and caged animals and birds, gardens are depicted in many tombs.

The extensive grounds of the Maru-Aten temple complex at Amarna, are a concrete representation of the potentiality of the Creative Aten. The layout of the eastern group of the buildings is on an exact north-south axis while the east-west axis of the large lake crosses it inside the hall of the Maru, or viewing place of the sun disk. A garden with a processional alley fronts the group on the south. Here there is also a symbolic island carrying a kiosk (meaning: open summerhouse or pavilion) with a roofless central space, accessible from the Maru by a bridge. A second bridge at the north end leads to an alley flanked with flower beds to a water court featuring a range of eleven T-shaped water basins on an interlocking plan.

The formal layout of the Persian garden, with an artificial pond mirrored the glittering splendour of a rich facade beyond it, had already been carried out to perfection in Egypt, at least as early as the New Kingdom.

Sacred gardens had ponds, papyrus, flowers and vegetables, as represented schematically in ancient tomb drawings. There were exotic trees that were brought from the new countries subdued during the New Kingdom and planted in sacred "botanical" gardens.

In the country the houses and palaces were set in a large garden surrounded by a wall.

Egyptian Home
Ancient Egyptian Garden-Home

Sometimes there was more than one pond, and a garden could be divided into areas. In one case,

  • The front section had a rectangular pond parallel to the river, with water plants in it, and there was also date palms and sycamores.
  • A second section in the middle area was enclosed within a wall and planted with light green trees that were perhaps rare species.
  • A rear section was the largest area and again has a rectangular pond bordered on one side by date palms and on the other by sycamores. Near this rear section was a small open kiosk of the type we find at Amarna. On either long side of the whole garden an enclosed path was planted with trees of alternating species, while tall trees formed an effective screen at the back of the estate.

Temples were provided with gardens in decorative layouts, as a source for flowers, vegetables and wine and olive oil, thus providing necessary ingredients for what went on . . .

Models of gardens were placed in a lot of tombs. In many funerary texts, the deceased talks about walking under the trees of his garden and drinking the water of its lake. Queen Hatshepsut relates on the walls of her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari how she complied with the wish of Amun-Re, her father, to have a grove of myrrh trees "for ointment for the divine limbs".

Houses, palaces, temples and chapels in the paintings of the tombs nearly always have a garden next to the building. We very often find a whole, elaborate layout detailed, and thus a good enough picture of the various types of gardens during the New Kingdom can be reconstructed from this pictorial evidence. ◇

The actual remains of gardens are very scarce. This is in part due to that earlier excavators seldom cared to look for them, and thus ruined whatever evidence might remain. By the way, ancient Egyptians themselves devastated Syrian gardens and took some gardeners captive - and Syrian buildings also inspired Egyptian architects.

were abundant in ancient Egyptian gardens, and included daisies, cornflowers, mandrakes, roses, irises, myrtle, jasmine, mignonettes, convolvulus, celosia, narcissus, ivy, lychnis, sweet marjoram, henna, bay laurel, small yellow chrysanthemums and poppies. There were also papyrus, lotus and grapes.

The villas of the rich inhabitants of the city also had extensive gardens where a chapel or kiosk marked the crossing of the axis through the entrance gateway with that of the house. Gardens were secluded corners, sensuous places where lovers could meet.

In Akhenaten's North Palace there was possibly a reserve for animal species and a botanical garden. The main element in the plan is an extensive water court surrounded by trees. The rear central group of buildings is the formal apartment, with a private suite bordered on the north by a sunken garden surrounded on three sides by a columned portico and contiguous cells. Here again, the location of the garden is to the north of the living quarters, and there is a corner staircase leading up to the roof of the portico, where a pergola (trellis) must have afforded an enjoyable view of the precincts. The animals were kept in separate courts and rooms.

Gardens also provided food, including vegetables and wine.

2. Gardens may need to be walled, and one may shape pools, pergolas, paths and much else according to symmetry in it

Around the mortuary temple of Ramesses II at Abydos, we are told that "He planted many gardens, set with every (kind of) tree, all sweet and fragrant woods, the plants of Punt". And Ramesses III describes the lake and garden in his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu, when he says, "I dug a lake before it . . . planted trees and vegetation . . . It was surrounded with gardens and arbor-areas (perhaps nurseries for young trees), filled with fruit and flowers . . ."

