Tycho Nestoris: Most cities are built on stone. Braavos was built on ships. Or, more specifically, their cargo. Slaves who rose up against their Valyrian captors and seized the helms of the convoy. Of all crimes, Valyria punished rebellion most severely. The slaves faced not execution, but the Valyrian mines or labor camps in the most remote and savage colonies if recaptured. And few corners of the world can long remain hidden from dragonback.
However, our histories claim that a group of slave women prophesied the slaves would find shelter in a distant lagoon, behind a wall of pine-clad hills and sea stones, where the frequent fogs would help hide the refugees from the eyes of dragon riders passing overhead. And so it proved. Because they had risked their lives in the name of freedom, the mothers and fathers of the new city vowed that no man, woman or child in Braavos should ever be a slave. This is the first law of Braavos, engraved in stone on the arch that spans the long canal.
For over a hundred years, Braavos hid itself from the eyes of the world, who called it the Secret City. Using a dye derived from a local snail, our captains stained their sails purple to hide their stolen Valyrian ships.Our merchants carried false charts and lied when questioned about their home port. Eventually, one sealord, our elected ruler, decided enough time had passed, and initiated the unmasking of Braavos to the world and to Valyria. Of course, it helped that the Iron Bank made handsome restitution to the Dragonlords for the stolen ships, whilst, of course, refusing to pay for the value of the slaves themselves.
The anniversary of the unmasking is celebrated every year in Braavos with ten days of feasting and masked revelry, a festival like none other in the known world, culminating at midnight on the tenth day, when the Titan roars, and tens of thousands of celebrants remove their masks as one.
Freed of the constraints of secrecy, Braavos quickly grew into the wealthiest and most powerful of the Free Cities, and, one could argue, the most beautiful. From the sprawling Sealord's Palace with its menagerie of strange beasts and birds to the imposing Palace of Justice and the aqueduct we call the Sweetwater River that bears fresh water from the mainland, Braavos is without rival, in either engineering or elegance.
The temples of Braavos are also famed throughout the world and wondrous to behold.Descended from a hundred different peoples, the Braavosi honor a hundred different gods. The Temple of the Moonsingers is the foremost of these, being the faith of the Slave women whose prophecies lead our ancestors here. The Lord of Light has a great temple, as well, for his worshippers have grown more numerous in the past hundred years. Yet, less numerous and even some forgotten faiths still have temples deep in the heart of the city on the Isle of the Gods.
But the beauty of Braavos is not only in her buildings. Braavosi swordsmanship is renowned throughout the world. Our Bravos eschew the armor and longswords of the Westerosi knights, preferring speed, agility, and slender blades. The greatest Bravos call themselves Water Dancers after the custom of dueling upon the moon pool near the Sealord's Palace. By tradition, the greatest of all the Bravos is the First Sword, who commands the personal guard of the Sealord and protects his person at all public events. Once chosen, Sealords serve for life. Inevitably, there are always those who wish to cut that life short to affect some change in policy.
Though not even the First Swords are the true guardians of Braavos. That honor goes to the Titan who protects the entrance to the harbor. With his proud head and fiery eyes looming close to four hundred feet above the sea, the Titan is a fortress of a kind never seen before or since. His eyes are huge beacon fires lighting the way for returning ships into the lagoon. Within his bronze body are halls and chambers, murder holes and arrow slits. Enemy ships can be steered onto the rocks by the watchmen inside the Titan. And stones and pots of burning pitch can be dropped onto the decks of any that attempt to pass between the Titan's legs without leave. This has seldom been necessary, however. Not since the Century of Blood, has any enemy been so rash as to attempt to provoke the Titan's wrath.
Should an enemy break through into the lagoon, however, he would face the walls of Braavos. Again, not of stone, like other cities, but of ships. The arsenal of Braavos can build one of our famous purple-hulled war galleys in a single day. All the vessels are constructed following the same design, so that all the many parts can be prepared in advance, and skilled ship builders work upon different sections of the vessels simultaneously to hasten the labor. To organize such a feat of engineering is unprecedented. One need only to look at the raucous, confused construction in the shipyards around the world to see the truth of this.
Let us imagine that even the arsenal, great as it is, failed us. An enemy who could defeat both the Titan and our fleets would be strong indeed. But Braavos does not depend only on statues and ships. We also have iron... and gold.
- The Sealord of Braavos is depicted with a cat in his lap - which may be a subtle reference to something Syrio Forel told Arya Stark in the novels. When it came time for the Sealord to select a new First Sword as his lead bodyguard, he auditioned many prospective candidates, and asked each what they saw in his lap. Assuming it was some sort of poetic metaphor, all of them gave various figurative responses. When it came Syrio's turn, however, he bluntly said that he only saw a cat - the answer the Sealord was looking for, and at this Syrio was appointed the new First Sword. Also, the Sealord asked what kind of marvelous beast "she" was, but Syrio pointed out that it was clearly a male cat. The moral of the story, Syrio told Arya, is to trust one's senses first and the mind second: to see through all of the feints of combat and charades of politics, and focus on what is really there.