Invoking Your Religious and Cultural Heritage with Aquatic Architecture

Alhambra

Image source: Theculturetrip.com

What is the meaning of a fountain? What is the symbolic significance of a swimming pool?

Nothing. Here in America we generally don’t imbue a lot of meaning to water. Water is pretty and it’s useful, but its functionality pretty much ends there. Elsewhere in the world, however, water takes on a totally different meaning. Water contains powerful connotations in some areas of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Asia because of the symbolic meaning of water in the Quran.

Pairidaēza

Image source: Theatlantic.com

The Quran states that “Every living thing is made of water,” which has prompted architects throughout history to feature water in their works. Did you know that the English word “paradise” relates to the Persian word “pairidaēza?” A pairidaēza is a walled garden, which was a common feature throughout Persia. Wealthy landowners kept gardens because of their beauty and because the pools of water in the garden kept the nearby air pleasantly cool. In addition to enhancing the aesthetic beauty of the garden and the surrounding architecture, these pairidaēzas also brought to mind concepts of life and religious faith.

I’m guessing that this is the first time that you’ve ever heard about the history of pairidaēza. You’re probably much more familiar with another famous piece of aquatic architecture:

Taj Mahal

Image source: Rajivawijesinha.wordpress.com

The Taj Mahal has a long reflecting pool that stretches out in front of it. As a westerner, you probably saw the pool and thought that it was there just because it look good. In fact, the pool has a much deeper significance. Called Hawd al-Kawthar, the raised water pool is a reference to the Tank of Abundance, the pool of water that was promised to Muhammad so that the faithful could quench their thirst upon reaching heaven.

The palace fortress Alhambra, which was built for Muslim emirs in Spain in 889, follows a similar principle. Here, the pool of water doubled as a symbol of power because water was generally in short supply in the area.

Alhambra

Image source: Blogs.longwood.edu

Much like water itself, the meaning behind your aquatic architecture is incredibly malleable. By itself, a pool of water is usually just a piece of aquatic art. If you add religious or historical context, however, you can enhance your aquatic architecture by imbuing it with thousands of years of spiritual or historical connotation.

Is your backyard pond simply a pond, or is it a direct homage to the ancient Persian pairidaēzas? The pool in your backyard reflects the image of your house, but does it also mirror passages from your preferred holy text? You may want to consider these options the next time that you’re thinking about installing a piece of aquatic architecture. Don’t just build a piece of aquatic art — build something that ties you to your cultural or religious heritage.

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