architecture analysis

A Bathhouse in Hyrule

“Everything is a miracle. It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar.”

- Pablo Picasso

Notwithstanding the somewhat facetious quote above, bathing has always proved a persistent and critical element of health in many of the world’s longest-standing civilizations, evidenced by bathhouses from the Japanese onsen to the Roman thermae. Bathing is the servant of Cleanliness, and has always taken various cultural forms, adopting different rituals and serving different functions. Bathing can be done out of necessity - the simple need to become clean, so as to be free from dirt, dust, and disease - but it can also take on a sacred aspect, often serving in purification rituals and ablutions in many religions, from Islam to Shinto. In the Hyrule of Twilight Princess, there is also evidence of an ancient bathhouse, though whether it was created for respite and pleasure or for ceremony and spirituality is as yet undetermined.

Behind an unassuming rock facade on a path leading to Zora’s Domain from North Hyrule Field is a small series of chambers hollowed into a cave. It consists of five small rooms - three main chambers, an antechamber, and a far room - arranged on a single axis. The rooms, when divided horizontally from the very center, are laid-out symmetrically, with the three baths in the three central chambers. And these are not truly separate chambers, as the walls which divide them do not actually make contact with the cave above, creating open, individual spaces under one large ceiling.

Much of the cave has been left in a natural state, and a constructed shell has been built within its space. Low, flat walls with protruding arches, lintels, and pillars extend to all five rooms, separating the baths from the stark cave walls, giving it a distinctly man-made environment under an organic roof. Rough masonry of oddly-fitted stones creates the corner piers and parts of the wall, while other areas are covered by a carved arabesque or screen. Other pieces of stonework are decorated with an opus reticulatum theme of green and pink tiles, which give off the distinct feel of a bathhouse; they seem an incredibly modern element when compared to rather traditional design of this building. The screens, done in a diamond-and cross pattern, often carry the crest of the Royal Family as seen at Snowpeak, and many of the alcoves (designated by the gentle arches above them) are hung with a tapestry bearing the royal symbol of Hyrule: the Wingcrest. Weapons are hung upon the walls, much the same as at Snowpeak, creating a clear cultural connection between the two far-flung structures.

With its clear connections to both lowland Hylian architecture and to the mansion at Snowpeak, this bathhouse might seem rather straightforward. But, then one notices the gates which separate each room from the others. They are Zoran gates, of the same design as those found within the Lakebed Temple, with their curvilinear forging, aquatic themes, and nautical coloration. At first, this may seem puzzling, but, in reality, it makes perfect sense. Twilight Princess, as has been noted several times, displays an incredible depth of cosmopolitanism and trade relations; because of the location of this bathhouse in Lanayru Province, given its proximity both to Hyrule Castle and to Zora’s Domain, and given the close relations between the royal families of Hyrule and the Zora, that the Zora should have had a hand in the construction of this water-dependent building is completely logical. The Zora, with their river, give the land its life and nourishment, and they likely created the water-channeling devices which made this bathhouse function. Architecturally, their legacy is bound up in this space alongside Hylian tradition, which gives us a magnificent look at cultural dispersion and connections within Hyrule - and in a place that was likely meant only as a simple puzzle.

I suppose the remaining question is: what happened to this place? It is readily apparent that these baths have seen no visitors for many years, as the entrance was closed off with a massive boulder. And, any cursory inspection of the interior must take note of the old frost and ice upon the walls. The baths themselves have frozen solid, creating mirrored pools of an unknown depth. There are many spots for torches upon the walls, and we can easily imagine steaming baths, the warm vapors rising overhead and filling the cave ceiling, slowly dripping back down to the floor in an endless cycle. The freeze could have been a side-effect of the icing-over of Zora’s Domain, or it could have happened after the cave was sealed - the fires slowly dying and giving way to the creeping ice. We could speculate for hours about the nature and history of this bathhouse, which would likely come to naught, or we could simply enjoy it for what it is: a symbol of relaxation, purity, and cultural synthesis.

Chancellor Phillip ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond confirmed today what many suspected: that the flammable cladding which was a major factor in the severity and extent of the Grenfell Tower fire is banned in the UK.

If there was any doubt before, this news crystallises the case as one of corporate mass murder, perpetrated against hundreds of the poorest and most vulnerable working-class residents in the city.

If KCTMO, Kensington Council and the renovation contractor’s offices are not being raided, their assets seized and their correspondence and documentation confiscated as we speak, it confirms once again that the Tory government is aiming to manage the narrative, to deflect criticism, and to cover up the crimes of their political dependents, rather than to pursue justice at all costs. Yet this is merely another aspect of the staggering political, economic and social inequality which divides the devastated Grenfell community from those in the halls of power.


Faron Woods and Skyview Temple

“Only with a leaf can I talk of the forest.” 

-Visar Zhiti

After the strange and umbral stillness of the Sealed Temple and its grounds, the appearance of a bright and sunlit Faron Woods would be a stark and disconcerting change of atmosphere. For Link, these green and growing woods would be the nearest thing to Skyloft yet encountered upon the surface; after all, it is from this landscape that Skyloft came, and to which it will return. Small paths and sun-dappled glades in the ever-deepening trees gently mark the landscape, and through the canopy the cloud-flecked blue sky is a constant companion. The most salient aspect of this landscape, however, is the Great Tree standing in the central dell of the woodland. As the Hyrule Historia states on page 42, “The Great Tree stands in the center of a vast forest, and a variety of living things come here to ask for its blessing.” This Great Tree, and other trees like it in distant eras and lands, holds special significance within the Zelda mythos, as a giver and protector of life within its territory, holding not only biological but spiritual importance for the inhabitants of the forest. And the life within this region of the world is one of its most unique elements. Alongside Link, as Fi awakens to the knowledge within herself, she too becomes aware of the diversity of living things present in the region, remarking upon the plenitude of water and wildlife in the environment. As she guides Link on his journey through this forest, gentle streams cascade into still pools, and lend their sapphire tones to the emerald artistry of the leaves and grass. Indeed, these young woods appear healthy, and burgeoning with both life and light.

Most fascinating, though, from the standpoint of a student of architecture, is the coherence and extent of the architectural style in this region. In few instances do we see such in-game continuity in terms of the use of the same motifs and construction styles as we do in Faron Woods and beyond, from Skyview Temple in the far north to the gateway protecting Lake Floria in the south. The first time that Link encounters this Early Forest style, it is upon crossing the threshold into the woods behind the Sealed Temple. Marking the paths that run throughout the dales of the forest are freestanding gateways of a muted white stone marked with hanging ivy and clinging mosses. These seem to hold religious significance, based on the holy nature of the forest, and are similar in more than one way to Japanese mon, simply meaning gate. However, these mon are symbolic more than they are functional; they are meant to mark the boundary between the earthly and the sacred. They serve as brief reminders of passage, and signify the strange and subtle liminal space between the mundane ground of the world and the consecrated ground of the divine. 

These gateways of smooth stone are archetypal of this Early Forest school, and this is where we first bear witness to the chief motifs of this region. The central portal is rather uncommon, in that it is nearly a full circle* framed by stone. Following the edges of the circle, it would become whole slightly underneath the feet of the person crossing its threshold; in this way, the portal seems to merge with the earth, achieving its culmination beneath the soil. The sides of this gateway appear to be constructed of several large pieces of stone, much like steles. But, strangely, the uppermost part differs in its masonic design completely, having been composed of bricks to form a corbel arch. This brickwork terminates in some form of pediment over the opening, and supports a decorative lintel that runs the horizontal length of the gateway. Structure aside, the thematic elements are those of nature and growth. Large, decorative leaves of stone act as pilasters on either side of the gate, and three of these pinnate leaves crown the top of the arch in perfect symmetry. Unique to this initial gateway, however, is its entrance. The doors, when closed, form a stylized tree of pale white bark and faded green leaves set against a background of ocher. Many of these gates stand within the forest, marking its paths, but this first one delineates two very different areas of the surface, and its embellishments hint at that which lies beyond.

As a testament to the appreciation of nature found within the bounds of this forest, an outlying part of Skyview Temple rests at the feet of the Great Tree. This extension of the Skyview temple complex appears to be some sort of observation platform, although it may also have been the structure atop which the creatures of the forest asked for the blessings of the Great Tree. Mankind has a long history of building ever upward in hopes of a glimpse at the divine, and this structure may follow this historical pattern. Unfortunately, the true function of this structure is lost to time, though it clearly had some sort of religious significance to those that constructed it. 

