“Aras, Vrassas ir, khur Tyisici, Erineas cujide.”
|Category: Left-wing Utopia|
Regional Influence: Apprentice
Location: the South Pacific
For over a millennium and a half all that was known of Cata varsea and its destruction came from vague second or third-hand accounts written by Serevan chroniclers who appeared reluctant to speak of the event, it's location or its cause. With no supporting evidence to back up these accounts, the famous lost city of the Massim Varsad was treated as a legend by most serious historians. There were still many who tried to work out what might have happened, however, and the various explanations proposed rapidly became part of Erinoran folklore.
Consequently, a whole ecosystem of myths and legends has grown up around the city and, for over a thousand years, heroes, warriors, adventurers and even kings piled untold time, effort and gold into the endless quest to find it.
An artist's impression of what Cata varsea may have looked like before it was destroyed, painted before its eventual discovery.
The legend has even become part of the mythology of Revara, with the City of Gold identified as the home of the Revanim and the gateway to Syirana, heaven, the realm from which the Dreamers mount their eternal war against the Nightmares which brought evil into the world. Indeed, the Qassar Syiranad was so named because it was believed its source was inside the fabled city itself, with the water somehow sent by the Dreamers to quench the thirst of Erinor. One of the major hurdles which arose in trying to find the city, however, was that the number of tributaries which feed the Qassar Syiranad is considerable and there was no consensus as to which one was the main channel of the river. Many expeditions sought the city by following one or other of these tributaries deep into the rainforest and mountains.
The most famous of these is almost certainly the expedition led by the 12th Century king, Syarkho Qenarid, who believed that the city must be in foothills of the Khardar Tyavod, near one proposed source of the Qassar Syiranad. Whilst ultimately unsuccessful, this expedition eventually led to the foundation of Syarkho Qenarid’s new capital, Cata cirea or the White City, known today as Ciria. Most of what we know about this attempt, however, is from the epic poem, Jera atekh Cataca varsea, The Quest for the Golden City, and is not considered very reliable, not least because it wasn't actually written down until the 14th Century.
This association with Revara has lent a religious significance to many of the attempts made to find the city, with a number of sects formed by men claiming to have found it, often leading their followers off into the wilderness and never being seen again.
It wasn't until the 19th Century that more serious and methodical efforts were made to find the city. There was a huge surge of interest around the turn of the century after a copy of an ancient account written by a Serevan trader turned up in a collection of old documents in Cata Lamid (modern day Ramica). The trader claimed to have witnessed the destruction of the ancient capital and his description of events made those interested in the city realise that they may have been looking in the wrong places for nearly fifteen hundred years. The key part of the account said this (translated from the ancient Serevan):
The mountain had been growling for days, showing its displeasure at the Golden Ones and their brutal rituals. Many in the city said that it was just the music of the gods, that this had happened before and it was nothing to worry about, but I knew better. I took my leave at once, made my way down the mountain to my boat and sailed down the river as fast as I could. I was woken before dawn the next morning by a terrible roar and the sky to the south had opened upon a vision of Hell. The mountain was on fire, the forest was on fire and the lights of the Golden City were lost amidst the inferno.
The account even included some details which helped explain the lack of information about the eruption from Serevan sources:
By the time I reached Acoruna (probably near modern-day Akhorn), news of the disaster was on everybody’s lips, but the Priests said it was the just punishment of the Shonu (the ancient Serevan spirit-deities) and commanded silence. No one dared to disobey, but surely what is written down need never be spoken?
After the details of the account became public the number of expeditions mounted annually rose to unprecedented heights, mostly focused on the southern tributaries and mountains. These attempts were still greeted with a considerable degree of scepticism in the academic community, but many were actually well-grounded in the best science and historical research of the day.
The earliest expeditions met with no success, but their research paved the way for one archaeologist and explorer to make the final breakthrough, albeit quite by accident.
Arkhando Jera-Tyaniro was an orphan raised by the Amlassar Revarad in the enormous Mena Tacirid who, thanks to the support of the priesthood was able to buy his way into a good education and make his career as a sort of adventurer for hire by the Marcorar. It was during a weekend hike in the Khardar Tyavod in the summer of 1821, however, that he made his most famous discovery.
Khardar Tyavod is the name given to the range of low mountains which descend northwards out of the Khardar nwikhear and out of which flows one of the main tributaries of the Qassar Syiranad. These mountains form a sort of curving shield to the South of Ciria, the home to many an ancient watchtower or castle and, more recently, a popular place for hikers. Arkhando was climbing to one of the higher, unnamed plateaus a few kilometres from the peak of Khardo Nyaveo, which was not readily accessible to any but the most experienced of climbers, when he stumbled into a ditch and nearly fell into a stream fed by a dangerously hot spring. He scrambled up the bank, and sat on the edge for a while to recover from the shock. From that unlikely vantage point he was able to see flecks of gold in the bed of the stream.
Gold was, of course, known to be common in the Khardo Nwikhear and ancient Khera Varsad mines had been discovered in the past, but none had been found previously in the Khardar Tyavod. To find gold in alluvial deposits in a hot spring meant either previously undiscovered gold reserves or evidence of something else.
Arkhando made a brief survey of the heavily forested area, but could find no clear signs as to what he might have found and so he made his way back to Ciria as quickly as he could and wrote letters to his most frequent patrons asking that they fund an excavation. He was already beginning to think that he might have found evidence of the lost city, but even if he had not, the gold would be enough to entice someone to pay for further investigation.
Within a few weeks, Arkhando was able to return and mount a preliminary excavation. The geothermal nature of the site made the dig extremely dangerous, so initial trenches were begun well away from the hot spring area. It took several days to dig through the compressed layers of ash, with nothing significant discovered until about twenty feet down. This discouraged some of those involved, but Arkhando implored them to press on and dig deeper in the initial trenches, for, if it truly was the lost city, something would be found eventually. What they eventually uncovered was truly astonishing.
The first ‘eureka’ moment for the dig was when a junior excavator cleared away a handful of ash to reveal a patch of stonework partially covered with worn gold plate. Arkhando was called at once and, as he and several other members of the excavation began working more of the gold-plated structure was revealed. It seemed almost impossible that this could be anything other than the fabled city of gold, but it would be months before the full extent of the site could be determined, years before it was fully excavated and the death toll because of hot springs and other geothermal activity would reach thirty-seven before the dig was completed.
Much of the famed gold plating was actually heavily damaged or destroyed by the eruption of 346 CE, although it is highly possible that some was deliberately damaged and removed by those involved in the excavation. That which was left was carefully removed and preserved on plaster moulds of the original wall carvings. Some of these belong to private collections, but most are kept in the National Museum of Erinor in Ciria, which holds a permanent Cata varsea exhibition.
The excavations have taught archaeologists much about the city’s fate in the last two centuries. It is now understood that the city was blanketed by twenty to twenty-five feet of ash from the pyroclastic flow caused by the eruption of Khardo nyaveo, killing its citizens instantly. Many were, in fact, discovered as voids within the hardened ash and, once this was realised, their forms were able to be preserved using plaster. Many of these victims are on display in the museum.
A view from inside one of Cata varsea's preserved buildings.
Cata varsea is now the single most popular tourist attraction in Erinor and a visit to Ciria is rarely complete without a trip into the mountains to see the remains of the fabled city of gold.