May 24, 2013


Having missed out on most of the great periods of European garden landscaping, from the Renaissance to the Picturesque, Greece has not as a rule evinced very much concern with garden history. More recently, however, there has been a burgeoning interest in Byzantine gardens, from the large formal gardens of the 10th century to the later monastic hortus conclusus. One result has been the publication by the Athens Friends of the Forest (Philodassiki Enossi Athinon) of Kipos prosefchis, a well-designed but modestly priced book by Sofia Rizopoulou with her account of an anonymous 13th century Byzantine manuscript describing a “theoretikon paradisseion” or symbolic garden. The fourteen common Mediterranean plants and trees described therein are twinned with Christian virtues, not all of them immediately self-evident: charity for the olive, courage for the pomegranate, humility for the peach and temperance for the juniper.

The Bodleian’s manuscript is not entirely unknown, having been first published by Margaret Thomson in 1960. The Philodassiki publication, whilst making no claims to scholarship, is enriched with photographs by Panos Kokkinias of the society’s beautiful gardens at the monastery of Kaisariani, on the slopes of Mount Hymettus. His work is a welcome addition to the still exiguous body of photographic representations of Greek gardens, joining Alexandros Avramidis’s surrealist images of the Athens National Garden in 1995.

The book, in Greek only but abundantly illustrated, can be ordered from the publisher.

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