Agora our city, our home, our whole world. We have lived here, within the bounds of the grey city walls, for as long as anyone can remember. Some call it "the great marketplace", and with good reason. For this is the city where anything can be bought and sold.
But you will never learn about our city if we stay here. Come, squeeze through the closely-packed stalls, and come to the edge of the plaza. Cross one of the twelve bridges that span the Ora, and pass under one of the twelve archways that lead to the districts of the city. Do their names sound familiar to you? Gemini, Libra, Pisces? Yes, our city mirrors the night sky. They say that the whole city was planned like an astrologer's chart perhaps it makes the stars smile upon us.
Agora's seat of learning is a grandiose place. The district is dominated by the University, one of the few places in the whole city where buying and selling can be temporarily forgotten. Of course, no programme of study has ever been invented that would not aid the sons and daughters of the wealthy in their future professions, but from the towers of the university, the city can seem a less cut-throat place.
It is not quite right to call this a district of the city. Very few people live here. This is the place where the river Ora enters the city, surging through unknown passages in the mighty city walls and emerging to flow down towards Central Plaza. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, this part of the city is devoted to growing, and grazing, our food. The fields of grain and orchards are not large, of course, and yet somehow they manage to feed the remaining eleven districts of the city. The growers are a cagey group and they guard their secrets jealously.
The Leo district is where the wealthiest live, strutting around between the fields of Cancer and the old houses of Virgo. The streets are wide and clean, and the houses grand. It is one of the few places in the city where you might possibly find some peace and quiet where the elite bribe stall-keepers to stay away from the walkways before their houses. The whole district is a monument to the egos of those who live there
except, of course, for the Gardens. I must admit, even I am impressed by the Leo Gardens. Some call them the soul of Agora. They say that when you walk amongst the fountains and trees, placed for beauty and not food, it is like stepping into the world in the distant past, before the outer lands turned barren, and the first stone of Agora was laid.
The Virgo district is the home of the artisans those who provide the elite with their fine furniture, decoration, and jewellery.
Libra, the scales of Justice. No district's symbolism is quite so strong. This is the heart of the law where the courts hold their sessions, and the city's government, what there is of it, carries out its tasks. It is a stately place: the Sun Court, where the most important cases are heard, is awe-inspiring. But even the Sun Court pales beside the most important building in all of Agora.
The Scorpio district is the place that the thieves dread. With the receivers' barracks on one side, and the prisons on the other, this is not a cheerful place. Strangers are viewed with suspicion, as any prisoners who are released are usually kept here for a few months, under the receivers' watchful eyes.
You've seen the gateway to the Sagittarius district? The great beast, half-man, half-horse. Neither one thing nor the other? Yes
that sums up the district well. No-one knows quite how large the Sagittarius district is, how many people live here, or what they'll sell you. But the one thing we can agree on is that if you can't find it elsewhere in Agora, it'll be here somewhere. Sagittarians deal in everything and anything, the whole district is a wondrous bazaar, filled with strange curiosities and doubtful splendours that do not quite fit anywhere else in the city. I find myself quite at home here.
The Capricorn District is an unpleasant place. Of course its trades are necessary, but this is the home of the tanners, the metalworkers, and other professions that fill the air with foul odours and smoke. I lived there for a time, when I was learning my glassblowing trade, and I am still sometimes troubled by the permanent cough that all residents have. Perhaps in compensation, this is one of the better places in the city to trade for cheap food and lodging. Anyone willing to stay here is treated well. But even so, a place to be avoided, if at all possible.
Aquarians' lives are intertwined with that of the river Ora. After circling the Central Plaza, it takes its course down towards the walls between Aquarius and Pisces, with hundreds of small canals flowing into the Aquarius district. This is where the water is cleaned, filtered, and pumped to other parts of the city for washing and cooking. This is where the Riverboat captains transporting heavy goods to Central Plaza, store their wares in the vast warehouses, and dock their boats. This is where the fishermen make a good living.
It is said that as the River Ora flows through Agora, it washes all of the detritus and filth of the city along with it, to its final destination the Pisces district.
Some districts' boundaries in the city are hard to spot. You can walk directly from Leo into Virgo, for example, and the only sign will be that the frescoes on the buildings are beginning to fade, and the plaster facades are less well-repaired.
Perched between the writers' stronghold of Gemini, and the paper mills of Aries, it is not surprising that the printers and journalists have set up their presses in the Taurus district. Perhaps coincidentally, the newssheets are written in the same district that is famed for its public houses, and other watering holes. No wonder the gossip here is so rich, and the drink flows so freely. Any Taurean who is not a journalist, a printer or bookbinder, is probably a labourer working by day in other parts of the city, but coming home to his family in the Taurus district in the evening. Stopping at a couple of the taverns on the way, of course.
The Agora Travelogue
Website and content © David Whitley - 2013
Author photographs by Gordon Ward
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