Cities And Buildings


Gehennese cities got their start as places of refuge for agricultural populations in times of war and raiding. In the Archaic Period in many smaller cities most people actually live on the surrounding farms, and keep modest city places to stay in during sieges, and pirate raids, and when doing business in the city.

Cities grow vastly during the four centuries covered by this description of Gehennum. By the Archaic Period five (Korfyra in the Sora floodplain, Thekla the imperial capital, Samariopolis on populous island of Samarios, Bethan in the Tivah valley, and Elmis in the vast farmlands of Mela) have grown into vast anonymous metropolises, with over 100 000 citizens. Otherwise, Gehennese cities remain communities rather than mere inhabitated places. They include the surrounding lands in their traditions of local religion and self-government.

The essence of a refuge is defence, and the defences of a Gehennese city are often its most conspicuous feature. The walls are usually placed to make the most of the terrain, and therefore often include a lot of uninhabited land as well as the city proper. It is not unknown for the defences of a city to include parks, fields, orchards, pastures, and even waste land.

The walls of a Gehennese city are generally faced with massive blocks of dressed or rusticated stone, and have thick rubble cores to withstand battery by war machines. The walls are usually at least fifteen metres (50 feet), often twenty metres, and sometimes (as at Thekla) thirty metres (100 feet) tall.

As well as (or, very rarely, instead of) a circuit of walls, Gehennese cities may have a fortified core or citadel on a hill, outcropping, or island. The citadel is enclosed within the walls about as often as it forms a massive redoubt in the circuit.

In the Classical Period, which is largely peaceful, the walled parts of the cities are built up to a height of about three storeys (more in the great metropolises), and the residences spill out into a vast apron of suburbs, sometimes stretching for kilometres.

In the Decadent Period the buildings in the metropolises are sometimes seven storeys tall, the houses of ordinary cities are five storeys tall, and multi-storey buildings are common in the inner suburbs. In such cities as are once more exposed to the ravages of war the suburbs are being abandoned and the originally cores becoming denser, or else the defences are being expanded by the construction of longer, equally massive walls.

The streets of a Gehennese city are generally narrow (sometimes as narrow as two metres and rarely wider than five metres) and are cobbled, flagged, or finished with crushed coral. In the older cities they are usually mazy and crooked, unless the city has been razed and rebuilt since the Archaic Period. In the periods covered by this description new cities and reconstructions are usually well-planned, often with their streets forming a strict rectangular grid.

Because of the rugged terrain, the streets are often steep, and sometimes have stairs on the steeper ways. They are unsuitable for wheeled traffic, so loads and passengers are usually carried, the latter on palanquins or in sedan chairs. In the later periods free-lance chairmen and palanquin-bearers hire out their services, the Gehennese equivalents of taxis.

Water supply for cities is usually provided in part by wells and systems for catching rainwater, but nearly always requires supplementation by aqueducts bringing water from streams and dams, sometimes quite remote. The water is piped in to cistern-houses, whence it may be fetched by servants (running water in the house is a rare and expensive luxury). These cistern houses usually include storage capacity for up to several weeks' supply, not because of unreliable rainfall but because of the danger of enemy forces stopping the aqueducts.

Aqueducts are kept at ground level where-ever possible, but where it is necessary they run through tunnels bored right through a ridge, or march for kilometres across the plains on arches. Raised aqueducts are preferred to inverted siphons for getting water across valleys, because lead to make pipes is rare and expensive.

Even in the Archaic Period Gehennese cities are well-drained, with buried or at least covered sewers flushed with storm-water.

Despite their technical marvels, Gehennese cities are quite dangerous. The militia patrol the streets after a fashion, but there are no regular police, and no detectives or anything like them. At best there will be an unusually competent and dedicated magistrate with plenty of stompy lictors making great progress toward eliminating daylight crime. A man does not need to carry weapons by day unless he is in the habit of carrying valuables. Women and children are usually safe on the streets by day so long as they remain in groups, but if they go about alone there is a danger that they will be abducted and raped or enslaved. At night even groups of women are safe only if escorted, and well-dressed men should carry weapons.

Public open spaces

As well as a refuge, a community needs a place to meet and do business, public and private. In small and backward cities, especially in the Archaic Period, there is a single public forum, which serves as a marketplace, assembly ground for the militia, athletics field, public meeting-place, and site for religious services.

As a city grows, however, the conflicting requirements on the forum, and especially the difficulty of having a large audience on flat ground all see and hear a performance, debate, or contest, drives the different activities to separate specialised sites. Certain facilities that will not be needed during a siege may even be displaced outside the walls to find a site that suits their special needs.

