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Havnon Qenii

An excerpt from A Traveller’s Hàhnor (2633)

Altans! What images this name brings to mind! This greatest of cities dominates the rest of the continent, and indeed the world, just through her size, her magnificence, her diversity, not to mention the political and military power she now wields, as once she did in the past. Yet this has not consistently been the case. The power today in the hands of the Altansians has only recently been acquired after two-hundred-and-thirty years of foreign rule. In fact, many a true Altansian would claim the figure to be higher, for this world-metropolis is more indeed than a mere city; it is in many ways a state on her own, and her citizens, though much altered from those who wielded power here in her former days of glory, would see their ancient city as free only when she was fully independent of all but those who were themselves children of Altans.

According to tradition, Altans was founded at the very beginning of the Fifth Age, to celebrate the Hàhans’ victory over the troublesome Echores, in the year 500. The two Eldhaou, Celeris and Gelilae, created “a gentle city, a mile and a half from where the River Pernus flows into the Lake, Amignús, on a small hill overlooking the river. The city is built of white, polished stone, and is filled with quiet courts, flowing fountains, and wide streets, leading past slender, coloured towers, and through restful squares of cool colonnades.” The reality is probably that a native settlement had existed here for some time before the arrival of the Hàhan in Hàhnor, as this hill-top site in a wide bend of the river provided an excellent position of defence. It is therefore likely that the Hàhan succeeded only later in incorporating this important fortress into their territories, though its swift rise as a major Hàhan city underlines how highly valued Altans was seen to be.  This is evident too in the naming of the new Hàhan city: Altans, with all its mythical associations from the scriptures, that white First City, was still an important image for those early Hàhan, who hoped yet to return some day to the Valley of their forefathers, where once Altans of old had stood. Here, on Earth, these Hàhan now possessed once again their white Altans, full of pleasant spaces, beside a lake, and far enough south to be free of any risk of attack. This well indicates too the optimism of the Hàhan in those early days of the Fifth Age; for this was the moment when they could not only claim victory over all those enemies who had resisted their arrival, but could now safely declare themselves the undisputed masters over the whole of Hàhnor.      

During the Fifth Age, that golden period of Hàhan myth and legend, the time of Dúhar, of the Norsindor Plague, of the Mormil and the Rúnmil, Altans did indeed develop into a city of open squares and courts, of parks and gardens bordered by white, marble pavilions. Around the slopes below the fortress, a new, prestigious city was developing, bringing to that region trade and prosperity, and beginning even to rival the cities of Rilformò and Gamurecin. Furthermore, although Altans was a city much like these two other great centres of Hàhnor, the open design of her terraced squares and courtyards was significantly original to make this city a model for many later city-planners, who would exult Altans as the antithesis of the claustrophobic, street-riddled city exemplified in their time by Ercin. Ironically, little of this exemplary city had survived by the time these ideas were beginning to be discussed in the North and West, and many smaller, later cities of Hàhnor provide better illustrations of “open” cities than Altans. What little has remained of this original Hàhan fabric is now incorporated into the foundations of later buildings, and although it is possible to imagine how the alignment of various of the present courts of the Cape is a sign of the underlying plan of the earlier city, the greater part of this ancient Altans lies deep beneath the grassy tussocks that now roll up to the walls of the Fortress.

Although the capital of Mephor’s new empire was at first Gamurecin, Altans had already gained enough in political importance to be made the capital by Mephor’s grandson, Tulca, in 1275. For fifteen years before then, Tulca had been preparing the city for this, through his ambitious rebuilding projects, which gave the city not only  new docks, linked to the New Square by New South Road, but also the first of her most characteristic features, a wide canal completely encircling the city; Tulca had the River Pernus half-diverted, making Altans a wide, circular island, accessible only by defensible bridges. Later, in the Second Epoch, under the Emperors Dúhar VII and Thandrò, two more canals were added to form concentric rings, and the meandering course of the Pernus above and below the city was straightened to create direct links with the sea and with the vast system of canals which now stretched across all Hàhnor. Further defence works around and on top of the Cape over the course of the centuries, as well as almost continual embellishment by successive emperors virtually erased any remains of the original Altans, whilst the excavations involved in creating the Hall of Kings beneath the Cape itself in 1766 destroyed the whole of that hill’s northern face. The clearing of this site yet further with the construction, in 1807-12, of Thandrò’s mighty Temple of the Divine Blessing, and Hendaie Amis’ subsequent widening of the Old Market Square in 1845, further damaged the fabric here of the city which had grown up to the north of the Cape during the First Epoch. During the Second Epoch in particular, Altans was expanding at an extraordinary rate, and it was in this period that we see the rise of the Academy, founded as early as in 1251, but flowering only now into its system of separate colleges, each supported by different cities or communities within the Empire, or even from outside, such as Orlavi College, founded in 1972 when the Birdman Empire was at its height, to commemorate the ascension of Tergor.

For Altans was now at the apex of her power, the capital of her far-flung Empire, the mightiest city in Herenor, on Earth, and Empress over the Americas, Europe and Africa, the only state ever to have extended its sway so far across the globe. The city was crammed, as any other imperial capital, with monuments and palaces, many of which are still standing. The Imperial Avenue and its majestic centrepiece, the Imperial Square date from the 1830s, when Thandrò laid out this part of the city around his new palace, none of which now survives in its original form. As well as the parks surrounding the Imperial Palace, wide, public parks were also laid out for each quarter of the circular city, on land too water-logged to develop. It should be noted, however, that despite all this expansion, Altans retained her boundaries at the Inner Canal, and although scattered communities existed outside these limits, it would be many years yet until they could class themselves truly part of Altans. Indeed, after her fall, in 2149, all new building in the city virtually ceases for two centuries. In the anarchy of those years immediately following the capture of Altans by the Ralàtes, many parts of the city fell into severe ruination, and the overall vitality of this former capital of the world was not at all helped by the depopulation in this period, resulting initially from a mass exodus among the wealthier classes to safer parts of Herenor, and later from the spread of disease and even plague. The absorption of the city-state into neighbouring Amro brought some modest improvement, in the form of revitalisation projects, but Altans remained second choice after Ethrolin as chief city of Amro.

© Copyright Paul David Holland 2017