In fact, the top line of the note in the upper corner reads 女神, which means female spirit, or goddess. This no doubt refers to the goddess Farore, whose symbol can be found near this tower.

Because this edifice exists within the same architectural school as all other structures within the forest, its materials and devices all display this continuity of design. Yet, as a larger religious construct, this tower develops upon these motifs and transforms them. The layout consists of two distinct levels—the lower loggia and the upper terrace, though it could be said that the lower wall sprouting from the ground constitutes another floor in itself. Three staircases lead from the bare earth of the forest onto an open-air arcade of five gently pointed arches. On either side of this arcade is a staircase which leads upward to the entrance to the Deep Woods found behind this shrine. Where these two staircases terminate, there rests a large, embedded medallion of Farore set into a ring of stone arabesque. Farore is the goddess representative of the forest, so it is unsurprising that her symbol should be found here. One last stairway leads up to the final level of this tower, which is the viewing platform facing the Great Tree. This observation level is bounded by a low railing, and a bird statue resides at its center. Because this level is constantly exposed to the sunlight, small varicolored flowers find their homes here, and the stone appears to take on the appearance of dawn—with hues of orange, pink, and red. 

Speaking to the architectural motifs, the same embellishments centered around greenery are found here, though they are slightly changed; on every fourth floor tile on the loggia and terrace levels is a small leaf set in sunken relief, mirroring the upturned stone leaves found on the exterior of this structure. Most interesting though, is the fact that this observatory is crowned not with three leaves, but with five. In a way, this echoes the concept of Dun Shou (蹲兽) found in Imperial Chinese architecture. Dun Shou, called roof-figures or roof-charms in English, were only placed upon the gables of official buildings of the empire, and, based upon the number of figures present, one could tell the relative importance of the structure. Buildings with many roof-figures were of great importance, while those with few were significantly less so. The same concept may be at play here, concerning the number of leaves. Upon the gateways previously discussed, only three leaves were present, whereas this larger structure bears five—if this proves true, and the number of leaves can help to determine the importance of a structure, this theory provides evidence of the critical role this tower may have held in religious ceremonies within the forest.

Examples of Dun Shou (蹲兽) found upon Chinese eaves.

Behind this distant shrine, a clean (though somewhat broken) pathway of white stone takes the place of the simple dirt trails of the forest, as it leads into the Deep Woods and onward to Skyview Temple. The transition to the Deep Woods is not marked by any distinct alteration in mood, though the terrain does begin to change drastically. From the mostly-gentle land of the previous area, the terrain swiftly becomes fragmented– a land of ravines and chasms and outcroppings of rock which appear as small islands and pathways of stone against a sea of black. In this landscape, Link gets his first view of Skyview Temple.

From afar, Skyview Temple resembles an immense vase, from which spring the vast, gnarled roots of a large tree. The layout of the temple is relatively simple, from the exterior. It consists of a diamond-shaped plinth with a central, circular hub upon it, and from this hub stem eight radial tower-structures which face both cardinal and ordinal directions. And though this temple was created with the same graceful masonry of the structures previously discussed, this is by far the most monumental in size, and the most fortified in appearance. Though the lower façade is exactly like that of the observation tower, the one major addition to this temple façade is that it is crowned with a massive, sturdy tower. The turret looms over the primary staircase into the temple, and appears to grow out of it, though the leaf-like design under each tower culminates not in a leaf but in a series of smaller windows. These diminutive openings give the impression of machicolations, as one might see on the ramparts of a medieval fortress. Each tower is capped by a large stone, and this stone is lightly etched with several leaves atop two flowing, curvilinear lines. The impression is overbearingly one of solidity and strength. The outer walls of this complex are more like those of a citadel than a sanctuary.

The atmosphere of the interior is almost wholly different to that of the exterior. And this is not to say that the architecture is wholly different—it simply means that it feels different. The impression it gives is one of mold and dust, ash and age. Most immediately noticeable is the stark difference in color. Gone are the verdant greens and marble whites. Instead, pale whites, wan blues and faint purples blend together behind the bioluminescent fungi and ashen plants. And, as in other forest settings, miniscule specks float through the air, though these motes seem less benign than others—they appear to be spores of some sort, set upon choking the very air. Sickly tree limbs emerge from walls, crawling their way across ceilings or hallways, and spider webs build up in the corners next to piles of dust and grime. In short, everything seems either infested or diseased.

Yet, for the pallid nature of its present state, the beauty of this place can still be seen. The major motifs of the Early Forest style can be seen anon: arabesques and leaves adorn walls and tiles, and the crown of three leaves rests atop nearly every doorway. But, throughout the development of this style, likely finding its culmination here in the primary temple of this forest, the motifs have only gotten more complex, and the sources of inspiration more plentiful. Here we see many things that are unique to this temple. The first design in the temple is truly remarkable. It is a composite design consisting of the sun, an eye, and a flower. Heavily stylized, this sun, whose spiraled center is encircled by short rays of light, can also be seen as a flower by viewing the rays as petals, or an eye if the rays become eyelashes. This is a prime example of perception and subjectivity in art, and this shape can be one of these three things, or it can be all of these three things. †

Along this spiraling passageway downward, a series of birds soars overhead, between the strange, ribbed frames in this hallway that leads deeper into the temple. The first proper room consists of a raised dais surrounded by a path. Upon this pedestal is what appears to be an image of the sun, perfectly mirroring the sun carved into the dome above. The dome itself is ribbed, each rib etched with a skeletal outline of a series of leaves, and divided into eight segments. Here, again, we see birds. Now, we know the significance of birds within the realm of goddess worship, being represented in the art and architecture of both Skyloft and the Sealed Temple, but it is fully possible that this system of worship could have extended as far as the forest. In fact, that seems likely. On these eight segments rest two birds that fly upward toward the sun-disc at the apex of the dome. And the prominence and abundance of these birds will only grow in significance and number as we journey farther into the temple.

While all doors in this complex are the same, the concept of Dun Shou is still apparent. The doors, which themselves are a faded gold in hue, and carry a relief of meadow flowers, insects, and berries, are framed by gateways of different importance. For instance, the doorway leading out of this circular room is heavily adorned with leaves, featuring a crown of five framed by three on either side. By far, this gateway is the most ornate that we have yet seen, and beyond this portal is the first nexus of the temple—a fragmented bridge system, raised off a ground of low-standing water. Huge tree limbs, or roots, cascade down from the ceiling, interrupting the internal architecture of the space, yet replacing it with atmosphere and mood. This central hub has doors in each of the cardinal directions, and each flanking room (to the East and West) plays into the cycling of water in and out of this middle chamber. Yet, for all of its functionality, it displays nothing new in terms of design but for its capaciousness. This room serves as a line of demarcation in Skyview Temple, which itself can easily be divided into two primary parts—the protracted series of entry rooms and antechambers leading up to this point, and the temple proper, which centers around the inner sanctum at the end of this fragmented bridge. Beyond this door is the true heart of the temple, which lies at its exact center. Again, the mood changes drastically as one crosses the threshold into the main hall.

The impression here is far different than it was in the previous room. While before the temple coldly reflected the distant light of a pale star, this segment appears to be basking in the light of a nearby golden sun. The first noticeable thing within this room is that it appears in layers; this is to say that the shell of the temple, that which is subject to the elements, protects a smaller room within itself. The temple’s nucleus takes the form of a bird, highly redolent of those statues which surround it. The statues which ring this inner structure are highly detailed, and very regal, perching upon their plinths, wings held to their sides, gazing skyward. Likewise, the building-within-a-building takes much this same pose, though it is very abstract in its ways. It is a curvy and billowing symbol of the goddess made structure; its form swells at the base, and tapers to a head beneath the large oculus of this room which pours forth golden light. Its wings are raised, as if preparing for flight, and they align perfectly on the East-West axis to which this structure adheres. The dome within this chamber is painted with several frescos of birds, and the sylvan themes only grow stronger, introducing before-yet-unseen shapes of leaves and canopies. 

In this inner sanctum are hidden some further developments of this school of architecture. While the outer dome is magnificent in its fragmented nature, the inner dome sets further paradigms that will be seen even farther into the temple. Here, the stone columns quickly become the trunks of trees which prop up cornices of canopies and foliage. Leaves adorn nearly every surface, creating a light and airy sylvan masonry. Even the panels—normally but simple sunken rectangles—take the appearance of leaves that point upward, leading the eye to the dome above, which is formed of a pattern of nine radial leaves all stemming from a central point. Even before entering the temple, symbols of the Forest School began to appear in the architectural features on the path to its gates, and these simple forms of both birds and woodland are continually transformed into new and beautiful motifs as the temple continues its projection into space. 

