- "Vaes Dothrak... the city of the horselords."
- ―Ser Jorah Mormont
Vaes Dothrak is the only city in the Dothraki Sea, located near the far northeastern edge of the region. It lies in the shadow of a single, vast peak known by the Dothraki as the Mother of Mountains. The entrance to Vaes Dothrak is marked by two large statues depicting a pair of stallions.
Vaes Dothrak is a place of peace where the Dothraki khalasars may gather and meet to trade, but not to fight. Therefore it is forbidden to draw a sword while in the city, under penalty of death. However, the restriction is specifically on drawing a bladed weapon or shedding blood (which is considered sacrilege): should the need arise, it is permissible to kill someone in the city using other lethal means, i.e. strangulation or burning. Even so, due to the respect the Dothraki have for the city, violence within it is rare.
Behind the scenes
The location of Vaes Dothrak in the title sequence of Game of Thrones is erroneous. Later maps show the city lying in farther in the east of Essos, while the title sequence map shows it much closer to the center of the Dothraki sea. George R.R. Martin did not provide detailed maps for the Dothraki Sea until well into production of the second season.
Due to changes in filming locations, Vaes Dothrak looks markedly different in Season 6, appearing much drier - in-universe this could be explained by a change in season - and hemmed in by cliffs which were absent in Season 1.
According to the TV series official pronunciation guide developed for the cast and crew, "Vaes Dothrak" is pronounced "VIE-iss Doth-RACK", as opposed to "Vays Doth-RACK", etc. "Vaes" is pronounced as two distinct syllables.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Daenerys Targaryen travels east to Vaes Dothrak to gain acceptance and approval for her marriage to Khal Drogo. This frustrates her brother Viserys, since Vaes Dothrak is a thousand miles or more in the "wrong" direction as his desire is to sail west to invade Westeros immediately. Vaes Dothrak lies close to the Mother of Mountains and a lake known by the Dothraki as the Womb of the World, from where, according to Dothraki myth, the first man emerged riding the first horse a thousand years ago.
It is forbidden to draw a bladed steel weapon in Vaes Dothrak, under penalty of death. The TV series mentions this with regard to people, but the book goes on to establish that it is even forbidden to use steel blades to butcher animals. Thus when Drogo and his bloodriders had to slaughter a stallion so Daenerys could eat its heart in a Dothraki religious ritual, they had to butcher it using stone knives.
The city is both very large and very small: it is physically large enough to hold every khalasar if they return all at once (for special religious ceremonies, etc.). Daenerys estimates that it physically has ten times as many buildings as Pentos does. However, there are rarely more than a few khalasars stopping in the city at any one time, before leaving again to find plunder. As a result, the permanent population of the city isn't much compared to one of the Free Cities or to a Westerosi city such as King's Landing.
Vaes Dothrak has actually become a major trade hub for the west-east overland caravan routes across Essos, which want to avoid the high tolls on sea trade that Qarth exacts to the south. The Western Market is filled with traders from the Free Cities, who may sell wares which indirectly originated in Westeros (e.g. Westerosi wines from the Arbor). The Eastern market contains traders from more exotic lands from the east such as Qarth, Yi Ti, the plains of the Jogos Nhai, and even Asshai and the Shadow Lands. The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014) explains that overland caravans from the Free Cities depart from and return to the easternmost Free City, Qohor. As a result Qohor is one of the more exotic of the Free Cities, with a large amount of trade items obtained from distant lands such as Yi Ti itself.
The novels specify that the market is actually more for the merchants from the west and east to trade with each other - thus explaining how the Dothraki can be said to "not believe in money" yet still have a large marketplace in their capital city. The foreign merchants gift tribute to the dosh khaleen (of salt, silver, and seed) in return for being allowed to trade in the city, as well as promise of safe passage across the Dothraki Sea. Sometimes Dothraki might visit the market to obtain something interesting (e.g. Daenerys and her handmaidens), but on the whole the entire business of trade and commerce seems alien to the horselords.
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