The Geography of Game of Thrones: Part 11 – The Free Cities of Essos

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During the Game of Thrones series, Daenerys Targaryen practically 6 seasons on the immense landmass of Essos, that’s across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. On the west coast of this large continent are the Nine Free Cities which are powerful, independent city-states which engage in extensive trade and contact with the Seven Kingdoms. Like the regions of Westeros, each of the 9 free cities has its own unique history and culture. Yet, at one point, all but Braavos were once colonies of the Valyrian Freehold. When the Freehold and its dragonlords were destroyed during the Doom of Valyria, the empire fragmented in a chaotic period called the Century of Blood. Unlike Westeros, the Free Cities have a much more urbanized and mercantile culture.

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Location: These are 9 merchant city-states on the western side of Essos. Consist of Volantis, Braavos, Pentos, Qohor, Myr, Lys, Tyrosh, and Lorath.

Size: It’s of considerable size since each city controls a large swath of territory. Said to be equal to the entirety of Westeros south of the Neck.

Capital: N/A

Climate: Temperate in the north. Sub-tropical in the south.

Environment: Has hills and river valleys in the north. While the south is sub-tropical with coastal plains.

Resources: Some of these cities are known for a special article or product. Myr is famous for lenses and fine lace. Tyrosh specializes in color dyes. Qohor has blacksmiths who can reforge Valyrian steel while smiths and Volantis can reforge ice. Norvos produces axes. Tyrosh is known for extravagant clothes, fancy armor, and rich tastes. Volantis produces wine.

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Population: Volantis is the biggest in the lot. The city of Lys has almost every inhabitant sport the purple eyes and mystical white hair of Valyria. But they don’t possess the dragons, magic, or knowledge the Valyrian Dragon Lords once did. In fact, you’ll see plenty of Valyrian descendants in the Free Cities. Some towns can be bigger than Westerosi cities. You’ll also find plenty of descendants from Westerosi wars there, too, since the losers in them are known to flee for refuge and fortune.

Key Cities: Lys is often seen as this world’s equivalent to Las Vegas and enjoys a reputation for their prostitution scene. Pentos has a prince who rules in name only while the Magisters have all the power. Founded by escaped slaves, the abolitionist canal city of Braavos is guarded by the massive Titan statue. While it’s home to the Iron Bank which is perhaps the single largest economic force in the known world. Too bad the Iron Bank is essentially a loan shark that essentially owns several states and will work for one’s enemy faction if they default. Also has a band of super-assassins. Not to mention, has formidable swordsmen, shipbuilding, and religious tolerance. Volantis is the oldest and most populated of the Free Cities, which tried to conquer and reunify the others. But the other cities formed alliances against it and subdued it. It’s also the most corrupt as well as boasts a vast slave market. Norvos is a theocracy ruled by the Bearded Priests. Qohor retains a garrison of the Army of the Unsullied. Tyrosh is known for producing mercenaries.

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Culture: Slavery is widely practiced with the sole exception of Braavos, which doesn’t participate in the slave trade. Though just as class driven as Westeros, the Free Cities don’t put as much emphasis on bloodlines. Rather Braavos’ class system is based on wealth so it’s more mobile. Still, the general population seems completely unfazed with blind beggars getting beaten up, teenage girls parkouring through town in deadly hunts, girls limping around with heavy stab wounds, abject poverty, and urban segregation.

Religion: Many worship the Lord of Light with prominent Red Temples in Myr and Volantis. While Braavos is home to a band of super-assassins that operates like a Mystery Cult called the Faceless Men who live in the House of Black and White. There’s also a sizable population who worship the Faith of the Seven.

Great House: N/A

Vassal Houses: N/A

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History: In its heyday, Valyria was once the seat of the Dragon Lords and House Targaryen’s ancestral home. Once a tribe of shepherds, the Dragon Lords tamed and harnessed dragons, forged Valyrian steel, built an empire stretching from Essos and Westeros, and created wonders of architecture. At its height during as the Valyrian Empire capital, it was widely considered the greatest civilization to ever exist. Until a natural cosmic event destroyed the entire landmass to the point that it broke into several islands surrounded by a smoking ocean. This event was known as the Doom of Valyria and the islands became inhabited by victims of advanced Greyscale disease, called the Stone Men. Originally the Free Cities were colonies, offshoots, and outposts of the Valyrian Freehold. But after the doom of Valyria consumed the famous capital, these cities became the only remains of a great civilization. Since then, Valyria has been reduced to a diseased and smoking ruin while remaining uninhabited and abandoned. But the other cities continue to thrive.

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Current Status: Despite thriving, the Free Cities involve themselves in numerous petty wars with each other seeking to install a new hegemony to replace the Freehold. As for Valyria, it’s a burnt out, ruined world, that’s permanently gray and converted into a leper colony that’s scary enough to frighten away pirates.

Best Known for: Being former colonies of Valyria as well as engage in extensive trade and contact with the Seven Kingdoms.

Home of: Illyrio Mopatis, Clea, Talisa Magegyr, Syrio Forel, Thoros, Ternesio Terys, Lhara, Jaqen H’gar, Greyworm, Tycho Nestoris, and “The Waif”

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Landmarks: Braavos has the Titan Statue that can come alive. While its Iron Bank is a massive white building that looks straight out of the Renaissance, The Temple of the Moonsingers and the Sept Beyond the Sea also exist in the city. Volantis features the Long Bridge.

What to Avoid: Stay away from Valyria since it’s filled with advanced greyscale victims and is still a smoldering mess. Also, while in Braavos, keep away from the House of Black and White.

For Those Who Want to Visit: Aside from being the richest and most powerful Free City, Braavos is also seen as the most beautiful.

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