The Enduring Appeal of Courtyards

A courtyard, simply stated, is a fully or partially enclosed area that is open to the sky.

Courtyards have a long architectural history, with examples found as far back as 6400 BCE in the Jordan Valley, and the reasons for their enduring appeal are obvious. Courtyard homes satisfy the human needs for security and retreat while bringing the restorative power of nature to your daily life in a soothing, intimate manner.

Dating back many thousands of years, the original purpose for courtyards seems to be as a cooking area, allowing for both privacy through containment behind walls and for smoke to escape from cooking over open flame. As is still true today with modern kitchens, this made the cooking area a gathering space for friends and family from the very beginning. 

By the time of the ancient Romans, courtyards were often used to entertain, still through shared meals, but now with hosted parties and traveling musicians.

This ultimately led to the notion of what we think of as a royal “court” a term that takes its most basic meaning from the trusted friends and allies who would gather in a royal courtyard.

The Courtyard of the Maidens at the Alcázar of Seville. By Cat from Sevilla, Spain - Patio de las Doncellas, CC BY 2.0

The sprawling, sumptuous courtyards of royalty and the elite are bound to impress any visitor, but courtyards can provide just as much peace and calm on a much smaller, more personal scale when designed as a central feature of your home.

The Courtyard of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the heart and soul of the museum, showing off everything Isabella loved most and conveying her aesthetic in a harmonious, light-filled space. It is at the center of the museum, visible from nearly every gallery space, and features an ancient Roman sculpture garden, a medieval European cloister, and a Renaissance Venetian canal-scape along with a stunning garden filled with flowers that change to reflect the season.

Courtyards are a lovely way to bring a shared sense of serenity to your home, particularly because the walls and windows of many rooms form its enclosure. That means, for example, that you will be able to enjoy your sun filled sanctuary as a view from your office, your bedroom, and your family room, allowing you to enjoy nature and the changing seasons in your daily life.

Courtyards are a particularly common feature in Italian, Spanish, French, and Moroccan style homes, given the fact that outdoor living spaces have always been prevalent in temperate climates like the Mediterranean region, but they are just as lovely in more wintry environments as well. There are few things in life more serene than snow falling gently on an enclosed Zen garden.
Medici Courtyard