Into the Islamic Garden

8 July 2015 – I gave you a small taste, last post, a hint of what drew me to revisit the Aga Khan Museum on Saturday.

The museum itself is special, the first devoted to Islamic culture and civilization in all North America, but it is only one of three elements in this extraordinary complex known collectively as the Aga Khan Park. The second element is the adjoining Ismaili Centre; the third is the formal Islamic Garden that, literally, grounds the other two.

It is why I am here.

I had last seen the complex in winter snow. Now, in early summer warmth, I want to see the garden. It has been officially open barely a week: on 29 May, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, whose Foundation caused all this to happen, joined Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for the ceremony.

I could have driven; instead I take the easy but long streetcar ride north-east from downtown. Car or TTC, you enter from busy Wynford Drive. The dome of the Ismaili Centre rises above a tall buffer hedge of conifers.

Ismaili Centre, from Wynford Dr.

You feel you are about to enter another world. Step past the conifers and, yes, you do enter another world — a world, says its creator, Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic, of symmetry, geometry and sensations.

Ismaili Centre, from just inside hedge buffer zone

And … a world of water. “Water is the main element of an Islamic garden,” he says.

No splashing fountains. Instead, five large, calm, granite-lined reflecting ponds. Ponds surrounded by serviceberry trees and soft gravel, which — says WordPress blog Ismailimail, serve as “mirrors that draw the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum into the formal garden.”

I am mesmerized by the ponds. This bright, calm day, they are indeed mirrors. I look at the peaceful rows of serviceberry trees; I drop my eyes to look at them again, this time in a pond …

rows of servieberry trees, in a pond

and then I walk between two of those rows, toward the Ismaili Centre. Another pond, another reflection of the Centre.

the Ismaili Centre, from between tree rows

I turn, look back at the Aga Khan Museum. It sits quietly across a bed of gravel, with two more ponds in counterpoint. One, from this angle, is perfectly black. One reflects the museum.

across the gardens, toward the Aga Khan Museum

I step through a different line of trees, and smack! I am up against the park’s other boundary.

How narrow this magic world really is, caught between Wynford Drive on one side and, on the other, the roar of the Don Valley Parkway just past this fence and down an embankment.

from the park, down into the DVP

I double back on myself, back through the trees and, immediately, the DVP disappears. Not just visually, but — and perhaps because visually — psychologically and aurally as well.

Now I see greenspace and hear the soft crunch of gravel beneath my feet.

tree shadows on the gravel

I walk past the Museum itself one more time …

the Aga Khan Museum

and I leave, still entranced by water.

detail, one of the pond edges

The soft murmur of the water, the endless gentle shimmer of the water as it falls away to infinity on all four sides of each pond.

“The park builds on a long established tradition of Islamic gardens and greenspace,” says Ismailimail. “… [T]hese outdoor spaces offer quiet respite in which to pause, reflect and gather.”

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1 Comment

  1. another wonderful space with the pools so tranquil and peaceful…we need these places of beauty.


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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