Discovering Babur’s Gardens

“Reading the Baburnama changed my life,” writes author and architectural historian Elizabeth Moynihan, referring to the memoirs of Babur (1483–1530), the first Mughal emperor. In the early sixteenth century, Babur’s conquest of northern India ushered in one of the most remarkable political, cultural and artistic periods in the history of the subcontinent. Babur and his successors—known as the “Mughals,” a derivation of the word “Mongol”—would rule over India from 1526 to 1858.

As she recalls, Moynihan was absorbed by the memoirs, particularly Babur’s descriptions of the flora and fauna of India and the contrast between his complex, violent world and his curiosity about the natural world. Using the Baburnama as her guide, she embarked on a decades-long journey to find the gardens he built across Central Asia during his brief but influential reign. Dedicated and determined, Moynihan eventually located and documented four previously unknown gardens built by the emperor, including the Moonlight Garden. Witness her thrill at the discovery of the pool Babur incorporated into his Lotus Garden: “I climbed up on the wall and there, immediately in front of me, carved into the rock, was a large octagonal, foliated pool. It was a lotus blossom! … It was gorgeous! I have never been so excited.”

As you’ll discover by exploring them on this site, those gardens were the key to the man. Now we invite you to make your own way to Babur’s gardens, guided by the notes, sketches, photographs, maps, articles, and blueprints Elizabeth Moynihan has collected and created through the years. Start with her own memoir, A Collector’s Path, and then immerse yourself in the Freer and Sackler Archives and examine the records themselves. Spend some time with the man whom novelist E. M. Forster called a “robber boy, sorely in need of advice, scuttling over the highlands of Central Asia.”

About the Translations of the Baburnama

Through the years, Elizabeth’s Moynihan’s constant companion has been the translation of the Baburnama by Annette Susannah Beveridge (1842–1929), published in two volumes in 1922. To ensure the broadest accessibility, however, most of the excerpts on this site are from The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, the 1996 translation edited and annotated by Prof. Wheeler M. Thackston, who made “every effort … to preserve the flavor of the original but to couch it in modern English.”