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Villa Gardens

Bay of Naples, Italy


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gardens Roman Villa


Beginning in the second century B.C., Rome’s most prominent families began to build luxurious country estates for which exquisitely designed gardens were essential. The Bay of Naples, with its sweeping vistas and cool breezes, became one of the most popular destinations. Today, the coastline is littered with the ruins of large villas and their opulent gardens, buried and preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. According to Cornell University’s Kathryn Gleason, it is only recently that archaeologists have truly begun to understand the complexity and various functions of a villa garden. “A design might have been initiated as a display of wealth, but also might provide simple pleasures, such as shade, produce, a place for children to play, for weary politicians to find retreat, or for young people to make love,” she says.


Gardens Roman PotsTwo of the best-preserved gardens are found at the Villa of Poppaea and the Villa Arianna, located at Oplontis and Stabiae, respectively. These grand spaces contained porticoes, footpaths, fountains, and a variety of trees. In recent decades, excavations in both places have also revealed the remains of planting beds, tree root cavities, carbonized plant parts, and even in situ planting pots. “These features allow us to understand the design and layout, and thus much about the experience of the garden,” says Gleason, “which is something that only archaeology permits in a fully spatial sense.” To learn more, go to Gardens of the Roman Empire, the website of a project that collects information on gardens throughout the empire.

Commercial Gardens

Cerén, El Salvador


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gardens Maya HouseholdThe Maya village of Cerén was home to some 200 people when it was buried by a massive volcanic eruption around A.D. 600. The resulting preservation has revealed that many of its households carved out particular types of economic activity for themselves—and one was the gardener of the community. Archaeologists have learned that one property’s garden included around 70 agave plants grown for their fiber, which was used to make rope and twine, as well as fast-growing, sturdy cane that reinforced the wattle-and-daub walls of the village’s structures. Numerous large chili bushes and at least one cacao tree provided specialty food products. “They produced all kinds of things that were way beyond what they could consume themselves,” says Payson Sheets of the University of Colorado Boulder. He believes that the garden’s surplus was traded with others in the village and exchanged at nearby markets for more exotic items such as obsidian blades, greenstone axes, and polychrome ceramics.

Funeral Gardens

Luxor, Egypt


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gardens Egypt TombGardens Egypt Dates

The Tale of Sinuhe, a work of ancient Egyptian literature dating to the 12th Dynasty, around 1900 B.C., reads, “...and there was made for me a sepulchral garden, in which were fields, in front of my abode, even as is done for a chief companion.” The existence of funerary gardens is also known from representations in tombs from as early as the 6th Dynasty (2323–2150 B.C.). But no archaeological evidence had been found until last year, when, in front of the rock-cut tomb of a high-ranking 12th Dynasty official of the Theban court, archaeologist José Manuel Galán of the Spanish National Research Council uncovered a well-preserved garden buried under more than 15 feet of debris. The 10-by-6.5-foot rectangle was raised off the ground and divided into square beds. According to Galán, the Egyptians would have grown vegetables, fruits, and flowers intended as fresh offerings for the deceased, as well as small trees and shrubs. Galán’s team found one of these shrubs, a tamarisk complete with roots and trunk, in the corner of the garden next to a bowl of dates and other fruits, perhaps meant as offerings. In the next field season, he plans to retrieve seeds and pollen to learn what plants were available in ancient Thebes and which were chosen for religious and funerary purposes.

Medical Gardens

Naantali, Finland


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gardens Medieval Church


Monasteries and convents in medieval Europe were bastions of literacy and of expertise with medicinal herbs unknown by the general population. At the site of the Naantali Cloister in southwest Finland, scholars have employed a combination of archaeological, historical, and botanical research to learn what types of plants the Bridgettine monks and nuns who lived there grew. Archaeobotanist Teija Alanko and her colleague Kari Uotila sorted and radiocarbon dated 4,561 plant macrofossils uncovered during excavations around the Naantali church, the only surviving building of the cloister, which was occupied between 1443 and 1554.


Gardens Medical Illustrations


In addition to dietary staples such as rye, barley, and other cereals, the team discovered several species with healing properties, including henbane, greater celandine, St. John’s wort, nettle, and juniper. They can’t, at this time, be sure that the plant remains derive only from the garden, since many could have been collected or cultivated elsewhere. However, radiocarbon and archaeological dates have allowed Alanko and Uotila to determine which plants came in and out of use over time from before the cloister’s founding through its dissolution during the Reformation. “We found macrosfossils of useful plants for food, dyeing, and medical purposes in Naantali,” Alanko explains. “This suggests a possible combined kitchen and medicinal garden.”

Urban Gardens

Aphrodisias, Turkey


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gardens Urban Agora Pool


The South Agora of Aphrodisias, located in southwestern Turkey, was one of two public squares within the ancient city. It was built during the first century A.D., and had been previously interpreted as a commercial complex. However, recent archaeological work has shown that the space functioned in quite the opposite capacity, and was instead an urban park, equipped with a monumental pool, fountains, promenades, trees, and other greenery. “It had the grandeur of public city architecture and design, but was intended for relaxation, strolling, and some retail,” says University of Oxford archaeologist R.R.R. Smith. The enormous pool at the complex’s center measures 575 feet long and 82 feet wide and was bordered by marble benches, some even inscribed with gaming boards. Excavations and archaeobotanical analysis of plant remains revealed that rows of palm trees (likely Cretan date palms) and other plants once flanked the pool, providing not only a decorative element but also ample shade. These palms were not native to Aphrodisias, but would have been transported from coastal locations in southwest Asia Minor. This 3.7-acre park would have been very expensive to build and maintain. With its shaded walkways, flowing water, and lush vegetation cared for by an association of professional gardeners, it seems to have been designed for no other purpose than to provide the city’s inhabitants with a place of leisure. “It was highly unusual for its time,” says Smith.





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