Water as a life-bestowing element is the foundation for landscapes with lush vegetation and many animals. Rivers such as the Nile or the Tempe valley became paradisiacal retreats (locus amoenus). Because of improved water technology it became possible from the Hellenistic period on to incorporate a piece of this “paradise” in the form of gardens into villa and palace architecture but also the urban residence, particularly from the first century B.C. The sea and the rocky coast with caves gave the inspiration to create a mythic landscape.
In a representative garden in the palace of the legendary king Alkinoos the corresponding irrigation could not be absent in the description of Homer (Odyssey VII 129–31): one spring served to supply drinking water, while the other flowed through the garden.1 Plato in his description of the island Atlantis (Critias 9) reports that the number of tree-plantings around the buildings was dependent on the available water. The unused water running off from the fountains was conducted into the sanctuary of Poseidon, where there was a large variety of trees. Likewise Cimon used excess water in order to plant plane trees in the Agora in Athens and to water them. “He transformed the Academy from a dry tract of land into a well-watered grove with clean paths and shady walkways” (Plutarch, Cim. 13.8).
Among the representative furnishings of Hellenistic palaces were royal gardens, for which a corresponding water source was required. Artistically or architecturally designed fountains can first be observed in Greek aristocratic private houses after the technical innovations of the Hellenistic period, as for instance, at Pella. The royal gardens had resulted in the planting of peristyle courts, which was not common in Greek houses.2 The garden nymphaea, which remain preserved for us in large numbers chiefly in Pompeii, cannot be properly considered in isolation from the garden designs of villa and palace architecture. Roman villa owners or the emperor Hadrian named
1 Ofenbach 1979, 58–60.
2 Caroll-Spillecke 1992, 154–74; Sonne 1996, 136–43; Zanker 1995, 142–66.