Harren Cataracts Building / Landmark in Challaria | World Anvil

Harren Cataracts

Write about a constructed or natural landmark in your world.

Rising high above the flat and featureless Harren Marshes is a great range of cliffs that would in themselves be a source of awe and wonder to the observer, or terror and despair to the traveller by river for over them flow two of the three main branches of the Harren-var. These mighty rivers thunder over the cliff edge disappearing into the mist and spray to reach the lake at their foot before resuming their seaward journey through the marshes that run westwards from the lake.   The cataracts have long been a place for people to wonder at the power of nature; as Harren-thip became established as the social and society hub of the Empire, boating trips up the river to see the cataracts became a popular holiday for the elite, taking in the lush gardens and produce of the The Vale of Arabour, the desolation of the marshes and the awesome splendour of the two rivers tumbling over the cliffs. From the historic capital, Mariv-thip, it is a shorter journey, indeed it can be done as a day trip, but the view is less spectacular from above.
  Besides their undeniable aesthetic impact they have also been a spur to civil engineering in the empire, prompting the building of the Grand Canal to link the two rivers above the cataracts to facilitate the river trade and the subsequent extension to the third branch (following the development of watergate to allow height to be gained or lost in small increments) allowing boats to traverse the whole of the watershed. The pack stair that had been used to carry cargo between the upper and lower navigable levels of both cataracts became a path for the more adventurous of tourists. The ascent can be made in an hour or so, winding its way up the cliffs in a thousand steps many of which offer dramatic views of the cliffs, cataracts and the land below. Alas they also offer an easy fall and accidents are often fatal.   The barrel makers of Mariv-thip had tradition in the days of the Empire of testing their wares by casting barrels into the river up stream of the cataracts as part of their annual festival with those whose casks survived accorded the prefix of Grand to their guild rank for the year (Grand-Master, Grand-Journeyman etc) - a title they would earn for life by winning it three times. These barrels were made for the competition to whatever design the maker favoured but had to hold 60 efts of water, meet a weight limit and be limited to oak or ash staves and iron bands. A Grand-Apprentice would often be elevated directly to Master’s rank if of good and responsible character, and even if otherwise would find his guild progression eased in many little ways. In a typical year there might be one or two winning it and there were seldom more than 3 or 4 with the life title for this was intended to be an exceptional test and not a mere assessment of competency in the craft.  

Tragedy and Mystery

Any cliff worth its place on the map will have a history of forlorn lovers and other disconsolates committing suicide by jumping; the cataracts are no exception and there are additionally a number who have tried to go over the falls with the intention of surviving and bragging. Given how hard it is to get a barrel to stay in one piece you would think this a recipe for disaster - and you’d be right. Despite cunning plans involving re-inforcements, padding and even parachutes, none have been known to survive such an attempt. In addition to their lore that the lake under the cataracts having once been larger the marsh inhabitants also tell of caves behind the north-branch cataract containing a deserted settlement and much treasure. Many years ago when a sever drought cause the river to shrink to a trickle the caves were seen and one brave climber went to investigate. He returned with tales and a pocket full of strange gold coins but that night the drought broke and by morning the river’s flow had made the caves inaccessible.


The cataracts themselves clearly have no architecture but view points have been constructed in the high style of the empire’s hayday overlooking both sets of falls and more workmanlike inns built in plain but solid stone still survive at either end of the pack stairs. These have evolved over the years from official wayposts and coustoms points into inns and accommodation but following the collapse of the empire the cataracts became once again a boundary and official use returned along with the addition of guard houses.


The Cataracts were the main physical barrier to the unification of the lands of the Harren watershed to form the Marivan Empire. They have been largely unchanged by time or the Marivans though the people of the marshes speak of the lake having once been bigger and the gradual expansion of the marsh.
Magnificent at a distance but up close up it takes your breath away. And gives you a good soaking too.
Image taken from page 33 of 'Resources and Development of Mexico.
HH Bancroft, San Francisco (1893)
Alternative Names
The Mist Wall
World wonder
Map for Unknown Lands
Regional map


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