What lies beyond this central chamber is one of the most unique architectural formations currently upon the surface. The last hall—that which leads to the unutterably sacred Skyview Spring—is an intrusion of the exterior upon the interior of the temple, completely contradicting the normal flow of architecture within this space. An immense and shadowy chasm opens up almost immediately within this room, and where it was once spanned by a thin bridge of stone nothing now remains. On the far side of the yawning crevasse stands an immense wall of thick stone. One can get an idea of the thickness of these fortress walls by walking through the few doorways that remain on this side of the gap. Judging from the door and decorative golden images above it, the following chambers are among the most important in the temple. Above the door, which is itself a mass of golden filigree and branches, two golden birds rest facing one another.

The final chamber of this temple almost exists beyond words. It is a glorious and exhilarating marriage of earth and sky, echoed in both stone and light. Upon the floor, in a bright gold, is an image of the sun at rest within a round and verdant field of green and grey stone that is etched with forested arabesques and the gentler features of nature. This field stretches outward to the walls where it transforms seamlessly into columnar trees reaching upward to a golden oculus far above, suspended in a canopy of bright and empyreal leaves. The branches of the lower canopy double as the wings of birds, which, in the panels between columns, give glimpses of soaring clouds and downward thrusts of rushing air. The highest branches unite into broad leaves that frame the oculus in rays of light, creating the appearance of an actual sun overhead, echoing perfectly its still image in the center of the floor below. This interplay and interpenetration of design—in which each element lives within, yet apart from, the other—seizes the imagination in the form of canopy and clouds, branch and breeze. The room is an open forest glade, and all is suspended in gold.

Uniting this structure into the grand designs of the goddess Hylia are architectural motifs found within the Statue of the Goddess in Skyloft and within her Sealed Temple. Upon the defeat of the Demon Lord Ghirahim and the restoration of this room, the portal to the sacred spring awakens with the symbol of the goddess and opens upon an airy walkway resting on still waters. It is difficult to tell which part of this complex predates the other. The religion of Hylia is quite obviously ancient, and it would be my guess that Skyview Temple would have been created in order to protect this shrine. The shrine itself is humble, yet beautiful in its simplicity. A covered walkway flanked by the familiar columns of the Sealed Temple leads to a small staircase that terminates before a large pool under short cliffs and the impenetrable distance of the forest. Raised stepping stones lead to the platform before the altar, and this last stone carries a relief of the same symbol found upon the doorway into this space. The altar itself is picturesque, resting upon the clear waters of the pool, and is highly redolent of the statuary feature beneath the Statue of the Goddess in Skyloft. In this natural valley, which elevates all of the themes and designs of the temple protecting it, Hylia waits in stone for those destined by Fate to arrive and drive evil from the land. 

End Notes:

*I say it is nearly a circle, as the circle has a few visible angles, notably on the sides flanked by the large pieces of stone; however, this may be due to graphical limits, or the designers may have been endeavoring to create the effect of early architects’ attempts at a full circle, ovoid design, or some combination of a perfect circle blended with more angular designs common in early masonry.

†Etymologically speaking, this hearkens back to the linguistic heritage of the word daisy. Daisy, from Old English dæges eage (“day’s eye”), and represented in Medieval Latin as solis oculus (“sun’s eye”), derives its name from its daily blossoming at dawn and closure at dusk. With its opening and closing echoing so well the human cycle of waking and sleeping, it came to be known as the eye of the day. So, in this one flower we are given a strong connection to both the human eye and our sun. While this is surely conjecture, this represents a potential linguistic meaning at play within the embellishments of Skyview Temple.

Cosima’s apartment (wip)

Cloneclub, I need a little hand from you.
I was sketching the floorplan of Cosima’s flat, because I love it, and why not.
I wanted to know from your watchful eye if you agree with this sketch or if there’s something you would correct.
For example I was uncertain about the bathroom on the right: we see a door in some frames exactly in that area, so I thought it could the bathroom. Anyway, tell me what you think and I’ll make a more accurate floorplan.

This chromatic union is powerful and full of hope, meanwhile the line of the plane, bringing a superb tiny addition to the main couple, will also be associated as it has been the case for many of us for one decade and a half, to panic and destruction.
© Pascale Albrand

burninbushytail  asked:

so I'm an architecture student, and our teacher asked us to analyse our house, I don't know if it's the same program all around the world, can you tell me what it includes? you know analysing the light, surfaces, spaces and their fonctions ...

From what I can understand in your message and the teacher has asked you to “analyse” there will be some basic items you would look at and then some that the teacher might have mentioned or hinted at. 

Originally posted by cheetahswolf

Keep reading
The greatest vanishing act in prehistoric America

Vultures carve lazy circles in the sky as a stream of tourists marches down a walkway into Colorado’s Spruce Canyon. Watching their steps, the visitors file along a series of switchbacks leading to one of the more improbable villages in North America — a warren of living quarters, storage rooms, defensive towers and ceremonial spaces all tucked into a large cleft in the face of a cliff.

When ancient farmers built these structures around the year 1200, they had nothing like the modern machinery that constructed the tourist walkway. Instead, the residents had to haul thousands of tonnes of sandstone blocks, cut timber and other materials down precarious paths to build the settlement, known as Spruce Tree House, in Mesa Verde National Park.

“Why would people live here? That’s an important question. It’s not an easy place to reach,” says Donna Glowacki, an archaeologist now at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, as she walks among the ruins. Even more perplexing is what happened after they settled there. The villagers occupied their cliffside houses for just a short time before everyone suddenly picked up and left. So did all the other farmers living in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, where the modern states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona meet (see ‘Turbulent times’).

All together, nearly 30,000 people disappeared from this area between the mid-1200s and 1285, making it one of the greatest vanishing acts documented in human history. What had been one of the most populous parts of North America became almost instantly a ghost land.

Archaeologists have long puzzled over what drove these farmers, the ancestors of the Pueblo people, from their homes and fields. “That is one of the iconic problems of southwestern — and world — prehistory,” says archaeologist Mark Varien, who is executive vice-president of the Crow Canyon Research Institute in Cortez, Colorado. Early scholars blamed nomads, the ancestors of the Apache and Navajo, for violently displacing the farmers. Over the past couple of decades, the main explanation has shifted to climate — a profound drought and cold snap that hit in the 1270s.

But a series of studies by Glowacki, Varian and other researchers reveals a much more complex answer. The scientists have used detailed archaeological analysis, fine-grained climatic reconstructions and computer models to simulate how ancestral Pueblo families would have responded to their environment. The interdisciplinary strategy has enabled the researchers to examine prehistoric societal changes at a level unattainable in most other regions. “We have enormous detail on this archaeologically. Unparalleled detail,” says Steve Lekson, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The emerging picture is one of a society rocked by troubles until it eventually toppled. More than a century before the Mesa Verde villages emptied out, political disruptions and a monster drought destabilized the entire ancestral Pueblo world. Thousands of people moved into the Mesa Verde region from nearby areas, straining the agricultural capacity of the landscape and eroding established cultural traditions. This led to violent conflicts that further undermined the society, spurring some people to leave. When another drought hit in the late 1200s, the remaining population departed en masse.

Political instability, cultural conflict, violence, overcrowding and drought. Many of the challenges encountered by the ancestral Pueblo seem all too familiar in 2015, as hundreds of thousands ofmigrants flee from the Middle East and Africa towards Europe. When Glowacki looks at the events of more than seven centuries ago at Spruce Tree House, she sees many similarities. “There was a splintering that went on and an implosion of this political system. It was a rejection, them saying, 'We can’t live that way anymore. There has to be a better way’.”

Cliff Palace, a Pueblo dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park, was a thriving village in the 1200s.

Stone work

It was chance that first carried Glowacki into the world of the ancestral Pueblo. Before starting graduate school, she ended up in a summer job as a ranger at Mesa Verde National Park, where she fell for the landscape and its archaeology. She has spent the past 23 years, on and off, researching the region’s ancient populations.

At Spruce Tree House, Glowacki pulls out a map showing the latest results of an architectural analysis that she is helping the park to carry out. The work is laborious — researchers sometimes sit in front of a wall of sandstone blocks for days, studying the mortar and rocks to work out how the structure was first built and then altered over time.

