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Altmer Part 3: On the Blessed Isles

  • Member
    July 2, 2014

    Disclaimer: This is an article of our former member, renown Loremaster Vix, acknowledged by Bethesda themselves. It ended up being deleted and I'm merely reposting it.


    On the Blessed Isles:

    The Summerset Isles have always been one of the rumors for 'the Next Elder Scrolls' going back to Morrowind. However, at the time we knew next to nothing about the home of the Altmer, and even now after two more major installments we still know relatively little in comparison to many of the other regions of Tamriel. However, what we do know paints an interesting picture not only of the land of the elves but it binds some of the quintessential elements of the people to the land itself.


    Basic Geography and Settlement Patterns

    While most think of the Summerset Isles as just a single province that consists of one or two islands, the Isles itself is a fairly extensive archipelago with dozens of individual islands (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition). There is the Mainland of Summerset, and then the large eastern Island of Moridunon (On Artaeum). For the most part there exists two separate cultures, a very quiet and picturesq internal world in the Isle's valleys and hills, and that of the vicious blood soaked shoreline. It gains this reputation from the amount of conflict that each sees. Some of the internal areas have never seen organized warfare, but the coastline is constantly raided by corsairs and invaders over the Summerset Isle's long history (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition). This may seem like a great defensive corridor in that the Altmer rarely let their enemies inland, but there is a far more practical explanation to it.

    The Summerset Isles may consist of a fairly large central inland landmass but nearly every major city (with the exception of Cloudrest) appears to be coastal. Given the Aldmer landed on the coasts in wide intervals it makes sense that the oldest and greatest holds would certainly be the largest. And, likewise, given the early hardships the Aldmer had in pacifying the native lands with monsters and other hostile and less so races these initial territorial gains were merely solidified rather than expanded (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition). This same settlement pattern can be seen elsewhere in early exploration, from the coastal areas of High Rock, to Hammerfell, the Imperial City, and even the many Wizard towers established in Vvardenfell, the Altmer tended to settle in coastal locations first of all, displacing the native population to the interior (Before the Ages of Man). Militarily this also makes invasion far more dangerous given that it appears as if the majority of the population exists in coastal zones rather than creating defensive areas inland. This has, it seems, played out with two notably results: Invasions cause an enormous amount of destruction, and coastal seafaring culture is normal as is nautical transportation.

    When it comes to architecture and architectural styles, there is an oddity in that the Altmer have often incorporated the architecture of earlier civilizations into their own. These adaptions tend to be made in a rather fundamental way rather than the Altmer having entirely constructed their own. Coral bases exist in several cities and ruins which hint to the earliest inhabitants of the Summerset Isle being the Sload who build in much the same fashion. However, other sources point to the elves as generally having a similar style of architecture: straight in edges with more organic curves rather than angular terminal points (Pocket Guide to the Empire 1st edition, Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition).



    Aside from being alphabetically the first city to look at Alinor holds the reputation of being the most externally important city in the Summerset Isles. As the palatial location of the High King of the Altmer, Alinor holds the distinction of being the Capitol of the Summerset Isles even if this title has more significance to outsiders than to the other Altmeri City-States. It's not entirely surprising then that to show unity and precedent, the second Aldmeri Dominion renamed the whole of the Summerset Isles to Alinor to reflect this status. Many times in its history it is said to have housed a number of councils, which likely has the same connotation as a parliament up until the Thalmor council of representatives settled in Eldenroot Valenwood. It does give us a glimpse of a more complex representative system that has emerged in the Altmeri Capitol.

    However, the far west coast city itself has a number of important distinctions. Aside from being the High King's residence, the architecture is said to be fairly unique as far as material composition goes. Early ambassadors from the time of Reman Cyrodiil remark that it has 'impossibly high' towers and hypnotic colors from crystal like construction. The buildings themselves seem to be constructed from materials much like 'glass' or 'insect wings' which paint a picture of lustrous iridescence. This is further reinforced in that the towers themselves separate light out into its component colors like that of a refractive prism. This is said to color the surrounding area of colors from dawn to dusk (We can see a similar building style as a concept in the Quantum Field X3 located at the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao Spain). With what we know about Aldmeri religion of change, as well as the spectral nature of the Aldmer themselves, this component may very well be a building style dedicated to Auri-El. We also know that the city features a great number of twisting and curving ramparts and buildings, usually colored by the reflection from the iridescent towers. If the extracted albeit unused text files from The Elder Scrolls: Arena is any indication, Alinor is also considered a forest city.

