Category Archives: City Parks and Gardens

The Jardins d’Essais: Rabat’s Historic Botanical Gardens, Part I

The city of Rabat, capital of Morocco, is a Unesco World Heritage site, and the Jardins d’Essai Botaniques, literally meaning Gardens of Botanical Trials, was classified a national heritage site in 1992.

These gardens were created between 1914 and 1919, under a joint initiative of the sultan  Moulay Hafid and the French Protectorate. They were designed by one of my favorite garden architects, Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, best known for the Rose Garden and the Iris Garden of Bagatelle outside Paris, but who created gardens in Spain and Morocco in addition to his city planning work as a French public servant, laying out the plans for the modern cities of Morocco.

The gardens were reopened by the current King in 2013, following extensive renovations after years of neglect. They include over 650 species of plants, including rare varieties of tropical, sub-tropical, and succulents, and an arboretum.

The Jardins d’Essais are separated by a road into two distinct gardens.  the western side includes the Moorish garden and museum, while the eastern garden is a bit larger and more formal, with distinct garden areas for various types of plants.

Jardins d'Essais, Botanical Gardens, Rabat, Morocco

Because there is a good bit to see here, I am dividing this into several posts, and this is the first post on the western gardens.

While inaugurated in 2013, much work remained to bring these gardens back to their former glory, and it is visible in particular in the western gardens were large areas remain to be cleaned up, and others have been planted or replanted in recent years so the specimens are still quite small. But while wandering down the alleys, Forestier’s signature style is unmistakable in the way he creates intimate garden spaces tucked away everywhere, and blends plantings and garden structures seamlessly for an element of surprise.

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Maria Luisa Park in Sevilla: the Garden of the Lions

Maria Luisa, Infanta of Spain (1832-1897) was the younger sister of Isabella II, queen of Spain. She married Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, youngest son of the French King Louis Philippe, and became Duchess of Montpensier.

Most of the grounds that form Maria Luisa Park today where originally part of the Palace of San Telmo and donated by Maria Luisa to the city in 1893 to be used as public gardens. The palace , a magnificent example of Spanish baroque architecture was rehabilitated and converted in the 1990s into the seat of the autonomous government of Andalusia. It stands today just outside Maria Luisa Park.

French urban planner and landscape designer Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, who also created the Bagatelle Rose Garden and the Laribal Gardens in Barcelona, started work on the park in 1911. Also in preparation of the 1929 World’s Fair, architect Anibal Gonzales began work on the Plaza de Espana building and some of the pavilions.

Under Forestier, who had been heavily influenced by the gardens of Andalusia and Morocco, the Park became a Moorish inspired extravaganza of tiled fountains, ponds, arbors, pavillions and other structures, planted in a lush Mediterranean style with vines, bougainvilleas, roses, palms orange trees and flower beds.

I discovered Forestier’s work when in Barcelona, visiting the stunning terraced Laribal Gardens on the hill of Montjuic.  These gardens lead from fountains to gazebos to arbors to rose gardens to the top of the hill where you discover the sweeping views down the hill with water stairs inspired by the Alhambra leading back down. This element of surprise and wonder is one I have found in all of Forestier’s gardens, whether in Paris at Bagatelle, Morocco at the Jardins d’Essais or here.

This park being such an expansive and complex creation, I am featuring it through several posts.This first one showcases the Garden of the Lions (11) and the Fountain of the Alvarez Quintero Brothers (14) just behind it. Both are stunning in very different ways. The Fountain of the Lions features large fountains surrounded with sculptures and geometrical borders with a clear Moorish influence. The Quintero fountain is a masterpiece of tile work that ties in with the incredibly detailed allover moasaics of the Plaza de Espana at the other end of the park.

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Montjuic’s Greek Theater Gardens in Barcelona, Spain

The Greek Theater Garden started out as a rose garden, the second in Barcelona, and was created in 1929, like many of the gardens in the Montjuic area, for the International Exhibition.

You may think the greek theater itself is older, but it is a replica, also built in 1929. The Epiduro Theater in Athens, Greece, was used as the inspiration, which may be why it looks so authentic. The theater is used for cultural events, first and foremost the Greek Festival, during which many plays and performances take place there.

This lovely garden is adjacent to the Laribal Gardens, and starts with a larger terrace at top with a formal layout of rose borders and trees overlooking the greek theater, then a long pergola allows for sitting and enjoying the view over the rest of the mountain.  Click here for an excellent article on these gardens.