Gradually, a history of the village has taken shape, showing that people assembled the first set of rooms in the alcove around the year 1200, and added more right up until the last residents abandoned the site around 85 years later. The researchers can narrow construction dates to within a year or two by analysing tree-ring patterns in the wooden support beams in the ceilings and then matching them to an established tree-ring chronology for the region.

Despite the tedious nature of the work, Glowacki says that it never loses its appeal. “There are rooms that are fully intact, and you can stand in them — and they were built in the 1240s. In this country, being able to stand in something that was built at that time is really pretty magical.”

The cliff dwellings were a last resort for the park’s prehistoric Pueblo residents. When farmers first arrived in the region around AD 600, they settled on the fertile highlands above the canyons, which gave them easier access to their fields. But by 1200, something began to force them over the edge into the giant alcoves that naturally form in the sandstone cliffs.

Insights into that shift are emerging thanks to a major interdisciplinary effort called the Village Ecodynamics Project (VEP), which launched in 2002. Funded by the US National Science Foundation, the nearly US$2.5-million initiative is assessing how social and environmental factors influenced the populations of prehistoric Pueblo farmers from about 600 to 1300, says Tim Kohler, the VEP’s principal investigator and an archaeologist at Washington State University in Pullman.

In one strand of research, the team drew on the rich history of archaeology in the region to compile a database of 18,000 prehistoric sites, which allowed them to measure the population and how it shifted over time1. With such a massive database, the researchers could look at population changes in narrow time bands averaging about 40 years (see 'All gone’).

“There are not many places in the world where archaeologists can look at changes in such discrete slices of time,” says Varien, who is a co-principal investigator of the VEP. The analysis1 suggested that people started leaving the Mesa Verde region at least 15 years before the drought hit. “It looks as though the final depopulation began with a trickle and ended with a flood,” says Scott Ortman, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who developed the model for the project’s population analysis.

Another part of the VEP looked at how the farmers fed themselves. The researchers used temperature and precipitation estimates from tree-ring data to create a model of where the communities could have grown maize (corn) each year, which was their main source of food. The calculations of this 'maize niche’ did a good job of explaining how many people settled in different regions, says Kohler.

The team’s latest data show that when growing conditions improved, the population density spiked, more than doubling in some regions. But one place defied that pattern: Mesa Verde National Park. When farming became easier, people actually moved out of that area. And, paradoxically, when times grew tough, more people moved in.

Kohler and his colleagues suggest that these movement patterns have to do with topography. The park stands higher than the surrounding landscape, so it gets more precipitation. And because the highlands tilt to the south, cold air drains off, leaving Mesa Verde warmer than the surrounding lowlands. So when the region faced drought or a cold spell, farmers congregated in the more-reliable Mesa Verde area — something researchers had not appreciated before now, says Kohler. “People have been working in this area for 100 years, and I don’t think they ever realized it,” he says of such a climate pattern.

Virtual reality

The VEP researchers have also conjured up a virtual version of the past. The team constructed a computer model of the landscape and then seeded it with households that could grow maize, hunt, collect water and wood and move to new sites if they failed to secure enough resources. By comparing the simulations to the archaeological record, the researchers can examine factors that might have driven ancient populations to migrate. “It’s really a new way of doing archaeology,” says Varien.

Kohler says that he sometimes switches on the graphics during a simulation to watch the behaviour of the dots that represent households. Scattered randomly at first, they scurry around until their inhabitants can harvest enough resources. Then, they form into settlements, which grow rapidly to a point when they can no longer sustain themselves — and so the households move again. But there is a limit to how much Kohler can watch. “Even on modern, fast processors, when the agents get into the thousands, it slows down and it’s no longer fun,” he says.

By comparing the simulations to the actual population data, the researchers discovered2 some interesting discrepancies during the 1100s and 1200s. In the model, the farmers spread out farther across the landscape than they actually did in reality. So something seems to have caused the real ancestral Pueblo to huddle together more tightly than expected.

Kohler and his colleagues wondered whether fear might have been a factor. To find out, they surveyed the archaeological literature and tracked levels of violence in the area through time by tallying how many skeletons had broken arm bones, fractured skulls or other signs consistent with acts of aggression. Some had apparently died in massacres, and there was even evidence of cannibalism at certain sites.

Between 600 and 1000, the Mesa Verde region was relatively peaceful, but rates of violence rose in the mid-1000s and spiked again in the late 1200s, right before the ancient Pueblo left, the researchers reported last year3. “What we found was that people were more clumped up than the model predicted precisely in times when there was a lot of violence on the landscape,” says Kohler.

There has been some scepticism among archaeologists about the use of agent-based modelling, but Kohler says that it has been useful in this case: the inconsistency between the simulations and the real data prompted the researchers to look at violence in a new way. “That disjunction identifies for us interesting questions,” he says.

In Spruce Tree House, a ladder leads down into a sunken ceremonial space known as a kiva.

Most researchers think that the majority of violent acts occurred within ancestral Pueblo communities: one village attacking another over food resources or neighbours turning on each other. More than half the skeletons from some periods bore signs of trauma. “They are one of the most violent societies we’ve ever studied,” says Kohler.

But not all of their troubles came from within. Some unusual-looking projectile points have turned up at massacre sites that date to just before the Pueblo people left the Mesa Verde region, so invading nomads might have had a role in forcing the farmers from their homes.

In the next stage of the VEP project, researchers plan to look at how food shortages might have contributed to violence. The new version of the agent-based model is more sophisticated than the last, allowing households to form social groups that compete with each other for access to agricultural lands. Leaders can emerge, fighting can erupt between groups and people can migrate away from Mesa Verde to an area farther south in New Mexico, where many ancestral Pueblo are thought to have resettled.

This all amounts to a huge step up in processing, so the team will graduate to a supercomputer for future simulations, which are planned for later this year or early next year. Nothing of this scale has been done before in the field, says Kohler. “Archaeologists do not have the reputation of being users of high-performance computing environments,” he says. “But I don’t think we’ll be the end of the road for this kind of work.”

Among the ruins at Spruce Tree House, Glowacki takes a different approach. As a collaborator on the VEP project, she does not discount the importance of drought and short growing seasons. But she focuses on some of the other factors that also stressed the ancestral Pueblo society.

The signs are in the houses that fill the Spruce Canyon alcove. The architectural-documentation project has taught Glowacki that the residents there updated their homes just as much as people in New York or London today. “Even when they were living there, they were making changes and adding walls and doors and doing all of this remodelling.”

Culture clash

Some of these alterations point to dramatic events. In the mid-1200s, structures associated with one of the founding families were burned: fire damage can be seen in one room and in a kiva, a circular depression that served as the family’s ceremonial space. The fire does not seem to be accidental, Glowacki says. Rather, it could have been part of a ritual changeover in ownership or it might reflect someone forcing out one of the original clans. “At the very least, that suggests there were some significant changes in the clans or families that were using the structures — or in part of the leadership there.”

Other rooms in the alcove were also burned, including a tower that may have served as a defensive structure. Taken together, the architectural evidence provides a detailed view of friction in the village, she says. “There was some sort of conflict and people left, presumably, and new people came in and remade these spaces.”

Around the Pueblo region, there are many signs of cultural change leading up to and during the 1200s. Glowacki, along with some other archaeologists, thinks that such adjustments had to do with shifting political allegiances in that part of the world.

During the mid-1000s and early 1100s, the centre of power among the Pueblo people was located about 150 kilometres south of the Mesa Verde area, in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. In the 1100s, an extension of the Chaco political order rose up at a site now called Aztec Ruins National Monument, midway to Mesa Verde. The Chaco–Aztec culture was socially stratified, with massive residences in which the elites lived. Smaller versions of the elite 'great houses’ have been found in villages to the north, which reveals the broad influence of the Chaco–Aztec political order.

Then, an awful drought between 1130 and 1150 apparently weakened that order, and new types of practice emerged. In the Mesa Verde region, some communities built more-inclusive spaces, such as open plazas, and they removed the roofs from some large kivas, allowing broader participation in rituals4.

The changes in public and ceremonial spaces demonstrate the waning influence of the Chaco–Aztec polity, which had previously unified the Pueblo world. “What is happening is you have this dissolution and splintering,” Glowacki says. That may have contributed to the increased violence and served to drive farmers from their highland villages towards the more-secure alcoves along the cliff faces.

These political upheavals may also partially explain why people started to abandon the Mesa Verde area decades before the drought of the mid-1270s hit. The combination of political instability, social upheaval and then a rotten climate was too much to take, she says. “It got really bad and really nasty, and they wanted to get away from it.”

