After settling in and spending a few days just getting a feel for the ebb and flow of the city, it was time to really begin. The first place I needed to see was the temple of Hermes.
Prominently located right in the middle of the forum, the temple of Hermes is a busy, loud place. You have to fight your way past hawkers, lucky merchants who were able to set up shop close to the entrance. Decidedly unlike the Christain story of Jesus of Nazareth's angry display at the temple, this temple is a den of thieves. Hermes, after all, is a god of messengers, merchants, and thieves.
Inside, it's all overt displays of wealth. The priests are all adorned in exotic finery, and clearly well-fed. Many of them come from wealthy merchant families, or I imagine are retired merchants themselves. Where elsewhere such displays would be a sign of a corrupt church, here they signify a thriving faith.
I don't stay long, however. I will have plenty of time during the coming year to study the architecture, religion and culture here. For now, I'm a tourist. I want to see as much as I can, get comfortable with the city.
For lunch, I stop at a small restaurant in the forum (chosen largely by the price of the menu; I am on a pretty tight budget). It appears to be some "fusion" place, Indo-Chino-Eurpoean or some combination. It's fantastic. Often, places like this try to hard to be creative, and while they may understand each cooking style individually, don't follow through or really understand how to blend them. Here, however, everything seems effortless, as if each dish was from a recipe that's been in the family for generations.
I tip well. It leaves me low on cash for the rest of the month, but it's worth it.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to write anything after my last entry, describing my entrance into the city. Things got quite a bit hectic as this turned out not to be the somber church state I'd expected, but a teeming, bustling, living city like any other. I was immediately beset by stall vendors, street preachers, harried business-men and all sorts of other city folk going about their day in the forum that made up the main entrance to the city.
Most of this time was spent avoiding the merchants, because, as tradition dictates, I had no money on me after my trip and no possessions to barter with. Those especially persistent few who managed to corall me were understanding, however, as my position was not uncommon.
So I made my way through the forum, taking in the sights. I was rather surprised with how busy the forum was, for such a secluded and secretive locale. Though there were actually two passages through the mountains – one for pilgrims such as myself, and another, smoother pass for itinerant merchants, it still quite a journey to the next nearest city.
After some time, I decided I'd had enough and began asking around for the temple of Hermes – the god of this district of the city. His was always the first destination of those such as myself, pilgrims who had no particular god whom they already worshipped (naturally, a devotee of Apollo would head straight to his temple, and so on). As I was planning on spending a year here, the priests of that temple would help me make accomodations for lodging and set me up with a weekly allowance to cover my expenses during my stay.
Or so I'm told. It still sounds very strange to me – do they have funds put away for the sole purpose of supporting vagrants such as myself? Surely a policy such as this is not sustainable. But I was assured many times over, even by people who'd visited, that this exists. And there would be no limitations to it – I'd be supported for however long I stayed.
The hostel I've been put up in is just outside the forum proper, still in the district of Hermes (urbs serpentis). I'm told that I may stay here until I get my bearings, or for as long as I'd like, after which there are similar hostels in each of the districts (save that devoted to the two unnamed gods) that I may transfer to. Surprisingly, our rooms are not shared – I have a room to myself. No real amenities, though. Just a bed and a desk. A basic breakfast and lunch are served each day, but dinner is my own responsibility (sadly, no kitchen facilities for me to use). A shared toilet and communal baths.
I was also able to ask a bit about the allowance those such as I receive. There is in fact a communal fund, shared by all the temples of the city, put aside for dispensation. All temples in the city are required by law to participate. A figure is calculated monthly, and then it's shared equally among all the pilgrims. So it's expected for the amount to dwindle as the month progresses, as more faithful arrive, but I was assured that measures are taken so that it will never drop below a certain amount.
It's hard to believe I've spent a week on this mountain with no food, no supplies. Honestly, it's hard to believe an entire week has passed in the first place. But here I am, overlooking the city. I must say I was taken aback when I finally made it over the highest point of the trail, and saw the city spread out before me, nestled inbetween the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. It was... it's hard to describe. It's not fantastical; there's no perilous towers scraping the heavens. It's not especially foreign architecture, either, or resplendent with gold and jewels. Certainly, what I imagined in my head during the years before I made my journey was far more impressive.
