Friday, 15 July 2016

To Kill A Marketplace

How do you kill a place? I mean, you can knock a building down – but people will tend to put it back up, if they need it, and if they're used to the idea that it's there and that it's useful to have it there. The place is still the place, even if the building is new. In Sarajevo in the 90s, the fruit-and-veg market downtown persisted through the Serbian siege, even when there was next to no food in the city to buy and sell – and even when it was hit with mortars repeatedly, and even when those mortar attacks were horrific enough that they were what finally triggered NATO intervention. Even after the war, when relative comfort returned and the process of memorialising began, the marketplace stayed a marketplace, and the memorial there now is surprisingly unobtrusive.

Marketplaces are some of the most persistent places there are. The Zocalo in Mexico City was there as the market when the city was Tenochtitlan, one block from the Aztecs' centre of the universe, the Great Temple. It survived the Spanish conquest of the city, the cultural transformation, the revolutions and all the rest of it until finally being cleared out in the 90s. The temple precinct itself was built over with a Catholic cathedral, reusing stones from the temple: places of worship are persistent too. The great mosque in Damascus was a cathedral beforehand, and a Roman temple before that, and the temple of an Aramean storm god before that. Rome is also full of cathedrals and basilicas sitting on the site of older religious structures, and of other persistently useful and meaningful structures: the Trevi fountain is the terminus of a Roman aqueduct from shortly before the time of Christ, restored again and again by various emperors and popes wishing to demonstrate their magnanimity. Emperors and gods and popes get mixed up a lot – Split, which I talked about before, turned an imperial palace into a city and the emperor's domed mausoleum into a cathedral, which is thus the oldest in Europe. Spaces for performance and entertainment persist like this too – performances like public executions, say, or fights, or plays: theatres used to be bywords for fire hazards and yet they were always rebuilt (which is why so many of them are called the Phoenix). London is full of pubs and theatres that used to be cockpits, bearpits and the like. Lots of them are still called that. Places and their purposes persist.

Having a party kill a place would be a good urban quest. Anyone with a moderate amount of
kinetic magic can knock down a building – but most parties can't deal with the entire organism of the city responding to that, swarming the party with cityfolk and then, presumably, just rebuilding and getting on with it. Actually stopping a place be the place it has always been is hard, and interesting. Who wants the party doing this? Does an oligarch want a market destroyed to concentrate more trade into his hands? Do religious fundamentalists want a space for sinful public enjoyment wiped from the landscape? And how does it actually get done? A sufficiently brutal and spectacular massacre maybe stains a place forever, but it's a hard thing for a party to get away with. And it probably just reinforces the presence of a place of public execution. Cutting off the import of all cotton into the city closes the textile market, maybe, but how is that done? Desecrating and unhallowing a sacred place requires complex ritual magic, and raises all sorts of problems for paladins and clerics. Fountains can be smashed, but the natural springs and streams that underpin them are harder to stop.

In the centre of Chirica is a web of buildings by the long-dead occult architect Karint Sphora, who lives on through her works, influencing the commerce and conduct of the populace for purposes unknown to any other. Her students and enthusiasts wittingly and unwittingly sustain her creations and their purposes, but there are others in the great city working to loosen the grasp of her dead masonry hand. They will hire the party to make sure that nobody ever wants to buy or sell under the convoluted iron vaults of the Nail Market again: to empty the House of the High Tallow of its pyrotheist sect: to put an end once and for all to the savage, revolutionary cabaret played every night for coppers at the Wheelwright's Rest: to dry up the mouths of the great, coiling masonry serpents at the Ninefold Fountain forever.