Caffa is the second-largest city in the New Sammichian Empire, after the capital city of Fulfwotz. It serves as a major shipping hub, having the largest port in the northwestern Shire. Despite being under the jurisdiction of the Empire and overseen by a Chancellor, the city is notorious for its well-established system of intimidating aristocratic families who are frequently accused of bullying, harassing, or threatening the Chancellor in order to maintain thinly-veiled control over the city's government. Its aristocracy, which is used in a much more literal sense than the informal Fulfwotz Aristocracy, is made up of numerous wealthy and influential families within the city. Caffa is built around the Laguna di Eroina, which serves as the center of Caffan mercantilism.
The city was originally settled by escaped Venezian slaves from the Old Sammichian Empire. During the period known as the Mandatux Imperatia (Thrennexian for Imperial Mandate), which lasted from roughly 210-70 PRY, the Empire began hording vast areas of land and territories. When indigenous people were discovered living in those regions, it was common for them to be brought back to Ceriumuse and forced into slavery. This is exactly what happened when the Empire encountered the ancestors of the Venezians in the south-central Shire in 187 PRY; they were brought back to the then-capital and forced to work on construction projects or mine beneath the city. Finally, in revolt, the Venezian slaves organized themselves and fled the city to the north, where they established Caffa. With the Empire unaware of the slaves' location, Caffa built itself up in solitude and isolation, careful to not alert Ceriumuse to its existence. The city only exposed itself after the dissolution of the Empire in 58 PRY; within a century, Caffa became a wonder of the Old Shire, and trade increased to unseen amounts. The massive harbor was constructed, along with the Colossus di Caffa (known as Magnus Phallus by locals). With so much revenue being generated, Caffa reorganized its bank system and is credited with developing modern banking. Today, Caffa is still an important trading center.
Unlike Fulfwotz, Caffa is not divided into any identifying neighborhoods or districts, but rather territories belonging to the various nobles within the city. While the areas are not actually property of the families, it is similar to gang territory in Fulfwotz. It is an unwritten code to not interfere in the business of a district of another family, and they typically employ private paramilitary forces to guard and maintain order in their respective areas.
With most of the Empire's sea cargo entering Caffa, and many cities eager to trade with it, Caffa brings in a vast amount of income, however, most of this is squandered on construction projects or exuberant festivals which can last for weeks. Caffa has (quite ironically) declared bankruptcy twice since 1900, relying on the decreasing fiscal generosity of their parent Empire. Most of the city's wealth lies in the citizens themselves, and not the government, which is another way the aristocratic families control the city. Caffa's economy is focused on luxuries, such as perfume, clothing, jewelry, spices, tea, olives, and wine, along with more infrastructure-oriented industries, such as shipbuilding and banking. The city includes many cultural institutions, such as the Basilica di San Madonna, Castello Alto, and the Colossus di Caffa.
Caffa owes its creation to a group of escaped Venezian slaves from the Old Sammichian Empire. During the Mandatux Imperatia, Sammichian legions occupying and mapping the central Shire encountered the Venezians in 187 PRY. At first, they attempted to lure the Venezians back to Ceriumuse with gold and jewels, but when that failed, the Sammichians kidnapped an estimated 3,500 and forced them onto ships bound for the capital. The journey lasted for months, and many Venezians died during the trip. When they finally arrived in Ceriumuse, they were promptly enslaved and sent to work around Thrennex by decree of Emperor Lascivix XXX. The conditions were believed to have been terrible, and it is said that the occasional Sammichian noble would enter the mines accompanied by an Imperial Entourage and would be allowed to whip the workers, although it is not known if this is a fact or embellishment in order to further vilify the actions of Pre-Reckoning Year Xamichia.
The oppression of the Venezians continued until about 98 PRY, when a woman named Eroina (her name is actually unknown, she was dubbed Eroina by modern Caffans to commemorate her) sparked the fury of the Venezians with a series of speeches given during the night in secret. It is said that she organized the escape of over 1,700 Venezians in a revolt against the slavemasters of Ceriumuse. The revolution was so severe that the Magistrax Militae was sent to quell the uprising, which resulted in the death of Imperator Adonex Canthus, one of the Militae's most prominent commanders. The group of Venezians stole around fourteen ships to escape the capital. Eroina was captured by the Militae, but many claim that before they could get to her, she threw her torch into a barrel of Adones' Fire (an extremely flammable liquid used in ancient Sammichian warfare) which violently exploded, killing both her and a number of Militae legionnaires along with setting fire to the harbor.
The fourteen ships made their way north for many days until one of them shipwrecked on a dry group of islands, the present-day Isola di Caffay. Noting the hospitable climate and relatively-arable land for crops such as grapes and olives, they decided to make the isle their permanent home. Using reclaimed materials from their ships, a small wooden shantytown was built around 90 PRY. Its infrastructure was better developed once massive sandstone deposits were discovered beneath the main island, which even today remain one of the largest sandstone quarries in the Shire. With this, Caffa was able to become a well-established city, deriving its name from the galley that shipwrecked upon the island.