Till the end of the Middle Kingdom, gardens had to be watered from jars carried at the end of a pole slung on the shoulders of water carriers. The primitive counterpoised sweep for elevating water (Arabic shaduf), enabled a much easier irrigation of cultivated land.

Gardens were an essential element to the ancient Egyptian people, and considered very important during the New Kingdom.

Those who could afford to do so laid out gardens in front of their houses. And the building material was adobe, that is, sun-dried bricks. Since 3800 BC rectangular houses of about 100-125 square metres were built. Mud from the bottom of the Nile and chaff were mixed and shaped with wooden forms, and the soft bricks were dried in the sun. They became almost as hard as rock. In the hot, almost rainless climate of Egypt adobe houses were fit. Walls could as easily be made of adobe too. ◇

A formal layout was followed in the large palace gardens. Usually the approach was symmetrical, usually with a pond on either side of the axis, bordered with rows of trees. At Amarna, where the ground is not arable, trees were planted in pits filled with humus and bordered with a round coping.

At the rear of the various groups of buildings a large area was laid out as an independent garden around a square pound with sloping sides. In one of the pond's corners, a stairway descends to its bottom. A deeper basin opening in the bottom is probably filled with infiltration water. Interestingly, the distribution of the trees seems particularly informal and may have been another aspect of the Amarna trend toward freedom and naturalism in art.

Many depictions in tombs show what might be the standard garden: Typically, a symmetrical layout was used with a rectangular or T-shaped pond in front of the house on the main longitudinal axis. This garden would then be surrounded by rows of trees of various species, possibly alternating in the same rows. It was not uncommon to find a pergola bordering the main alley along the axis or surrounding the pond. It should be noted that many times these ponds were stocked with fish, and at times included exotic examples. Fruit trees have their leaves or branches supported on the trelliswork of the pergolas. The shortest species of trees are planted nearest the pond, while the tallest, such as doum palms and date palms, are in the outside rows. This arrangement provided a graded perspective about the centre of the garden.

The temples of Amun were favoured with gardens. The Papyrus Harris I contains records of the endowments and riches of the temples in the reign of Ramesses III. Some of the figures cast light upon the very extensive properties. Ramesses III more than once stated that he donated gardens "equipped" with "groves and arbors, containing date trees; lakes supplied with lotus flowers, papyrus flowers, isi flowers, the flowers of every land, dedmet flowers, myrrh, and sweet and fragrant woods for thy beautiful face". We are even told of the restoration of gardens by him: "I made to grow the august grove, which was in its midst; I planted it with papyrus in the midst of the Delta marshes, [as] it has begun to decay formerly.

3. Garden terraces and sweet forethought allowed for shades when needed, for fit breezes carrying perfumes, and a view that mattered

Private chapels were built by rich people in their gardens at Amarna or on the bank of a river or canal. Often the chapel stands at the rear of the enclosed garden on a higher terrace, with a rectangular pond flanked by two rows of sycamore trees, or what seems to be two rows of tall jars surrounded by climbing growth.

Private people have also left records about their gardens. Even in tombs there are texts that depict gardens. Ineny, an architect who lived apparently during the reigns of Amenhotep I through Hatshepsut, describes his garden as being in the West, and his yearning "to walk in his garden of the West, cool under its sycamores, admire its grand and beautiful growths of trees, which he had made while he was on earth". The various trees in his garden included 90 sycamores and 170 date palms located in Western Thebes.

The garden was very often on the north side of the main hall of the living quarters, probably to allow the cool breeze from the north to carry the sweet fragrance of the flowers to the king and to provide a cool shaded garden. There must have been some device in the upper stories of the buildings, consisting of windows or pergola on the terrace, from which the view on the garden could be enjoyed.

Queen Hatshepsut: "I have listened to my father . . . commanding me to establish for him a Punt in his house, to plant the trees of God's Land beside his temple, in his garden, just as he commanded . . ." ✪ 

The temples were surrounded by lush greenery.