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Maria Luisa Park in Sevilla: Fountain of the Frogs and Island of the Birds

Maria Luisa, Infanta of Spain (1832-1897) was the younger sister of Isabella II, queen of Spain. She married Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, youngest son of the French King Louis Philippe, and became Duchess of Montpensier.

Most of the grounds that form Maria Luisa Park today where originally part of the Palace of San Telmo and donated by Maria Luisa to the city in 1893 to be used as public gardens. The palace , a magnificent example of Spanish baroque architecture was rehabilitated and converted in the 1990s into the seat of the autonomous government of Andalusia. It stands today just outside Maria Luisa Park.

French urban planner and landscape designer Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, who also created the Bagatelle Rose Garden and the Laribal Gardens in Barcelona, started work on the park in 1911. Also in preparation of the 1929 World’s Fair, architect Anibal Gonzales began work on the Plaza de Espana building and some of the pavilions.

Under Forestier, who had been heavily influenced by the gardens of Andalusia and Morocco, the Park became a Moorish inspired extravaganza of tiled fountains, ponds, arbors, pavillions and other structures, planted in a lush Mediterranean style with vines, bougainvilleas, roses, palms orange trees and flower beds.

I discovered Forestier’s work when in Barcelona, visiting the stunning terraced Laribal Gardens on the hill of Montjuic.  These gardens lead from fountains to gazebos to arbors to rose gardens to the top of the hill where you discover the sweeping views down the hill with water stairs inspired by the Alhambra leading back down. This element of surprise and wonder is one I have found in all of Forestier’s gardens, whether in Paris at Bagatelle, Morocco at the Jardins d’Essais or here.

This park being such an expansive and complex creation, I am featuring it through several posts.This one showcases the Fountain of the Frogs (34 on map) and the Island of the Birds (6, Island of the Ducks on the map).   The whimsical Fountain of the Frog has colorful Andalusian ceramic frogs surroundinga fountain, followed by a pond that leads the Garden of the Lions to the Isleta de los Patos, or Birds Island.  The island provides a sanctuary for the many birds inhabiting the park; its focal point is the Pavilion of King Alfonso XII, which dates back to the time it was part of the San Telmo Palace.

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Sevilla’s Jardines de Guadalquivir: A Modern Take on Moorish Gardens

Sevilla is a truly beautiful city, and one of my favorites in Spain. It is full of historic neigborhoods, stunning architecture and monuments, but its many plazas, squares, parks, green spaces, narrow streets, and pedestrian areas make it also  very charming and people friendly.  I was visiting Sevilla off season, but the warmer Mediterranean climate still had roses and bougainvilleas blooming in December. I first visited the Maria Luisa Park, designed by one of my favorite landscape architects Jean Claude Nicholas Forrestier, then the famous Alcazar Palace and its famous gardens.

Maybe I should have visited the Jardines de Guadalquivir and the Jardin Americano (the Botanical Garden next to it) first, because I must say they were a huge let down after seeing such world class gardens.

On the river that goes through Sevilla is an island, named Isla de La Catuja after the cloistered monastery (Cartuja) that is now the Contemporary Arts Center. The island was isolated and undeveloped until the 1992 World Expo, at which time  the monastwery was converted, bridges were added, A huge research and development complex was built, as well as university schools, a stadium, an auditorium, an amusement park, theaters and concert venues, and of course, the gardens.

Jardines de Guadalquivir seemed disappointing at first also because they seemed poorly maintained and most water features weren’t running. In all fairness, it was almost winter, and while the city maintains extremely well its most visited sights, this out of the way garden must be a prime candidate for budget cuts. It may get a big spring cleaning and look lovely in the summer, but felt completely abandoned when I was there. It was almost eerie actually visiting this garden full of the forgotten monuments of the big Expo (towers and stages are still there).

Yet, after walking around the park for a bit (and I had it just about to myself as I saw two other people the entire time),  I must say I don’t regret going to see it as it must have been quite beautiful in its hay day, and you can still see the “bones” of this garden. It is actually quite an interesting design in that it takes all the traditional features of the moorish influenced gardens of Andalusia, to create a very modern and updated version of it. As I walked through, I noticed the alleys dotted with fountains, the terraced canals, the maze, the sunken garden structures, but built using definitely modern materials and lines. If you ever visit his garden, don’t miss the lovely water garden near one of the gates.