A large, advanced city, or any good-sized city in the Classical Period or the Decadent Period will have the following separate facilities:


Agoras serve as market squares and as places to meet, to transact public or private business, etc. Perhaps the nearest analogue would be a shopping mall. Agoras are open, but often planted with shady trees. Long, narrow, open-sided stoas are often built in forums, to provide shelter from the sun and rain, while allowing free access. Stoas are often built as porches to the buildings surrounding the agora: in well-developed cases this produces a peristyle around the edges of the agora. The more modest stoas are built of timber, bamboo, and thatch. In the Classical Period and the Decadent Period more grandiose ones are made of limestone or even marble, with tiled roofs. Well-houses, shrines, and memorials of various types are also common in agoras.


Intended for athletic exercise and military drill, gymnasiums are less cluttered with trees and stoas than agoras are. Baths, shrines to athletic heroes and such exemplars as Jolian, Hylas, Timeon, and Persiflex, and storehouses for athletic equipment are more common. Complete peristyle stoas are found surrounding developed examples, such as in major cities and the Decadent Period. These sometimes give access to baths, classrooms, shrines, full-scale temples, and public halls.


The essential requirement for a stadium is a level stretch of ground about 160 to 200 metres long. The ideal length is supposedly 100 fathoms, each equal to the height of a man, but the builders obviously don't fail to use extra length if they have it. This stretch of ground (smoothed and levelled if necessary) is used for sprinting footraces, and for javelin-throwing and archery contests (both are accuracy events for the Gehennese: the javelin is not thrown for distance). The ideal site for a stadium has a bank along one side for the spectators, which is in many cases smoothed and extended by earthworks, and in some cases is entirely artificial. Very large cities sometimes build a second bank on the other side of the track to increase seating capacity. In the Decadent Period seating of timber or even stone is sometimes installed on the banks of stadiums, and in a few cases part of the audience stands are even provided with roofs.


Theatres are built to allow audiences to watch wrestling and kick-boxing matches, to listen to speakers in public debate and to poets and singers, and to watch narrative dances as part of religious festivities and dramatic performances. A theatre is essentially a smaller, more compact level area facing a bank, or, better still, a compact, level floor in a small bowl-shaped valley or natural amphitheatre. The slopes are often impoved by earthworks, and acquire seating earlier than those of stadiums. The floor of the theatre generally requires levelling and smoothing: this is usually the first work done on the natural site. In the theatres used for religious and dramatic performances, a platform is built behind the dancing-floor for the musicians, and a wall is often built behind this to improve the acoustics. In the 'new drama' of the Classical Period and later, the characters of the essential drama perform on this stage, while the chorus and any musicians sing, dance, and play on the dancing-floor.

Public buildings

The Gehennese build public buildings for a wide range of purposes. There are of course temples in all cities. Even of these, only the grandest are built of stone. Especially in smaller cities and the Archaic Period, elaborately carved and painted wood is far the more usual material.

The Prytaneion

Every city also has a sort of glorified house belonging to the city- the Prytaneion. The Prytaneion is used as a place for the city council to meet, a place to house and entertain official guests, and sometimes as a place for the most senior magistrates to transact the most important business. It is not the place for day-to-day public business, nor do the bureaucrats of the city administration work there.

Magistrates' offices

Magistrates normally do business in the agora, their own homes, or, more rarely, in official residences. In the later periods such magistrates as often have to deal with citizens have offices that open off stoas in the agora. These offices are rarely made in grandiose buildings, and often rub shoulders with ordinary shops.


The stoas themselves are an interesting feature. They consist of a raised walkway with a roof supported by pillars, and the Gehennese put them to a wide range of uses. They are built free-standing in the forums and other open places, to give shelter from the sun and the afternoon storms. Hawkers and merchants set up their tables in these stoas, peddlers wander them selling refreshments and knick-knacks, and men of leisure stroll in them, discussing public business, philosophy, and news. They are built around the insides of squares to form cloisters, where they act as annexes and ante-rooms to the buildings behind. And they are built right around buildings in complete peristyle. Sometimes a temple precinct will be given form by an enclosing stoa that allows access in some places to the temple buildings and at others to gardens and other internal spaces. The more modest stoas are built of timber, bamboo, and thatch. In the Classical Period and the Decadent Period more grandiose ones are made of limestone or even marble, with tiled roofs.

Treasuries and archives

Public buildings also include treasuries and halls of records, which tend to be built sturdily of stone, and are often located in the same building, with the archives on an upper storey. The treasuries are well guarded, and the archives often have writing-rooms that are occupied by the scribes who constitute the city bureaucracy.


The palaces of the (erstwhile) rulers can be considered public buildings, as can the barracks of any standing military units. The latter are usually, and the former often, to be found in the citadel. In the Classical Period and the Decadent Period, especially in the capital cities of the episkopies, the former palace of the former ruler is often used by the Imperial government.