Kohler sees parallels with the collapse of the classic Mayan civilization in the ninth century, as well as with events in the Middle East today. In the case of the Mesa Verde exodus, researchers can look in detail not only at why and when people left, but also at what happened afterwards. “We need to understand migration streams better,” he says. “We have the advantage of the long view.”

Finding peace

Whatever forced the Pueblo to uproot themselves, tens of thousands of people left the Four Corners region in search of something better. And many apparently found what they were looking for. When the exodus began, the ancestral Pueblo migrated in several different directions: some to the southwest into Arizona and some to southern New Mexico. Archaeologists have long suspected that many settled along the Rio Grande river in northern New Mexico, a couple of hundred kilometres southeast of the Mesa Verde region. That hypothesis is supported by population data, which show that the Rio Grande region became more crowded; VEP studies5 have indicated that between 1250 and 1300, the population in this area swelled from 8,000 to 18,000 people. By the early decades of the 1300s, it was close to 25,000, Ortman says.

When they settled in their new home, the Mesa Verde people made a clear break from their former lives. Analysis by Kohler, Ortman and their colleagues3 shows that rates of violence were much lower than before. And the Pueblo made social changes as well. “The migrants do not appear to be trying to continue with the society and traditions of the Four Corners. They were trying to leave them behind,” says Ortman. The Pueblo villages that grew up after 1300 reflect a much more communal type of society, in which multiple families shared kivas and residents gathered in open ceremonial spaces.

There was also a political change, says Lekson, who has studied the elite residences at Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins. “They shucked off all the nobles and the kings, and they never had them again. They figured out how to run villages without that apparatus.”

Even today, southwestern Pueblo villages continue to embrace an egalitarian society. Ortman finds inspiration in the evolution of Pueblo culture after the collapse. “Pueblo people had to create those values and institutions that reflect them as a result of their past struggles,” he says.

And that system has been remarkably successful. Pueblo villages have retained their culture and languages to a much stronger degree than most other Native American communities, he says. “Some of the Pueblos that emerged after the Mesa Verde migration have been able to withstand 500 years of European colonization,” says Ortman. “One could say that those communities have weathered European colonization better than almost any other society in the world — certainly within the United States.”

At Spruce Tree House, Glowacki has seen how strong those traditions still are. Just a few weeks earlier, she took part in a workshop that included some teachers who are Pueblo and who demonstrated how they grind maize. Even that mundane chore took on spiritual dimensions as the teachers made offerings to their ancestors who once inhabited the cliff dwelling. To the modern Pueblo, the centuries-old structures are not abandoned ruins but still echo with the spirits of those who came before.

“It was a really beautiful moment,” says Glowacki. “What I think makes Pueblo culture really interesting and perhaps unique is the long arc of Pueblo history. There’s a lot we can learn about how a society faces really difficult times, adversities — and fundamentally reorganizes and transforms their culture.”

Ordona Province & the Meaning of Twilight

Twilight is the hour that sets the human heart yearning.  The lingering light is a herald of the fall of darkness, and its subdued and quieting gleam wakes memory and wistfulness from their daytime repose.  For as tranquil as a gentle dusk appears, that which it evokes is also somber and melancholic.  Hovering on the edge of night, umber hues fade into a more shaded palette that is swiftly followed by the coming of a sable sky clad with stars.

This daily sequence is a metaphor of death and rebirth, and many have written on its power and nuance.

James Ellis: “Twilight is like death; the dark portal of night comes upon us, to open again in the glorious morning of immortality.”

Thomas Cole: “How lovely are the portals of the night, when stars come out to watch the daylight die.”

And yet it is also the hour of appreciation, peace, and contentment.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “What heart has not acknowledged the influence of this hour, the sweet and soothing hour of twilight, the hour of love, the hour of adoration, the hour of rest, when we think of those we love only to regret that we have not loved them more dearly, when we remember our enemies only to forgive them.”

And one of memorable color.

James Thomson: “Of evening tinct the purple-streaming amethyst is thine.”

John Milton: “Twilight gray hath in her sober livery all things clad.”

Vladimir Nabokov: “The cell was filled to the ceiling with the oils of twilight, containing extraordinary pigments.”

Nabokov’s oils of twilight

If the quotes were many, it is because I think something within them is incalculably important to our coming discussions.  These feelings, given new life during this time of desperate illumination, are very much at the heart of Twilight Princess, and without adequate respect and thoughtfulness for the beauty of emotion, description, and the intense struggle of poetry and communication, little can be drawn from this masterwork.  I urge that this game be played in moods of introspection and calmness, as suggested by the inclusion of rather purple poetic verse.  There are a few critical elements that are present in the quotes above: these are the accompanying conflictions of temperament, reverence for the colors of sundown, and a tendency toward higher thought with concomitant inaction of body.  All of these concepts hold great significance throughout the game, and without mindfulness of them, the game is little more than a vessel for trivial enjoyment.  

People are constantly at battle over their opinions and feelings, and even in Hyrule, people have mixed thoughts concerning the waning light.  Indeed, it can be viewed as a time of fear, or it can be enjoyed as a time of tender catharsis.  In the opening scene to the game, Rusl and Link sit beside an Ordonian stream, caught up in quiet conversation.  “Tell me something,” Rusl asks.  “Do you ever feel a strange sadness as night falls?  They say it’s the only time when our world intersects with theirs … The only time we can feel the lingering regrets of spirits who have left our world.  That is why loneliness always pervades the hour of twilight.”  This dialogue captures the essence of this game, one of differing conceptualizations, mindsets, and ideals.  Instead of the duality of light and darkness, we are presented with a spectrum; and, in the area where the two touch and begin to blend, doubt and confusion dwell.  After all, this evening hour enables light and shadow to momentarily coexist—when the two realms brush against one another.  Some within Hyrule, most notably Princess Zelda, hold that only gloom and depression can exist in such an atmosphere, but Midna and the Twili present a differing perspective—one of attachment.   “Some call our realm a world of shadows,” Midna says mournfully.  “But that makes it sound so unpleasant … The twilight there holds a serene beauty … You have seen it yourself as the sun sets on this world.  Bathed in that light, all the people were pure and gentle.”  We as gamers find ourselves caught somewhere in the middle of these two mentalities.  Through the injunctions of powerful spirits of light, we are forced to feel as though the coming of twilight to the world is an evil, but we also come to love Midna, her people, and what she is fighting against—the perversion of something that she finds to be wonderful and sublime.  The citizens of Hyrule only ever see the twilight of Zant, which confirms all their preconceived suspicions and terrors, and not the delicate half-light so loved by Midna.  And with this in mind, the game begins.  

Ordon village is an agrestic community enshrined in pine forests and mountain peaks.  It is a settlement of pristine farmland, whose rustic inhabitants live comfortably, enjoying their commune with nature, yet at once setting themselves apart from it.  In this alpine environment, animal domestication has thrived, and village life is heavily agrarian.  Though not a part of the larger Kingdom of Hyrule, those living within Ordona Province are still distinguishable to those of other territories by their informal speech and distinctive attire.  Ordonian products—their milks, cheeses, and pumpkins—have even found their way to the far-flung storehouses of Snowpeak Ruins.  The lasting impression of this hamlet is one of warmth and satisfaction.  

The rugged terrain upon which the livelihood of the people is nurtured 

From household commodities, the state of the town is easily readable.  Rocking horses, pictures, tapestries, waterwheels, wind vanes, ovens, potted plants, cooking ware, dolls, and a great many leather-bound books show that this village has long been at peace.  There is no thought of invasion, although weapons are produced and a perfunctory watch maintained, and the townspeople have created an indulgent and comfort-driven society.  In such a self-contained community, there is much time for leisure, and aside from the tending of livestock, few things need prolonged activity or focus.  (An interesting side note: there exists a small agricultural town in southern Italy named Ordona, from which the characteristics and namesake of Ordon Village may be derived.  Mountainous and forested, the region surrounding this city is also home to the only lasting expanse of Italy’s Black Forest.  The Black Forest in this area is also called the Foresta Umbra, the word Umbra being derived from shadow.  Both settlements, then, are pastoral centers that rest under a shadow, though of different sorts.)  

The very picture of comfort - inside Rusl’s house

The dwellings reflect quintessential Kokiric elements, several of which are built directly into large trees.  Most of the construction in this town is of wood, and uses the naturally-existing trunks and branches of the trees for support and embellishment.  This is especially true of Link’s house, which stands a small distance outside of the village proper.  It was constructed upon raised land, and built into the irregularly-shaped hollow of a living tree, whose branches can be seen weaving in and out of the structure.   The wooden beams and floorboards of the house are raw and unfinished, and are unevenly cut.  The windows also echo this design, containing no glass, and letting in a filtered sunlight through latticed woodwork. 

