Everyone knows about the cities of Westeros in Game a Thrones (or a Song of Fire and Ice series for those fans of just the books). Westeros is primarily where the series of books and show take place, what with the white walkers impending doom, five kings fighting for supremacy, and every lord and lady plotting their own plots. However across the Narrow Sea lies the continent of Essos, which we only primarily see through Daenerys Targaryen and some other characters in later books.
There is a lot of history and events that occur in Essos, however it is often overshadowed in the books by what is going on in Westeros. George R.R. Martin, however, has created a rich and detailed history for each city.
Part One contains the following cities:
For other cities, visit Cities of Essos Part Two!
Spoilers present below, mostly in regards to the leadership and dealings of Astapor.
Asshai lies on a south eastern peninsula on Essos by the Jade Sea. This peninsula mountainous and is known as the Shadow Lands. From within Asshai and the shadow land there is believed by the Dothraki to believe pale ghostly ghost grass that is as tall as a man on horseback. This grass provides no sustenance for horses. The Dothraki believe that the world will end one day when this ghost grass consumes the land.
The people of this city are often avoided because of their ominous reputation. They are usually dark and solemn in appearance, which is why many Dothraki refer to them as the spawn of shadows. Unlike the other cities on Essos, in Asshai they practice wizardry and witchcraft openly as they have significant arcane knowledge. The first dragons were said to have come from the shadow lands around the city.
Astapor is a slave city with two sister cities, Meereen and Yunkai. All three cities are thriving slave cities near the ruins of Valyria and made out of the ruins of the Ghis empire. However, Astapor, unlike its sisters, became a slave trading city because they were invaded by Valyria in their hayday.
Astapor is known for the symbol of the harpy that is immortalized as a statue over the harbor. The harpy has the torso of a woman, wings of a bat, legs of an eagle, and a scorpion tail. Within the harpy's talons in a chain with open manacles. Yunkai and Meereen also share this statue. The city is made almost entirely out of red sandstone brick, there is often much red dust in the air.
Before Daenaerys Targaryen came to the city, it was ruled by the Good Masters. The Good Masters within Astapor trained world renowned slave soldier called the Unsullied. The Unsullied legend is vast because of the legendary battle of Qohor in which 3 thousand Unsullied repelled 50,000 mounted Dothraki.
After Daenaerys Targaryen leaves the city with her army after killing all the slave owners, it is ruled by the remaining people, mostly freed slaves, until Yunkai attacks it to try and reclaim it for the slavers.
Braavos is one of the nine free cities of Essos. Unlike the other free cities, it was not part of the Valyrian Freehold ruled by Valyria. The city was founded by refugees fleeing to the northwestern bits of Essos from the expanding Valyrian empire. For 400 years it was known as the secret city as it was relatively unknown to the rest of the world. After the fall of Valyria, they revealed themselves publically.
Braavos is built within a marshland, purely so that if the dragons of Valyria came looking, they would be more difficult to find. The city is surrounded and made out of islands. On the outer islands, the pine trees are illegal to be cut as they act as a windbreak to protect the harbor. This makes firewood scare and it has to be brought in by barge. The inner islands are linked by bridges throughout the city.
Unlike other cities, all Gods are honored in Braavos. They have a small island that houses temples like the Sept of the Seven, R'hollor the lord of light, the many-faced god of the faceless men, temple of the moonsingers the original founders of Braavos, and even Gods that have no more followers called the warrens.
Throughout Braavos, there are young duelists known as Bravos. unlike the rich who dress in dark blues, Bravos dress in flashy colors. Bravos duel each other in the street to prove their skill. After dark if you carry a sword, merely placing a finger on your sword can mean a duel.
Braavos also houses a powerful money lending bank known as the Iron bank of Braavos, in which the King of Westeros owes a significant sum. If not repaid they will fund the enemies of the borrowers or send faceless men after them. The faceless men are another group native to Braavos. They are a group of assassins who are trained to have the unique power to change their appearance.
Lys is made up of several islands off the southern coast of Essos. It is also one of the nine free cities and one of the most populated. After the fall of Valyria, the city of Volantis sent a fleet took Lys and Myr. When Aegon Targaryen rode his dragon to conquer Westeros, Lys and Myr rose up in rebellion and freed themselves.
The people of the city adopted the fashion of curling their hair and heavily perfuming it. Both blonde hair and blue eyes are common among the Lyseni, as much of the blood of Valyrians run in their veins. Lys is home to fine wines of both white and red, as well as ornate tapestries. This makes Lys a luxurious place for people to drink and relax. However, they are also famed for their alchemists who are skilled in the practice of poison making. The deadly poison Tears of Lys is created here.
Lorath is one of the nine free cities and resides on a series of islands off the northern coast of Essos, similar to Braavos but further west. Relatively little has been revealed about the city of Lorath. Unlike the other cities, it is rarely mentioned in regards to the political conflicts that plague the other cities. Jorah Mormont believes the city to economically insignificant compared to the other free cities, meaning it may not have much money. Perhaps this is because it is further than Braavos and many merchants do not want to circle the peninsula on which Braavos is on the edge of just to get there.