It would not be a mistake to say that one of the many reasons the Souls games are loved are their beautiful, intricate, and interesting location designs.
Often the locations are rather complicated, rarely linear, and use every square inch of the area. It’s something to be explored, rather than be simply scenery you pass by in your quest, presenting all the different ways and shortcuts that are opened as one progresses through the locations.
And, naturally, often the developers use real-life inspirations when creating their worlds.
However, I believe that the architecture choices for the Souls series worlds might be something more than simply designs for particular locations, but rather that they reflect the lore behind the given locations quite consistently. Upon closer examination, it seems that there may be a deeper idea behind the concepts of different areas.
It’s not only simple like when seeing the same architectural style in different locations that implies a relation between the given locations, but it’s also when seeing the different, yet architecturally related styles that reflect certain lore connections.
Our first example of this and how it applies to the overall theory of this piece is the Archdragon Peak location in Dark Souls 3 and it’s lore, which is related to the Kingdom of Lothric and its history. This location has possibly the most easily recognizable real-life inspiration for architecture and design.
The Dragon-Kin Mausoleum building is obviously inspired by the Hagia Sophia basilica (and subsequently a mosque) of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).
But, the Byzantine style isn’t just limited to that building only as the elements of Byzantine architecture can be actually seen all over this location. For example, the paintings on the shields of the Serpent-people (which are said to be a result of exquisite but painstaking technique) are in fact very similar to the Byzantine mosaic icons.
Therefore, it seems that the cultural concept is that by the time of the game’s events, this Byzantine-inspired style corresponds to the dragon-worship culture, if we may call it that.
Consumed King’s Garden & Firelink Shrine
In fact the very same architectural elements, such as similar archways, floor mosaics, which are in fact inspired by the real-life Byzantine floor mosaics, may be found in the Consumed King’s Garden, particularly the building where we find the Consumed King Oceiros. This location is obviously related to the dragon-worship, as there we find a king obsessed with dragons, Serpent-men and, not coincidentally, the gesture that allows us to reach Archdragon Peak in the first place.
Adding to the intrigue is that the building where we find and fight Oceiros appears to be actually older than Lothric Castle and is also quite similar to the old Firelink Shrine ruins, being built in similar style to the Archdragon Peak and these buildings could in fact have been parts of the same complex of buildings at some point in the story. The Firelink Shrine itself looks like it could’ve been inspired by Byzantine/Later Roman/Early Christian architecture.
History As The Thread That Connects The Worlds
Returning to the Archdragon Peak, I believe that there might be some parallels between historical Hagia Sophia and the Dragon-kin Mausoleum, which doesn’t appear to be a real mausoleum at all. Hagia Sophia was initially built as Christian basilica and became seat of the Orthodox Christian Patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies. It had also been a Catholic cathedral for almost 60 years during the Latin occupation, but ultimately it was converted into a mosque after the Conquest of Constantinople by Ottoman sultan Mehmet II.
On the other hand, as we discuss in the title video, it seems that the Archdragon Peak hasn’t always been a place of dragon-worship either. It seems initially that Archdragon Peak used to be a shrine of Gwyn’s Firstborn and as we see a giant dragon corpse on the mountain beside it, it appears that it was built at the place of some victory once achieved by Gwyn’s Firstborn when he still was a Dragonslaying god of war. In such cases, those dead dragons we find in the ‘mausoleum’ could in fact initially be trophies put on display.
It’s quite peculiar that Archdragon Peak, which is related to the old gods as a really ancient shrine of the Nameless King likely built before his defection, has some Byzantine-inspired designs. Furthermore Firelink Shrine also seems to have that Later Roman/Byzantine style about itself, being an important place for the Way of White, which is effectively the church of the gods, as it sends its maidens to become firekeepers there.
In addition to that there are also several peculiar things about the Way of White:
- The clerics of the Way of White often have Greek names (Petrus, Irina, Anastacia, Rhea) which are sometimes related to Orthodox Christian saints (such as Irina and Anastacia, for example)
- In Dark Souls I the cleric class had the East-West Shield with double-headed eagle emblem as part of their starting equipment, while the double-headed eagle was also the symbol of the Byzantine Empire and subsequently the Orthodox Christian Church
- The Cleric Armors of Dark Souls I looks somewhat similar to the gear historically widespread among medieval Byzantine warriors, for example, the cataphract heavy cavalry, namely the lamellar armor and helmets
3 Games Worth of History
Putting all of this together, it appears that all of it could be actually a part of the concept the developers at From Software came up with all the way back in the first game when working on the Way of White in which Later Roman/Byzantine style corresponds to the Early Way of White/Gods church outside of Anor Londo. This is somewhat similar to the real-life Khmer architecture that corresponds to Izalith, for example. Following the very same idea, the ancient shrine of the Nameless King, one of the old gods, also has a Byzantine design that is similar.
As for the origins of the Consumed King’s building, built in a similar style to that of the Archdragon Peak, we know that Lothric knights were once dragon-hunters and we also can find the Dragonslayer Armor within the Lothric castle which apparently was something like a sacred relic for Lothric.
At the same time we find Lothric banners on the Archdragon Peak, therefore it seems that Lothric knights, being Sunlight Warriors and worshipers of the Nameless King followed him in his alliance with dragons upon finding out about his defection, and so he taught them the lore of dragon-taming.
In this case, the old building of the Consumed King’s Garden that’s built in a similar style to the Archdragon Peak, would be an ancient Sun Worship (Nameless King) shrine of the early Lothric Kingdom as its knights were initially sun-worshippers. This means that this building is possibly even a part of the same complex of buildings within the Firelink Shrine, Cemetery of Ash and Untended Graves ruins.
As Below, So Above
Sometimes it’s easy to go so far down the rabbit hole in the Soulsborne series that you begin to wonder if you yourself are imagining the depth of connectivity in the details. Yet, when you take the time to explore and lay out the evidence one begins to see that there is in fact something there, some incredibly detailed care poured into the game’s development. When a game is so richly designed that careful study of its world leads to careful study of the real world, as a work of art, it takes on a literal transcendent quality. And that’s just for one architectural example. There are so many others to investigate. I don’t plan on looking away anytime soon.
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