Yet, not all parts of the houses appear purely natural, as they have a distinct purple tile that reinforces their roofing.  It is a hybridization, probably due more to pragmatics than aesthetics, which results in a delightful appearance.  Most homes in Ordon are individual units, creating visible boundaries between families.  Along this same line, each house bears its own insignia, which is found upon the goat-horn crest next to the door.  The emblem found above the doorway into Link’s house is a golden triangle, which likely hints at his destiny and past.  Other houses bear the symbols of leaves, pumpkins, and cats.  Because the raising and domestication of goats is the lifeblood of the village, they take a central role in Ordonian art and custom.  They are found in pictures and tapestries, and their horns are hung upon every passageway entering and exiting the community.  They are displayed prominently above the gates protecting the town and spring, both of which hold obvious significance for those living nearby.  

A village house built into the roots of a tree

The golden triangle marking found upon Link’s banner

Because of the protected surroundings of Ordon Village—the mountains and bridge-spanned chasm—there is little need to worry for safety.  Time that was once afforded to creating the security of a settlement is now used to cultivate the many aspects of a defined culture, though one slow to change.  Nothing pressing or foreboding lies on the horizon, so the townsfolk are at lasting peace.  Higher thought and appreciation can only be born in a society that enables individual reflection, and the conversation of the initial cutscene displays that both of these experiences are well at work within certain villagers.  What follows are realizations of one’s place in the world.  Rusl knows all too well these fleeting contemplations: “You have never been to Hyrule, right?  In the kingdom of Hyrule there is a great castle, and around it is Castle Town, a community far bigger than our little village … And far bigger than Hyrule is the rest of the world the gods created.  You should look upon it all with your own eyes.”  And, in time, that is exactly what will happen.

Snowpeak Ruins

One is in the snowy mountain heights…”

“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.’ There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron … If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.” 

–George Mallory, Climbing Everest

Mountains are a matter of proximity.  From the peaceful, orderly valley below, they appear changeless.  Decades pass, as do centuries, and the snow-capped peaks seem to rest in stasis.  But any climber knows that this is not the case when near to the summit.  Ice gives way, snow buries tracks, storms alter the face of the mountain, and from hour to hour it is different.  The winds come, day changes to night, and the realization hits that this terrain is anything but still.  This is one of the beautiful, yet false, appearances of mountains—that they should mask such tremendous change with such monumental stillness.

Snowpeak is no different.  Temperate Zoran climes quickly give way to unforgiving arctic winds and the blank canvas of white.  The path upward is always treacherous, and never easy, but it seems to be one of those things that moves the human spirit ever onward.  As Mallory famously said, the purpose of climbing is simply to quell “the indomitable desire to see what lies beyond the heart of man.”  

In this environment lies Snowpeak Ruins.  This structure rests at an elevation far higher than anything else within Hyrule, and its very existence seems a folly—as if those that built it were testing the gods by trying to survive in such impossible conditions.  And it appears as though they were ultimately unsuccessful.  The ruins are in a sorry state.  The weight of time and ice has laid low the walls and ceilings of this structure, and winter has slowly crept into the passageways and halls, quietly reclaiming what it once possessed. 

But we can imagine the previous opulence of this place.  Although we do not know why it was built, or by whom, it is clear that this family had great wealth, power, and a vast experience of travel and culture.  In layout, it is very much a fortress.  High curtain walls form a perimeter around an inner courtyard, and a tall central keep towers above the rest of the complex.  It is perched upon an outcropping of stone in the shadow of a large cliff, and is accessible only by a narrow bridge.  The façade is low to the earth, and few windows can be seen from the exterior; this is likely tied to the need for insulation, more so than the interior need for light.  The complex is two stories of flat, featureless stone, with square pillars demarcating the corners.  The interior is sheltered by a steeply-gabled roof, which is normal for buildings in cold regions, as this precludes massive buildup of snow upon the roof and subsequent collapse.  Four guard towers rest at the corners of the courtyard, and hold a commanding view of the interior court as well as the valley floor far, far below.  The keep was perhaps the personal chambers of whoever was in command of this fortress when it was still in use, and is the only chamber to have ornate windows and all the trappings of a bedroom inside.  It is also incomparably more well-tended than the rest of the structure, giving it obvious importance over other areas.

The entryway is as grand as that of any European estate of antiquity.  For although it is a fortress, it is also a country manor.  It bears its own unique sigil not tied to any known entity of the land; it takes the form of two rapiers, crossed before a winged crest.  Past the thick wooden front doors, the traveler is greeted by high ceilings, beautiful, exposed beams, intricate woodwork, and sumptuous detailing upon every surface.  Light filters in through three small windows above the door, dancing upon the red carpeting and forming myriad flickering shadows upon the wooden engravings.  The floor and walls are made of grey and black bricks, and are matched with dark woods and delicate tiles near the floor.  In the vaults formed by the archways to either side are large suits of armor, complexly gilded with fine metals but bearing no known device.  

These suits of armor present a strange notion.  They are not suits made for human beings.  In fact, this is quite contrary to actuality.  They are identical to the suit of armor worn by Darkhammer, the miniboss of this dungeon.  A chainmail undercoat covered by thick plate mail, with four-fingered gauntlets and a hole in the back for a tail can all be seen within this particular design.  The stature is also curious, and obviously not reflective of human composure or frame.  So, why would such creatures have equipment awaiting them within this complex?  It may be that they are simply decorative—the trophies of past campaigns.  Or it may be that the ruler of this mansion was not tied to the Kingdom of Hyrule at all, but was instead ruler over a sovereign polity.  Ultimately, it is very odd that the protective equipment of the enemy would be allowed within the halls of such a structure. 

Further into the main hall, it becomes evident that this place was certainly not built by the current Yeti residents.  Like a Swiss chalet, the wood paneling upon the walls and pillars is exquisitely tasteful, presenting a stark alternative to the rugged nature of the brick walls.  Both staircases leading upward have been partially destroyed, perhaps by time, and perhaps by the weight of overzealous Yeti feet.  Once again, clearly this place was not made by such beings.  A rack of spears lines the far wall, resting behind a metal grill, beautifully made into the shape of a flower.  

A painting of the Sacred Grove

The doorway to the inner halls is equally as splendid, consisting of dark panels of wood inlayed with golden devices of the sunburst and house sigil.  On the consummate carvings to either side of the door hang immense candle holders, and above is a gold and red interpretation of the coat of arms.  Almost as queer as the incongruous suits of armor in the entryway are the paintings resting upon the floor and walls.  The paintings that hang upon the walls are hopelessly faded.  And though it is clear that they are portraits of important figures, it is difficult to even distinguish biological sex, let alone to discover their identities.  But these paintings are not the strangest among them.  The landscapes are far more perplexing.  Scenes depicting the Sacred Grove, the Arbiter’s Grounds, Hyrule Castle, Ordon Goats, and even what is seen by some as the City in the Sky feature here on repeat.  And while Hyrule Castle and the Arbiter’s Grounds may be hallmarks of Hyrulean vistas, how is it that there came to be a painting of the Sacred Grove?  Locked away deep within Faron Woods, protected by an unruly spirit, and locked to all but the Hero of Time, how is it possible that someone else had been there to witness it?  Could this eclectic military house have been culturally-minded travelers with a penchant for exploring the unknown hinterlands of Hyrule, or are these simply meant to confuse the average gamer?

I wish we knew.

What we do know, however, is that the range of scope of those in power here was great.  These halls would have once housed a fairly large guard force, based upon the size of the kitchen and the extent of the storerooms full of weaponry and cannonry.  (The instructions to the cannon, it should be made known, are in Hylian.  Yet another aspect to this mystery.)  We also know that someone had exotic tastes.  Cheeses and pumpkins from Ordon can both be found within certain chambers, and in conjunction with the paintings it becomes obvious that at least one resident was culturally literate—and highly so.  With great wealth comes expensive tastes, and this is reflected by nearly every object.  Expensive time-pieces, heraldic symbols, leather-bound books upon wooden shelves, large fireplaces, chandeliers and vaulted ceilings all hint at an aristocratic atmosphere.  Because this is a castle, and due to the religiosity of every Hyrulean culture, it is only natural that there be a small chapel within.  This is one of the larger rooms, and is very traditional in style.  High windows, the glass has long since fallen out, filter in both light and air, and a layer of snow covers the rug running the length of the center aisle.  Pews line either side, and lead to some form of sanctuary, which is a separate room in itself, though much of it is visible through the two large windows on either side of the door.  As there are no religious markings upon either edifice or embellishment, it is not known what religion was practiced herein.  

