I visited Egypt a few years ago with Laura Greene, a writer friend I met at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Laura was doing research for a fascinating novel she’s writing. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was researching too. Memories of that trip have become settings and details in the Angelaeon Circle novels.
One vivid memory comes from our train trip from Cairo to Alexandria. We passed lots of small towns, their houses like boxes arranged along a few roads beside farm fields. Roofs are flat, well-used spaces, some topped with large beehive shape domes riddled with holes. These are dove roosts, where the birds are raised as food. In Cairo on a rooftop above a dye shop, freshly dyed yarn hung from drying racks in the sun.
Houses in many parts of the ancient world had flat roofs – which is still the case in many countries. Roofs are an outdoor room. Sometimes awnings or canopies are set up to provide shade. In hot weather, the roof provides a breezy place to work and a cool place to sleep.
Stairs to the roof are often on the outside of the house (sometimes it’s just a ladder), but in Eye of the Sword, one of the temples has interior stairs leading to a domed roof (domed because it’s a temple, not because they’re raising doves). The roof around the dome, however, is flat. Trevin ends up fighting there, which is incovenient because whoever happens to have his sword arm toward the dome is limited in his movement.
In Breath of Angel, Melaia has grown up in Navia, a city with square towers and flat roofs. When she leaves town, she remembers the pleasure of sleeping on the roof under the stars. Melaia also crosses roofs in Navia to reach the part of town where the overlord’s villa is located. When houses stood wall to wall, rooftops made a convenient upper path across town.
To make a flat roof in ancient times, a builder first laid several beams across the building from one wall to another. He covered the beams with a mixture of mud and straw, which hardened when it dried. This type of roof worked best in dry climates, because after a hard rain, you had to roll a heavy stone cylinder across the roof to repack it so it wouldn’t leak.
Greek and Roman houses often had roofs that angled slightly to a central peak. Overlapping tiles on the roof helped shed the rain. A central courtyard open to the sky often sat at the center of the house. This atrium might be tiled or grassy, but it usually contained a pool or well or some other way to catch rain. In the Angelaeon Circle novels, villas of overlords are built around an atrium. I just finished writing a scene for book 3 in which Trevin stands in the center of the overlord’s atrium, yelling up at the walkways surrounding it. Umm . . . I guess you’ll have to wait awhile to find out why.
Meanwhile, may your roof keep out the rain and shelter love, joy, and peace in your house.