Architecture of Neopia: The Lost Desert
As I continue my architectural studies of Neopia, I surfaced and moved westwards – far away from the Maractite wonders of Maraqua to meet my guide amongst the golden domes of the Lost Desert. Home to nearly half a million Neopians, it is definitely no longer 'Lost', and now it is of little wonder why many chose the mystique and splendour of this oasis. Since its discovery in Y3, several pieces have been written in architectural analysis of Sakhmet, Qasala and the surrounding regions – tombs and pyramids, and their reason for being; for those studying the topic – I refer to an extensive list including Lost Desert Architecture, Guide to Ancient Structures, and A History of the Lost Desert, for it is almost impossible to understand a land without understanding its history. A Field Guide to Sand Dunes is elementary in appreciating the topography of the land, but for the everyday structural enthusiast, Ultimate Sand Castle Guide and How to Build a Pyramid are both high on my recommendation.
Geographically speaking, the architecture of both Qasala and Sakhmet makes perfect sense. Subject to frequent sandstorms, the great walls surrounding both cities act as barriers from all directional wind. Furthermore, the often searing temperatures have been taken into account by the city planning, as courtyards and narrow lanes act as cool air sinks that both retain the summer heat at nighttime and encourage breeze during the daytime. Despite its ruinous appearance, Qasala demonstrates this cooling effect far more efficiently than the bustling marketplace city of Sakhmet, but this may have a lot more to do with the placement of the city in the shadow of southern rock formations. Furthermore, both cities have developed their own use of adobe type mud brick walls for the residential buildings. When painted white, the overall effect is that of cooling, for the reflective properties of the exterior walls enable the inside to retain a low temperature. Thus despite complaints against the climate and geography of the Lost Desert (goodness only knows how difficult it is to construct on foundations of sand), in fact the desert may be a very pleasant place to reside after all.
Beginning my analysis at the river whose name I cannot translate from local language, which on a personal and humorous level I name the River 'Kougris', due north is an architectural phenomena dedicated to the late ruler, 'Sutek's Tomb'. The pyramids there in traditional language would have been known as Gebmids, a reference to their constructers and designers, but have since adopted the more household terminology 'pyramid'. Here are three monumental structures on square shaped bases overlooking the landscape. Originally funerary edifices, they are now used as tourist landmarks, and physical compasses for the lost or weary traveller – but even more alarmingly frequently are raided for treasure: one of the Lost Desert's largest exports. My guide tells me that originally they may have been connected to the Kougris by means of canal, and were in fact three components of a much larger complex, as opposed to standalone icons. However, millennia of sandstorms and plundering have reduced the structures to near debris. Stone in the Lost Desert is a rarity and thus reserved for the pyramids, palaces and walling the cities, when it is brought in from another reach of Neopia – most likely, Tyrannia.
Founded in 872BN: Sakhmet, as a standalone city is vastly different yet retains key features of Qasala. We can only appreciate its urban planning to the fullest when viewing it from bird's eye. Perfectly spherical, the parallel alleys and lanes form a matrix encompassing the central palace. As previously mentioned, a walled city is most commonly used as a defence against sandstorms in the desert, but Sakhmet's large military suggests an ulterior motive of practical defence. The complex of squat, square houses almost relates itself to a barbican- unless one were familiar with the layout of Sakhmet city, it would be very easy to become lost, as I found out for myself on many an occasion. The perfect labyrinth to protect the palace! As a tourist it is exhilarating walking beneath the leaning structures, surrounded on all sides by hanging clothes, rugs and treasure glittering along the walls – here, people leave their doors open and dusty laughter often rings out through the narrow alleyways, mingling with the cries of bartering and haggling from the marketplace. The atmosphere is alive in Sakhmet, building up towards the grand appearance of the central palace itself around Market Square. The nearer to the palace, one finds the physical brickwork disappears in place of temporary tents and nomadic salespeople – it is market day, and goods from all around the Lost Desert and further shimmer out beneath canopies. The nature of the temporary architecture is another outstanding feature of the Lost Desert, you cannot fully appreciate the significance Desert architecture has had on the whole of Neopia without understanding the simplicity of these tents and the natural layout that formulates with the sense of community brought together in the one city from all corners of the planet.
Sakhmet Palace itself is the true gem of the Lost Desert, in my humble opinion. From miles around, the glittering onion dome is visible – made all the brighter by the dazzling sun. As a true monument to the founder, King Coltzan, the spire points towards the sky as if a beacon, flanked by four smaller minarets geographically echoing the outer city walls' watch towers. The central dome rests on an arcade of forty windows reminiscent of Altadorian architecture- but pre-dating this style by many years. A possible theory behind the infamous Sakhmetian onion domes include emphasis on making the palace look more regal, and taller, but it may just be the architectural feat itself is impressive enough of a regime. Coltzan himself may have specifically utilised this style of architecture for its innovation and difficulty – much alike the pyramids, this was his own personal stamp on the landscape.
Qasala, on the other hand, uses not just onion domes but a whole myriad of domic structures and spires, but has no key central landmark aside from the dramatically smaller and more modern palace whose main purpose now is administrative use. From a distance, it appears that Qasala has much work to be done to restore the many times destroyed city, but once inside I can clearly see how extensive the remodelling and much more advanced the architecture has become. There are global influences – bright colours from Northern lands such as Neopia Central and Roo Island, with a drastically wider collection of building materials and architectural technique to produce a much more hybrid city. The most unusual and interesting feat regarding Qasala, however, is beneath the surface- although I could not find a guide who either knew, or was willing to show me this, there are many rumours regarding the rock-cut architecture – that in fact the smallness of the Qasalan sister palace is deceptive in the place of vast elaborate tunnels cut into the stone itself and buried deep beneath the city. Combined with the quarrying of rock to produce the outer buildings – it is sure that one thing is true, Qasala is still the mysterious marvel it is known to be. From merely being in the city for the few days that I was, I felt a presence of a great secret and sincerity. Qasalans are definitely not as friendly to foreigners as the Sakhmetians are.
As I left the Lost Desert, to continue this series of Architecture of Neopia, I felt that there is truly something wonderful and mysterious about the Lost Desert that is impossible to understand without living there, or being akin to the desert spirit. As if the entire landscape has frozen in time, the architecture of the place truly is a masterpiece of Neopian development, holding immense uncovered importance.
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