The ruins of Snowpeak represent the human endeavor to triumph over nature, and in this brutal yet beautiful environment they pass from one resident to the next, undergoing imperceptible, but ever real, changes. 


The coat of arms of this house can be found in one other place in Hyrule.  On the lowest ridge of the path leading to Zora’s Domain from North Hyrule Field is a cave of ice.  It consists of four rooms, each of which holds a distinct puzzle, ultimately leading to a heart piece. Magnificent arabesques glimmer from beneath sheets of ice, and torches set into the wall give the cave an air of the unknown.

The decorations herein are reminiscent of those at Snowpeak.  The weapons are similar in craftsmanship, yet the decorations upon their hafts are far more ornate within this cave.  And here, not only is the coat of arms present.  It exists alongside the crest of the Royal Family.  In addition to this, the gates of this place are Zoran in nature- exactly like those within the Water Temple.  Perhaps this cave is meant to show the interconnectedness of all peoples within Hyrule.  And because this cave yields no history, it is impossible to extrapolate based upon these findings.  But the strangeness at Snowpeak is not now an isolate; although it is not known how this sigil was dispersed (or indeed where it originated), it now has taken a place within the larger culture of Hyrule.

The Sealed Grounds and Intentions of the Goddess

“An ancient forest remains here, seemingly preserved in time … This place is called the Sealed Temple. Judging by the extent of structural degradation, I project that it has stood here for a very long time. Due to its solid stone construction, the air inside is relatively cool. There is also an unquantifiable mystery to this place.”

-   Fi, Skyward Sword

Picture Credit: 女神の牢獄 by 星丸

As Link descends from the brilliant vibrancy of life above the clouds to the more subdued land thereunder, we should try our very best to imagine the sheer confusion and overwhelming awe that he must feel. After all, he has never lived with anything but the azure sky above his head, and now he is below what was always far under his feet. Through such shifts in perspective, we can begin to understand, or at least empathize with, the disorienting nature of such a shift in viewpoint. Aside from this initial disorientation, however, something stranger is evidenced through the ruins that dot this land—previous peoples and civilizations have lived countless generations on the Surface, and those above the clouds have lost all knowledge of this. Link and Zelda are acting, through the machinations of Fate, as the primary explorers and emissaries of Skyloft, surveying a land thought only to exist in legend. And, what is more, they are doing so while simultaneously attempting to discover their individual roles within the designs laid down by the goddess so many years ago. Placing such overwhelming burdens upon two youths was likely not a choice made easily, but this was the plan devised by the goddess Hylia. And, if we are ever to understand the chosen hero, we must realize the deep and powerful changes forced upon him by these events.

Falling from the heavens, Link would find the air beginning to get denser and denser as he traveled through cloud and fog. Breaking the cloud-line, a hazy world of muted greens and greys would slowly become visible. Landing beside a deep, downward-spiraling pit, the half-formed ruins of a once majestic temple would grow clearer in the midday sun. These are the Sealed Grounds, though Link does not yet know this, and they play an essential function in revealing of the strands of Fate.

There are several physical aspects to this location. The most prominent feature of this landscape is, of course, the massive opening that begins almost immediately in front of the temple gate. As we know, the spiraling path leading to the bottom of the pit is a perfect mirror of the dirt and rock beneath the Statue of the Goddess high above in Skyloft. When Skyloft ascended to the heavens, a scar was left upon the face of the land. A path of stone winds around the outer edge of the chasm, encircling it in its entirety at the surface level, and another extends to its uttermost bottom. On this latter road, concentrated jets of air periodically, rhythmically rise from the earth, sending dust, as well as unwary passengers, into the air. As one travels deeper, familiar pictures can be seen upon the dirt walls of the gorge; these pictures are the exact pictures seen in the prologue—the prehistoric cave paintings of ages forgotten. The story of what happened to the land is etched upon the land itself. The provenance of these paintings is, as with most things, unknown to us, but we can still put forth a few guesses. There were several sentient species left upon the surface after Hylia moved earth to heaven, and it may have been any one of these. However, only one species is known to have a tradition of painting, and this is the Goron people. Paintings are evidenced in nearly all of their communities, though this is only a tentative connection. Eventually, this path levels off, culminating in a circular sward into which is embedded a black thorn. Upon this instrument are the three symbols of the Golden Goddesses, with a host of other arcane markings. This is referred to as the Sealing Spike, and it serves as a barrier against the Imprisoned—a monstrous avatar of Demise. As these storied events unfold, Link will visit the Sealed Grounds many times, as the seal upon Demise grows progressively weaker and threatens to break.

As in many legends, this tale is ultimately concerned with the forces of Light and Darkness. Demise, King of Demons, for reasons unknown to us (perhaps it is simply his nature) wishes to control all that exists, breaking and twisting all life to his will. And, as so often happens, this great evil is checked by a force that is perhaps not equal to it in power, but which is greater in foresight, in sacrifice, and in love. 

When the Three Golden Goddesses departed this world after its creation at the beginning of existence, they imparted knowledge of the Triforce to the goddess Hylia, and charged her with its protection. In her hands, no evil came to mar its surface, and for an entire era she kept it. Witnessing the might of Demise, and realizing that she lacked the power to stop him, she gathered her chosen people upon an outcrop of earth and sent them skyward. After separating herself from those who held her most dear, she created a massive wall of clouds to separate earth and sky. Satisfied with the strength of her barriers, and believing her people protected, she joined the Five Tribes of the surface into a single force which finally defeated the demon hordes of Demise. After this protracted battle and the eventual sealing of Demise, Hylia knew herself to be gravely wounded. She realized that if Demise were to break his seal and once more threaten the land, she would be powerless to stop him. And more so, she knew that this Seal upon Demise would not long hold against the Demon King’s power. Above all, she seemed to wish for the well-being and wholeness of the entire world, and all in it, and so she devised two plans and set them both into motion.

First, she created Fi. And this spirit, held within the Goddess Sword, had but one function: to assist the chosen hero on his mission. Her second plan was to abandon her divine form and transfer her soul into the body of a mortal. She made this sacrifice in the hope that, in the distant future, the chosen hero, guided by her awakened form, could use the power of the old gods to defeat evil forever. As is known to us, though the Triforce was created by divinity, it cannot not by divinity be used. Thus, a human agent is necessary.

No less critical in her plans were the Trials of the Hero. Having witnessed the awesome power of Demise firsthand, she knew that her chosen hero would one day need to be capable of wielding tremendous power to defeat the embodiment of all malevolence. To this end she created several trials to serve as a way of honing the nascent skills of her hero. And knowing that the young hero would doubtlessly need guidance on his journey, she imparted knowledge of her designs to the great spirits of the world, giving each an aspect of her plan as they guarded over the land in her stead. 

Fi is fascinating. Though she is but a cog in the grand schemes of her creator, she presents a storyline that is as beautiful as it is morally perplexing. Fi is, put most simply, a program. She was fashioned for a singular function, and she completes it without questioning its motives, reasoning, or consequences. A perfect servant, she knows neither choice nor response, save for that which was given to her by her coding. It is through Fi that Hylia moves the flow of destiny, and without Fi there would be no end to that which is predestined. 

This spirit of the sword serves as a messenger of the gods and as the unfailing companion of the hero. It is she who wakes the hero within Link, and she that helps him through his trials. As Link progresses through his tribulations, her programming continues along preset lines to match whatever objective has been triggered deep within her. Everything is predetermined, and, like clockwork, it proceeds unfailingly. Most interesting in her development, though, is the end scene of the game, in which she admits to having feelings of what she believes to be happiness. Wait! we say. She is but a program, unconscious of all that moves her in this tale! How can she possibly feel such an emotion? I believe that, as with all else, this feeling is but a part of her programming—a reward, perhaps, from her creator. As she advances along the inescapable path of her programming, it may be that she begins to develop a slight capability for emotion. It is my assumption that Hylia, who has a nearly transcendent capacity for compassion, would have felt guilt at her creation of a being that lacked any notion of free will. And so she would have given Fi a taste of humanity—a sample of emotion felt by those that Hylia loved above all others—before her entombment within the Master Sword.