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Maria Luisa Park in Sevilla: the Glorieta de las Conchas and Arbors

Maria Luisa, Infanta of Spain (1832-1897) was the younger sister of Isabella II, queen of Spain. She married Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, youngest son of the French King Louis Philippe, and became Duchess of Montpensier.

Most of the grounds that form Maria Luisa Park today where originally part of the Palace of San Telmo and donated by Maria Luisa to the city in 1893 to be used as public gardens. The palace , a magnificent example of Spanish baroque architecture was rehabilitated and converted in the 1990s into the seat of the autonomous government of Andalusia. It stands today just outside Maria Luisa Park.

French urban planner and landscape designer Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, who also created the Bagatelle Rose Garden and the Laribal Gardens in Barcelona, started work on the park in 1911. Also in preparation of the 1929 World’s Fair, architect Anibal Gonzales began work on the Plaza de Espana building and some of the pavilions.

Under Forestier, who had been heavily influenced by the gardens of Andalusia and Morocco, the Park became a Moorish inspired extravaganza of tiled fountains, ponds, arbors, pavillions and other structures, planted in a lush Mediterranean style with vines, bougainvilleas, roses, palms orange trees and flower beds.

I discovered Forestier’s work when in Barcelona, visiting the stunning terraced Laribal Gardens on the hill of Montjuic.  These gardens lead from fountains to gazebos to arbors to rose gardens to the top of the hill where you discover the sweeping views down the hill with water stairs inspired by the Alhambra leading back down. This element of surprise and wonder is one I have found in all of Forestier’s gardens, whether in Paris at Bagatelle, Morocco at the Jardins d’Essais or here.

This park being such an expansive and complex creation, I am featuring it through several posts.This first one showcases the northern section of the park. The Glorieta de las Conchas (8) features statues and planted borders arranged around a central fountain. Glorieta de Dona Sol (9) has a beautiful mosaic surrounded by hedges, and Glorieta de Ofelia Nieto (10_ is a meandering arbor covered in trumpet vines and bougainvilleas. At the end of the avenue is the Museum of Archeology (30), also built for the 1929 Exhibition.

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Leading towards the Fountain of the Lions is Gurugu Mountain (15 on the map), a small mad made “mount” with an observation point and gazebo up top. This is a perfect example of Forestier’s playfulness in garden design, interjecting surprises at every turn throughout his gardens.

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Maria Luisa Park in Sevilla: Water-lily Pool (Estanque de los Lotos)


Maria Luisa, Infanta of Spain (1832-1897) was the younger sister of Isabella II, queen of Spain. She married Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, youngest son of the French King Louis Philippe, and became Duchess of Montpensier.

Most of the grounds that form Maria Luisa Park today where originally part of the Palace of San Telmo and donated by Maria Luisa to the city in 1893 to be used as public gardens. The palace , a magnificent example of Spanish baroque architecture was rehabilitated and converted in the 1990s into the seat of the autonomous government of Andalusia. It stands today just outside Maria Luisa Park.

French urban planner and landscape designer Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, who also created the Bagatelle Rose Garden and the Laribal Gardens in Barcelona, started work on the park in 1911. Also in preparation of the 1929 World’s Fair, architect Anibal Gonzales began work on the Plaza de Espana building and some of the pavilions.

Under Forestier, who had been heavily influenced by the gardens of Andalusia and Morocco, the Park became a Moorish inspired extravaganza of tiled fountains, ponds, arbors, pavillions and other structures, planted in a lush Mediterranean style with vines, bougainvilleas, roses, palms orange trees and flower beds.

I discovered Forestier’s work when in Barcelona, visiting the stunning terraced Laribal Gardens on the hill of Montjuic.  These gardens lead from fountains to gazebos to arbors to rose gardens to the top of the hill where you discover the sweeping views down the hill with water stairs inspired by the Alhambra leading back down. This element of surprise and wonder is one I have found in all of Forestier’s gardens, whether in Paris at Bagatelle, Morocco at the Jardins d’Essais or here.

This park being such an expansive and complex creation, I am featuring it through several posts.This last post features the Water-lily Pool (Estanque de los Lotos).

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On the way from de Island of the Birds to the Lily Pool is the Glorieta de Juana Reina, named after a famous Spanish actress born in Sevilla in 1929.

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Then at the western end of the Park, one reaches the Water-lily Pool (Estanque de los Lotos), a stunning pond bordered by arbors.

 

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To the side is another pond and statuary.

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Towards the exit gate are centennial trees.

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An alley with a series of fountains in the Moorish style to the southern gate.

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