    Like nearly every other major hold, Alinor is a port. During the perspective war with the Colovians and later the Imperials of Cyrodiil, Summerset Isle was closed for 50 years starting at around 2E 814, however, the port of Alinor remained open as a diplomatic and trade center. During the Earlier Reman occupation of the last first era the city was the site of numerous “Chilling transgressions” perpetrated by the Cyrodiils which has colored foreign relations ever since (Pocket Guide to the Empire 1st edition).



    While Alinor holds the distinction of being the center for Altmeri politics, Firsthold is very likely the cultural capitol of the Altmer. Given its close proximity to the Crystal Tower, being just several days ride by horse (King Edward) it isn't a surprise that many of the advances and innovations come from Firsthold. According to the TES:Arena text files (and a simple inference by the name and close proximity to the crystal tower) Firsthold was actually the site of the first Aldmeri settlement under the rule of High Lord Torinaan and is known as the birthplace of the High Elves. Firsthold itself seemed to be the ancient Capitol until overtaken by Alinor. It is known in the public sphere for its great cathedrals to Auri-El (Feyfolken).

    As with many of the other major cities Firsthold is a port city with the distinction of being a major center for travel and exploration. It has a commanding position being at the far north point of the island of Moridunon and is the extreme northern settlement on the Isles situated high on the cliffs by the Abscean sea. This natural location seems to set Firsthold in the unique position of having a somewhat somewhat temperate equatorial latitude which gives the city a perpetual springtime compared to more southern cities such as Alinor and even Cloudrest. This same location also makes Firsthold a place that faces the perpetual nuisances of priacy from all across the Abscean sea such as the area of Culluis Lar (The Firsthold Revolt). Given Firsthold's importance it's not unreasonable to believe that it was one of the principle reasons in the territorial conquest in the War of the Blue Divide which took back some coastal islands to stop the piracy during the Imperial Simulacrum (A Dance in Fire). A nautical heritage seems common to Firsthold, having been the patron city of the early Aldmeri expeditions by individuals such as Topal the Pilot who was granted 8 islands of the Rumare, which would become the Imperial city, by the native Birdmen of Cyrodiil during the exploration of the Niben (Father of the Niben). Under King Rilis XII Firsthold became home to the first Mages guild after he approved their charter in 2E 230 (Origins of the Mages Guild). This granted the city even more influence and may be one reason why it is home to the famous Orreries. This device's central mechanisms and sphere come from minerals mined from Aetherius during the Sun Bird expeditions (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition).

    Firsthold isn't without a dark side though. Aside from engaging in the usual rivalry and warfare with other city states (notably Skywatch which is on the same landmass), the island is steeped in tradition, general bickering, and perhaps the site of the most xenophobia. It has a significant countryside population where, during the 3rd era at least, the fundamentalist Trebbite monks held considerable sway. The Trebbite's and their friars argued for the Summerset Isles to have only pure blooded Altmer. After the ascent to the Dunmer Queen Morgiah to the throne and the failed Firsthold Revolt it seems they lost whatever support they had. Likewise, while the people may have voiced support for pure Altmeri leadership they didn't act against their queen or foreigners despite their vocal dissent (The Firsthold Revolt).


    The Crystal Tower

    The Crystal Tower, more accurately called Crystal-like-Law was a structure constructed by the first Aldmeri settlers as a sign of unity between its people during the middle Merethic period and at its highest levels, housed the graves of the first Aldmeri settlers. It was built rather close to Firsthold and unlike it's xenophobic neighbor, has next to no compulsions about non Altmer with many students of non Altmeri, and even non Mer descent flocking to its facilities since the ban on non Altmer was lifted in the Merethic or early first eras. Crystal-like-Law was the principle point of arcane studies before the construction of the Arcane University in the Imperial City. From what descriptions we have, the Crystal tower seems to also rest near a fairly extensive forest circa the end of the 3rd era (The Rising Threat)

    Due to several integrated aspects to the Crystal tower it was considered a very dangerous place and was therefore opened only by invitation or per-arrangement. The tower itself is ruled by an Arch-Magister while the various workings and departments ate tended to by Magisters. While it's primary purpose was the study and research of magic, it had vaults and displays that kept some of the oldest most treasured artifacts of Altmeri and Aldmeri kings including: many artifacts from the first settlers such as the Remoran tapestries which depicted the various beasts and races of the land; irreplaceable works of art from paintings to sculptures; the interred bodies of the first Aldmeri settlers of course (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition), the original maps and script of Topal the Pilot (Father of the Niben), an enormous menagerie for rare beasts (A Dubious Tale of the Crystal Tower), as well as a famous collection and library (The Sage). This necessitated not only security measures of the mundane types in wizards and soldiers, but the tower was notable for having troll guards who were well liked, well treated, and well respected by their masters. These resided in barracks like environments and seemed to be exceptionally intelligent, forming close bonds with individuals, as well as engaging in pastimes and gambling like any other type of guard. It also included a variety of other security measures from the mundane such as black attack dogs, to sentient riddle doors, and satyr like guards. Most of the lower day-to-day work seems to be done by the initiate neonates as well as the host of gremlins and goblins (King Edward).

