Friday – Untermyer Gardens

Field Trip!
We all met at Grand Central Station today to take a train to Yonkers, home of the Untermyer Gardens.  Despite the 95+ degree heat, we were there to see the Persian walled gardens.
The president of the gardens gave us the tour, and his pride in the place was obvious.  Given the state of disrepair we saw in some parts, I can only imagine how much work he and others put in to get the gardens to the state they are.  Still, as he waxed rhapsodic outside the walls about how this garden rivals the Taj Mahal and the Alhambra, I wondered if he might be a bit too biased.
The answer is yes.  Yes, he is.
The gardens are pretty spiffy.  They’re definitely one of the better ones I’ve visited in America.  I’m just an annoying travel snob who couldn’t help but compare it to the Alhambra, the Taj Mahal, Versailles, and Peterhof.
I kept it to myself, though.  I didn’t want to be that annoying.
What I enjoyed the most about these gardens was how dang American they felt.  In other words, these were feats of art created and cultivated by a particular group of people.  No, these were put together by people who traveled a lot and, as they did, picked out what they liked best about each place and stuck it all together at home.  The president may beam as he talked about the “Grecian-inspired columns that offset the Persian geometry,” but come on.  It’s a collage.
Interesting Things:
Actually, I learned quite a few interesting things about Chahar Baghs, including that this type of garden is called “Chahar Bagh.”  Here are a few highlights:
  • One reason the tessellating pattern is so prevalent in Islamic art is because of it’s eternal nature.  The endless pattern is an homage to Allah’s endlessness.
  • The number four is highly significant in these gardens (notice how they’re divided into quadrants?).  This symbol probably came through the Zoroastrians to the Persians to the Muslims.  It refers to
    • The four seasons
    • The four elements
    • The four winds
    • The four cardinal directions
    • The four “rivers of life” (milk, honey, wine, and water)
    • The four rivers that walled in the Garden of Eden
    • and more!
  • Also, the 4-sided shape is a representation of earth, while a circle represents heaven.
  • “Paradise” has a Persian etymology – pairi = “around” and diz = “to make/form.”  Which means that “paradise” is a term that meant the place that is surrounded by a wall.  Which is super-interesting to me philosophically and is definitely something I’ll be looking for a chance to tease out in a future Sunday School lesson.
Photo tour!
The intrepid tourists.  It was hot and sunny – just right for visiting a place inspired by ruins in other hot and sunny places!
Entrance to the Persian gardens.  Looks good, right?  You can’t even see the giant hospital that looms over it to the left.
The entrance to the gardens.  There’s a bas relief of Artemis above the door because… nature?  Hot divine chicks? 
Because why not.

Reverse side of the entrance.  The president said the triangle is an homage to the Lion’s Gate at Mycenae.  Because why not?  He also said they have no idea what the vent above it is for.  “Maybe fire?”
When you walk through the entrance, you immediately face this classic Persian lineup.  If it looks familiar, it’s because they designed it after a trip to the Alhambra.
The addition of the weeping beech trees on either side was nice both for their framing and for their shade.
Our group spreading out.  I think this may give you a better sense of the (small) scale of the place.
Halfway down the central path.  You can see two sphinx statues on top of columns at the end.  Because why not?
The sphinx columns provide the backdrop to a small outdoor stage.  On either side are Greek-style porticoes.  Because why not?
And outside the Greek porticoes are Chinese lions.  Because why not?
The flowers were really lovely and well-tended.
Just like the Taj Mahal, this garden only has three walls.  The fourth side is open to a terrific river view (the Hudson, in this case).  Also on the fourth side is a Greek temple.  Because why not?
The temple had a mosaic Medusa on the floor, which is in the midst of restoration.  “Our climate isn’t so great for mosaics,” the guide explained.
Apparently, the owners went to Lake Como at one point and really liked the cyprus tree-lined path to the lake there.  So they told their builder to give ’em one just like it when they got home.

Outside of the walled garden is the “Temple of Love.”  Apparently it’s a thing because John Lennon was photographed there:

The teachers in our group who are over 45 were lining up to recreate this pose.  Because why not?
The rest of us admired the view.

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