At the capital that Akhenaten built in the desert, and despite the destruction wrought by the avengers of Amun, there are enough traces left of gardens to provide material for study. Trees were planted in pits filled with black earth, and these are particularly recognizable. Gardens have been found in at least three of the royal palaces at Amarna. In both northern and southern wings of the Harem there is a garden and a tank bordered on two sides by a columned portico with a series of small cubicles.

One of the gardens is sunk to a lower level than the surrounding ground and forms the main element in the architectural layout of the northern harem, which is located on the north side of the large columned portico and the main hall.

There is a garden adjacent to the women's quarters in the depictions of the palace from the tombs.

In the King's palace, a large garden forms the central element, laid out symmetrically about a north-south alley, leading from a north entrance pylon and accessible from the bridge and from a gateway on the Royal Road. It is surrounded on three sides by the buildings of the servants, the royal living quarters and the magazines. On it's western side there are two lower terraces, one having an arbour with a roof, and probably a "chamber-of-trees" similar to the one mentioned by texts.

We know of very few depictions of gardens that surround ordinary houses, but several literary descriptions of a country estate mention the lush cultivated grounds around a villa of the New Kingdom. One owner, who obviously enjoyed his garden tells us that, "You sit in their shades and eat their fruit. Wreaths are made for you of their twigs, and you are drunk with their wines."

Nothing can be found about the formal layout of gardens around the landing quays of palaces or temples. But the data of temple paintings and drawings seems to be fairly exact: Landing quays were the initial approaches to the buildings from the Nile, and they had to have benefited as much as the processional avenues from the decorative effects of a formal garden layout. A text from the reign of Ramesses II, referencing the Temple of Luxor's quay, explains that, "A wall was before it of stone over against Thebes; it was flooded; and the gardens were planted with trees". These are presumably the gardens on both sides of the quay walls. At least two depictions of landing quays feature layouts of gardens.

Gardens were not simply for pleasant environs to the Ancient Egyptians. There were many symbolisms associated with trees. For example, the Papyrus and Lotus plants were symbolic of the two regions of Lower and Upper Egypt.


Homes and garden areas may survive if they are carefully designed, well walled and fairly well guarded.

The knife, a part of the astounding Egyptian heritage

Very much furniture, clothing and utensils that we tend to take for granted today, may come to us from ancient Egypt, but not the fork; Egyptians used their fingers. This was in use:

Egyptian Home
Ancient Egyptian chair

Storage chests • Stools • Beds with wooden frames on legs and with mattresses • White linen sheets • Four-legged wood tables, and tables with three or one leg too • Stone tables • Floor mats • Chairs of carved wood • Armchairs • Baskets • Leather wall hangings • Boxes of ivory and wood with and without decorative inlays • Drawers • Lamps • Limestone toilets • Wool • Pottery •  Bread • Cheese • Fancy cakes • Clay ovens • Storage jars • Bowls • Pots • Pans • Ladles • Sieves • Whisks • Gold dishes • Skirts • Sandals • Board games • Make-up and make-up boxes• Jewelry like earrings, armlets, bracelets, and anklets • Measuring rods • Plumb-lines • Set-squares •  Buckets • Hoes • Looks • Rakes • Hammerstones • Chisels • Fishing hooks • Hatchets •  Knives • Lances • Arrows • Needles • Pins • Axe • Saw • Vice • Adze • Drill • Mallets • Glue • Plaster • Gesso • etc.

Ancient Egyptian Gardens and Garden Living, Literature  

Brier, Bob, and Hoyt Hobbs. 2008. Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: The Greenwood Press.

Colson, Rob, Joe Fullman, Jon Richards. 2016. Ancient Egypt: Facts at Your Fingertips. 2nd ed. New York: DK Publishing.

Imagine Publishing. 2015. All about History Book of Ancient Egypt. Bornemouth, Devon: Imagine Publishing.

Bancroft-Hunt,Norman. 2009. Living in Ancient Egypt. New York: Chelsea House.

Riolo, Amy. 2009. Nile Style: Egyptian Cuisine and Culture. Ancient Festivals, Significant Ceremonies, and Modern Celebration New York: Hippocrene Books.

Ancient Egyptian Gardens and Garden Living, To top    Section     Set    Next

Ancient Egyptian Gardens and Garden Living. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
© 2000–2019, Tormod Kinnes, MPhil [Email]