But I can finally see it. It is real. Maybe that's it – for so long, it was only a thing of rumor and legend. Really? A city that's on no map, and has no name? Even the many people who'd claimed to visit it. Surely it was all some elaborate joke; they were just pulling my leg. I'm here now.
Don't let me give you the wrong impression, however. The city is beautiful. It looks a strange sister to Rome, with marble being the most common building material (it seems from this vantage point), and ruins of old temples and archways sharing equal space with living architecture. And other parts, residential areas, look liks small New England towns. I can only imagine that the fall season here is just as beautiful. And to the northwest, towering glass skyscrapers. I imagine that's the "urbs speculorum", the city of glass. Where, apparently, the followers of Thoth went from scribes to publishers and computer programmers, treating the art of typesetting and software engineering with the same reverence they'd given writing and calligraphy.
To the south, along the sea, small houses nestled along the cliff, crashing waves beneath, reminiscent of the islands of Greece (though addmittedly I've never been). Everywhere my eyes rest, it looks like someplace else – but nothing seems out of place.
I've made my way through across the vast Western desert and am at the foot of the great mountains that surround the nameless city, the destination of my pilgrimage. The great city that is only shown on maps as temenos – "holy precinct". No roads, no landmarks. Simply the city beyond the mountains.
That's not to say that it's mysterious – aspects of it are, certainly, but it is the destination of countless pilgrimages like my own. By ancient law, however, neither it nor its patron gods are ever named, and no map of its features shall ever leave its walls. Just as no building is allowed to mar the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains, or the barren wastes of the desert outside.
I have no supplies left. Pilgrims are allowed to carry only enough to sustain themselves through the desert. Beyond this point, the only drink we are allowed is water from the mountain streams, and food left by monks at small shrines along the holy path.
One more week, and I'm there. I'm told this is the easier part – normally the final stretch would seem the longest, but the beauty and stimulation of the mountains makes time pass by quicker after the endless stretches of the Western desert.
I've stopped at the first shrine. An almost invisible statue tucked underneath a small outcropping of rock. There are flowers placed at its feet, and fruit and prayer beads. Thankfully the fruit shows absolutely no sign of spoil. I eat as much as I can, and bury the stems and inedbile skins a short ways away.
I return, and rest a while. Now's probably a good idea as any to give a quick overview of my goal: the nameless city.
It was founded ages ago by a secretive cult. Little is known about them or their practices, or even their beliefs save for one thing: they worship two gods, male and female. Much like the city they founded, the gods themselves are nameless, or at least their names have never been shared with outsiders. They are described simply as the Man in Red and the Lady in White. Of course, myth tells that the city was founded by the gods themselves, but scattered historical docoments suggests that the cult existed prior to its founding.
Over time, the city grew. Slowly, due to its secluded location and it remained secretive, trading little with other cities on the continent . Periodically, however, traveling monks from its church would visit distant cities and speak with their holy men.
Anyways, long story short, eventually other religions started sending their own monks to check out this mysterious city. It came to be known as a holy place, a haven for the faithful of not just one religion, but any religion.
As time passed, even other temples sprouted up there, and grew, and fell, until the city had not just its two founding gods, but a strange pantheon of gods borrowed from other lands. And so, today, every god who has ever received a prayer from human lips is known there, and if tales are to be believed, every god ever known to man has at least one faithful worshipper there.
But there are ten that stand out: ten that, though I do not know the layout of the land, have had districts of the city named after them.
Three are of Egyptian origin:
Ra: mons accipitris
Thoth: urbs speculorum
Bast: regio lunae
One is a deified angel, Hebrew:
Uriel: regio ignis dei
And the rest are of Greek or Roman origin:
Gaia: regio luti
Apollo : mons solis
Morpheus: via dormiens
Hermes: urbs serpentum
Venus: regio conchae
Pluto: ...no name associated with this district, but I'm sure it's one of the ten.