    The building itself was fairly well described and has been depicted before in Arena. The internal structure is made of luminescent Crystal that gives off brilliant white light, with the same crystalline floors that are fairly rough and crunch at every step. It is an incredibly high structure with carved internal features including many fountains and pools. All in all the tower was a serene and quiet place noted for being extremely still (King Edward).

    Of course, I have been using past tense through this and all the other descriptions. The Crystal tower has been a target through the third Era by a salon group of revolutionaries called the Beautiful though every terrorist attempt failed (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd Edition). However, during the Oblivion Crisis, known to the Altmer as 'the Great Anguish' Daedra over-whelmed the tower and destroyed it completely along with its treasure troves inside as it had become a center for refugees given its potential for protection (The Rising Threat).



    Cloudrest has a few notable and odd features. For one, it is the only noted city-state that is inland and seems to be 'land locked' by virtue of it being on top of the tallest mountain in the Summerset Isles, mount Eton Nir. The city itself has an oddity in its original Arena text file which says that it 'commands the plains of Summerset' which may give us some idea of the geography of that part of the Summerset Isle mainland.

    However, one of the most telling features is the peculiar architecture which gives us some evidence that the Altmer were not the first major widespread civilization on the Summerset Isles. As previously noted, the foundations and lower structures of many buildings are made from coral despite being on the top of a mountain far from the ocean. This same architecture exists elsewhere in ruins as well. The rest of the architecture is built in layers with various styles and buildings being atop others ones in the same manner as the portraits of ancient Aldmeris landscape (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition).



    The home of the Psijics is an appropriately mystical place as well. The Island of Artaeum is located just off the coast to the south east not far from either of the major islands of the Summerset Isles. Quoted as being only 'half a league' though aside from the use of feet several times we can't be sure of how far a league is given it's varied definition. Nevertheless there is a veil of mist, much like Pyandonea, which acts as an extremely effective wall in obscuring the island. There has been some sources that state that not only can Artaeum disappear (as it has been known to do twice in the past), but it is moved either by its own will or by edict of the Council of Psijics or that it can become ethereal so no one can land (On Artaeum). This means the effective distance from the mainland is greatly variable.

    Like Firsthold, Arteum's weather is locked in a perpetual springtime though it's also noted to never rain on the island itself (Mannimarco King of Worms, 2920: The Last Year of the First Era). While Artaum itself does have a bay, the rest of the island seems to be shielded by cliffs (Mannimarco King of Worms). Most of the buildings seem to be towers overlooking fields of purple flower, quiet orchards, and mist covered woodlands of Osassom trees. There is statues to Syrabane the 'Warlock' Ancestor just outside of the grey Ceporah tower which is used for many Psijic rituals (Origin of the Mages Guild, 2920: The Last Year of the First Era).

    Oblivion can be reached from the island through a spot called the Dreaming Cave, where communion with Daedra is possible (2920: The Last Year of the First Era, Doors to Oblivion). However, as of the time of writing of the 3rd edition Pocket Guide to the Empire the Dreaming cave was closed by Loremaster Celerus for the safety of all.

    Aside from these spots, we've been given little other examples of how the Summerset Isle looks. Shimmerene, for example, has just one line in that it was 'the city of lights' (Extracted Arena text) and that Amalgil had many manors, banks, and a statue of the Transformation of Trinimac but we are given far less detail about the Isles than many other regions. It is a shame given the importance the Altmer have had on Tamrielic history. However, because of their isolated nature much of their geography and lands are a mystery.


    That's it for what we know about the Summerset Isles itself. It's not much in comparison but it still does have its place and purpose. It is something of a simple topic, and unfortunately we also have less representation than most which has probably fueled a lot of the speculation about it as a future spot in the series. Nevertheless, an understanding of the land of the Altmer might help further one's under standing too.

    ← Part 2: The Highborns Part 4: History of the High Elves →