Fi’s final, melancholy words to Link are these: “Link, hear me. My purpose was to obey the command of the goddess and lead you, the chosen hero of this land, on your quest. When I first awoke and began this task, I perceived it as merely serving my function as a servant to Her Grace. However, I have come to consider the information corresponding to our time together among the most precious data I have on record. I do not have the capability to fully understand the human spirit, Link … But now, at the end of my journey with you, as I prepare to sleep within the Master Sword forever, I experience a feeling I am unable to identify. I lack sufficient data to be sure of my conclusion, but I believe this feeling correlates closest to what your people call … happiness. Our partnership is at an end, and even as we speak, I feel my consciousness fading away. Before I enter the sleep that calls me to the sword, I wish to relay to you words that I recorded many times over the course of our journey. Many have said them to you thus far, but I now wish to say them for myself. Thank you, Master Link. May we meet again in another life … .” Though she is often slandered as a companion character, I believe that Fi has a story and charm unique to her, and one that has not been approached in any game before. To blame her for her lack of personality, or for her mechanical precision or terse mannerisms, is ridiculous. She was not created with those functions in mind, and so such things are quite literally impossible. They exist outside her programming.

Overall, with this above exposition I hope to accomplish but one thing, and that is to establish some of the reasons and history behind the deification and worship of the goddess Hylia. It is not for nothing that she has been worshipped so faithfully across the ages. Her sacrifice, foresight, and compassion all denote an intense intelligence, a fierce protectiveness, and an uncanny wisdom. Her empathy and consideration spread even to those beings that were not alive in a technical sense, and this sets Hylia apart from many common human conceptualizations of deities. Ultimately, Hylia sacrificed her divinity for the benefit of the world.

The Groosenator, seen before the crumbling walls of the Sealed Temple, in Hyrule Warriors.

The sealing device of the Sheikah upon the main doorway into the Sealed Temple, where it is partially obscured by ivy.

As Link makes his way back to the temple façade, passing by the fallen columns and ruins of the Sealed Grounds, the most noticeable aspect of the temple front is the orange symbol of the Sheikah acting as a lock upon the door. We cannot say how long this seal has been in place, but it was likely put in place by Impa to further protect the sanctity of this structure. As Link arrives, however, the seal is broken, and the gears of Fate continue to move. When Hylia raised Skyloft, the antechamber in which Link now stands was broken in two, carrying away with it a large portion of the temple exterior in the process. The dome that rests above the main doorway has been half-destroyed, but several elemental medallions, along with part of the Triforce, can still be seen clearly. As the stone can clearly be seen through the images, it is likely that these symbols were painted on using gold and blue paint, which, remarkably, has yet to fade. Much of the temple facing the pit is now ruined, and is covered with ivy and faded by years of weathering. Structurally speaking, the temple is basically symmetrical, with four corner towers, a rectangular hall, and aligned perfectly from one end to the other. The slope and shape of the roof hint at possible Greek-inspired origins, but the towers and domes that grace the structure are not of the same tradition, and this is where the similarities end. Aside from the façade, upon which are located several enshrined statues of Loftwings and the goddess Hylia, there are no overt symbols of worship on the exterior of the building, and the grey stone of which it is constructed is virtually blank. The diminutive statue of Hylia stands beneath a small Greek temple front, and this miniature hall is flanked by two smaller structures under which rest a set of Loftwings. Upon the pediment above the goddess statue is a semicircular design of gold, which may reflect the fragmented dome resting at the feet of the statue. Concerning the masonry, those stones which comprise the wall are simply cut, and were likely placed without a form of mortar. The joints between the stones are very thin, and the visible face of the stone looks as though it might once have been highly polished. To me, both of these aforementioned facts seem to hint at the use of ashlar masonry—a style of masonry in which each individual stone is cut with demanding precision, so that the blocks fit perfectly against one another.

The impressionistic art style of this game is magnificently portrayed within the temple. From the initial clarity of the surrounding pillars just inside the doorway, the far end of the room becomes obfuscated, almost to the point where one can solely see the intermingling of various colors. Greys and greens in the periphery meet with the bright gold of a strong sunbeam, and this scene, as it is framed by these rows of pillars, almost appears as a large panel of stained glass. Stained glass has primarily religious undertones, and this impressionistic stillness reinforces the sanctity of this place. The Sealed Temple (which was formerly the Temple of Hylia) stands as age embodied. Its antiquity is beyond recall, and it will go on to obtain new life as the Temple of Time, constructed by the inimitable Sage, Rauru, in a later epoch.

It is evident that this temple has not housed anything for many years. The inside is predominantly barren, and, aside from an altar, staircase, bird statue, pedestal, and tree, contains precious little. The altar stands central between eight solid pillars, coated with years of ivy and lichen. There are several motifs at work here, and all of them stand in great contrast to the stonework of the structure itself; whereas the outside was a highly-organized system of blocks in straight lines, the stonework of the inside, in some places, is much more artistic. In contrast to this standard, greystone masonry, the embellishments and themes herein stand out as pristine. The first embellishment can be seen above each of the smaller doorways and at the tops of the larger columns found in each corner of the room. A shield of gold, or perhaps a medallion, is the centerpiece of each door frame, and is decorated with an image of what appears to be the four winds—each confined to a separate quadrant of the marker, surrounding a central node. The lintel, replicated for each door, is purely decorative, and appears to be only loosely attached to each fixture. As with much decorative stonework within these more ancient temples, the craftsmanship is spectacular; the reason for the blockiness, or semi-angularity—even with fluid designs, is likely due to the tools available in these earlier eras. As with all technologies, these tools would have had to evolve from simplicity to complexity. This aged structure is among the earliest we know of, and the craftsmanship seems to reflect this. Only in later ages of Hyrule do we see the knowledge and skill necessary to create things like the statuary group above the throne of Hyrule in Twilight Princess, with its graceful fluidity and lightness of appearance.

In layout, only a few rooms are known to us. The central hall, which is comprised of a nave and aisles, both of which terminate before the staircase, is the main chamber, and is the most ornate. The large pillars, central altar, and staircase are the main features of this room, and the design elements we see upon the walls, ceiling, and piers are those found beneath the Statue of the Goddess that resides in Skyloft. And, as these two buildings were once the same structure, this should not be surprising. The Triforce motif carries on here, some of them strangely inverted (something we very rarely, rarely ever see), as well as the Loftwing design which appears in intervals upon the stone beams of the ceiling. Two other closely-related themes are also present—an image of the goddess, and the Goddess harp. All of these images are inextricably tied to one another, and represent much of the religious symbolism surrounding Hylia. These are, in fact, religious signs, and represent a connection to the divine. Where they appear, divinity must therein reside.

Link, Zelda, and Groose look on as the final temple door opens onto what will become the glade of the Master Sword.

The Master Sword in its pedestal within the temple.

A small chapel connects to the main hall, and houses a raised platform upon which a tree grows. A delicate stained glass window rests within the stonework of the dome, and casts varicolored light upon the still branches below. A carpet of grass rests quietly upon the floor, though it does not stretch to the main hall. The final sanctum is very similar in environment to this smaller chapel. Large branches and limbs grow through the walls of the circular chamber, and much of the room lies in disarray. The roof has been damaged greatly, and several of the pilasters (which are crowned with the Loftwing motif described earlier) are fragmented badly. 

The final unexplored doorway leads outside. This gently sloped pathway, which connects to the ancient Faron Woods, is bright with sunlight, open, and quiet. It is rare in Zelda games to have these strange pockets of silence, in which one can only hear the ambient sounds of nature, but this area directly outside this part of the Sealed Temple is one of them. Perhaps this is meant to signify the nearness of nature, and the centrality of the woods to the upcoming chapter of the legend. Whatever it represents, however, it is a welcome oasis of stillness in the days when the woods were yet young.

Spider Fang Study Reveals Architecture of Perfect Puncture

The picture above is a model of the mechanical load a spider’s fang must endure. Scientists in Germany and Austria have been busy studying the wandering spider’s natural syringe to better understand how similar sharp structures like stingers, claws and teeth are built.

They were interested in the fang because it must last for more than a year of the arachnid’s life and through multiple attacks on prey. While hunting, it must pierce through the tough exoskeletal cuticle of its victim to inject a potent neurotoxic venom. 

Their research looking at different structural scales to understand the fang’s mechanical properties concluded that “both the anatomical shape of the naturally evolved fang and its material-level architecture result in highly adapted effective structural stiffness and damage resilience.”

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