Caffa continued to build itself up, careful to avoid the scrutiny of Xamichia who would most likely try to claim it if Caffa was discovered. It did this for about fifty years until it was notified of the collapse of the Old Sammichian Empire and the death of the last monarch, which allowed it to make itself known to the Shire without fear of Sammichian retribution. It began trading with outside city-states, using its rare commodities to gain influence among the northwestern states of the Shire. Items such as olives and wine were rare, and Caffa had an almost complete regional monopoly over the products. Still wary of the outside world, immigration was limited and foreigners were often prohibited from disembarking from their ships onto the island. By 100 CE, Caffa had the means to recreate their government, which had been ruled by an oligarchic council. Many Caffans expressed interest in a democracy, rooted in the Caffans' hatred for royalty and elitism experienced under Sammichian enslavement. However, a small group of Caffans that had achieved prominence as the city's nobility did not wish to see their political preeminence diluted by the rest of the population. Using their economic leverage against the standing committee appointed to electing the new government, they threatened to cease trade and form a blockade disallowing ships from docking. Doing so would effectively halt the city's economy and cause an economic catastrophe. If, however, they were elected to a similar council that had previously been in place, they swore to fund the construction of a much larger and grander harbor which would cause a significant fiscal boost. Hands tied, the committee agreed and the Council of Kings (Consiglio dei Re) was formed in 132, an oligarchy made up of only the city's wealthiest and most esteemed individuals.
Rule of the Council of Kings
Little was achieved in the early years of the Council, as petty feuds between the emerging noble families disallowed any sort of progress. With an inert council, little changed in Caffa until around 150, when the commoners became unruly after the Council failed to uphold their promise of constructing a larger port, which was publicized by the committee which appointed them. Ignoring the demands of the masses, the Council continued with their disputes and neglected the city until a mob attacked and ignited several ships in the harbor in a symbolic gesture recalling the actions of their predecessors. Before the mob could reach the Council's chambers, the Kings escaped onto a galley and sailed to safety but still within sight of the island. It was from there that the Council stayed for what is believed to have been about two weeks. To quell the unrest in Caffa, they made arrangements for construction of the new port from the galley and only reentered the city heavily guarded once development began.
The harbor was incredibly controversial as the main workforce was made up of leased slaves from Vahreas; Caffans had a very poor disposition towards the notion of slavery for obvious reasons. Citizens threatened to overthrow the Council of Kings if the slaves were not compensated with pay, and to avoid being overthrown, they nearly bankrupted the city paying the many slaves' wages while also under lease. By the year 200, the harbor was complete as well as totally empty. Caffa was plunged into one of the first known examples of an economic depression. The lack of funds meant the city could not effectively manage the port, putting thousands of dockhands and merchants out of work. This then led to halt on imports and exports, meaning more merchants could no longer sell their wares anymore. The city was impoverished and only very few people were still employed. The dramatically-reduced quality of life climaxed in a revolution which overthrew the Council of Kings, which allowed for the despot Dante to seize power. There were not many successes in the Council's rule, and all they had managed to do was bankrupt the city with a massive port and destroy the economy of Caffa.
Rule of Dante
Commonly called Il Diavolo Rosso by Caffans, or the Red Devil, Dante established the House of Aducci as the Royal Family and him as Caffa's Dittatore. The vulnerability of the Caffan people allowed him to take control and gain their trust easily. The early days of his reign are often romanticized; one of his first actions was to deliver a speech in Caffa's market, glamorized in Strokeshaft's play Dante with the famous line "...giveth me thy ships, and I shalt giveth thee thy city." Dante was given control of the merchants' ships, and somehow managed to regain a sizable amount of Caffa's previous wealth. It is technically still unknown how he managed to accomplish this, though it is possible he lent the ships to pirates and privateers, and demanded the majority of their plunder in return.
It wasn't until several years into his reign that his true character began to show. In the early 200's, Caffans were disappearing from their homes in the middle of the night; Dante had been ordering his guards to kidnap citizens and bring them to his estate, where he would torture them both physically and mentally. According to the account of a woman who managed to flee, Dante forced her to torture an old man, or else face the same abuse herself. Yet, as far as the vast majority of Caffa was concerned, Dante lifted the city out of its economic respite and had proved himself to be as charismatic as he was effective. He was beloved and used this to manipulate the Caffan people on a large scale.
His popularity with the people waned around 230, when the Cult of Illumination began to grow in popularity among poorer Caffans. One of the basic tenets of the Cult was that no man should be governed by another, only himself. This could be interpreted as anarchy or a democracy, but both were a threat to Dante. To quell a possible rebellion, Dante decided to massacre the Cultists in a week-long festival. According to various accounts, cultists were burned at the stake, thrown overboard from ships locked in iron cages with as many people that could fit, fed to lions in the city's fighting pits, and were forced to violate the laws of their faith and fight to the death. When other Caffans would express their disapproval, they were given the same punishment as the Cultists. Ironically, Dante's actions to stop a future rebellion from occurring ended up inciting one itself. In solidarity with the Cult of Illumination, citizens began attacking guards and looting public buildings. In response, Dante ordered the city to be set on fire as he and the Aducci family watched from a galley. Almost the entirety of Caffa was razed, destroying famous landmarks such as the old Council of Kings Hall and the Merchants' Guild. Also razed was the Palazzo Reale, a large palace built by Dante on Consiglio Hill; the Castello Alto now stands in its place.
After the fire died out, Dante re assumed control, ruling Caffa with an even stricter iron fist. The Aducci family reigned as the Dittatores of Caffa for roughly three-hundred years, until 551 when a group of Dittatore Marco's advisors and courtesans assassinated him and took control