Cistern-houses are found on many corners. These generally modest buildings receive water from wells and aqueducts, store some against possible interruptions of supply, and make it available for collection. The fountain-houses are designed for ready access, and usually water can be collected as it runs from the spouts. When the supply is interrupted, water must be dipped up from the cisterns below.


Gehennum's sweaty climate encourages frequent bathing. The Gehennese, making a virtue of necessity, have made their baths a luxurious social event. In the Archaic Period public baths are springing up in rich cities, in towns in advanced regions, near gymnasiums, and at certain sanctuaries, especially those near thermal springs. Although having many advantages over the declining customs of bathing in streams and lakes, of sluicing oneself near a public fountain, and of bathing in a tub at home, these are not yet as luxurious as they will become.

In the Classical Period public baths are often vast, and gentlemen of leisure may spend hours per day there. The complex will include sluicing-stalls, warm baths, and a cold pool large enough to swim in. In addition there will be shops, and the services of masseurs, barbers, and valets will be available, as might refreshments and even entertainments. The more luxurious baths will be expensive, perhaps even exclusive. Simpler baths, many of them old-fashioned, will serve the poorer section of the community, and the habit of bathing in streams and lakes will never completely die.

In the Decadent Period baths become larger and more luxurious. Murals, mosaics, and statuary abound. Some baths become refined, offering subtle and even esoteric pleasures. Others become lascivious, admitting women free of charge, providing titillating entertainments, or employing attendants chosen for their comeliness. The range of services available expands, as does the variety of entertainments offered.


In the rural parts of Gehennum most houses are made of bamboo, timber, and thatch. They have lattices over the windows to keep out monkeys and leopards, and stand on piles to keep them above the water and mud that cover the ground during the afternoon rains, and out of the way of snakes and tigers.

Peasants' houses usually have only one secure sleeping-room, and a shady verandah for meals, smoking, drinking, and lounging on. The kitchen is a separate out-building with a stone or beaten-earth floor, that is unlikely to burn down. Properous farmers and village craftsmen have houses that are more elaborate, with more rooms, and often verandahs all the way around. Even so, the houses are essentially similar.

The country houses of the larger land-owners are often built of stone, and (depending on circumstances) take on the character of castles or of rambling, palatial villas. In the Archaic Period many states, especially democracies and monarchies, wisely forbid the fortification of private homes. In the Classical Period the right to own a castle is a rare privilege, not even universal among the nobility. Even so, people who do own castles are demolishing them, or at least remodelling them to sacrifice some defensibility for comfort. In the Decadent Period many wealthy land-owners are quietly fortifying or re-fortifying their country places.

A city house is usually built on a low stone socle rather than on piles, and has an earthen, flagged, tiled, or mosaic floor on the lowest level. Those city houses that are built on piles tend not to allow access from the street to the cavity under the floor: it is usually accessible from the yard, and is used for storage and as a home for guard-dogs.

Even in the cities only the most important structures are built of stone. Most private residences (even those of the wealthy) and inns and taverns are built of timber, bamboo, matting and thatch. The wealthy use more teak and mahogany than bamboo. Their houses are sometimes decorated with carving. But only the fabulously rich build in stone.

In the Archaic Period city houses have sometimes only one or two storeys, but in the later periods and larger cities it is usual for the ground floor to be taken up with workshops, shops, and warehouses, for the first floor to be occupied by the owner and his family, and for the higher levels to accommodate servants, employees, and renting tenants. The yard, an almost universal feature, is reserved to the use of the occupants of the main residence, as sometimes are ground-floor rooms that open into the yard rather than the streets. The later are the best rooms in the house, occupied by the senior men of the family or used for entertaining or business.

Even in big cities, where most buildings contain commercial premises and multiple residences, the wealthy can sometimes afford to build a mansion that has neither shops below nor rental premises above. These people also sometimes own tenement buildings with no owner's residence on the first floor, occupied entirely by renters.

Windows in Gehennese houses are covered by stout lattices or grilles. In the country, these keep out monkeys, birds, and leopards. In the cities, they keep out burglars, seducers, and unsuitable paramours. Gehennese doors are not swung on hinges. They are stoutly mortised into turnposts that are fitted into sockets in the lintel and threshold.


Gehennese houses are sparsely furnished. People sit and sleep on mats on the floor. Tables are portable items a few inches tall. Possessions are kept in decorated chests, which may double as benches, beds, or seats (rich men often sleep on top of their strongboxes). Apart from these, and the screens and writing desks in wealthy homes, there is little furniture.

But what furniture there is in Gehennum is invariably beautifully made. The parts are carefully fitted, and are secured with dowels and glue. Items of furniture are often decorated with carving, polychrome, and intricate lacquer-work, and sometimes with metal fittings.

Copyright © 1988-2004 Brett Evill. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.