Its ancient walls having been obscured by weather and the depredations of generations of enterprising stonemasons, it can be difficult to judge the boundaries of the Old City. A sure sign may be noted in a particular pattern of cracks along a wall, or at the boundary of wall with wall or ceiling or floor. When closely observed, the two sides of these cracks can be seen to shear up and down, in a cycle which roughly matches that of day and night, and which is more pronounced in summer than in winter.
It was a scholar named Bant who proposed the solution to this riddle. The foundations of the Old City, he asserted, are more permeable by far than those of the New, a claim which is easily proved by a few day’s digging. The buildings of the Old City are founded on old wooden piles, compressed layers of older structures, plague and cess pits, middens of waste, all jumbled in some neighbourhoods, layered like slate in others. Bant argued that these substances being softer and more permeable than stone, in the heat of the day, they absorb vapours and humours from the air, and swell, shrinking again in the cool of evening.
Thus the Old City breathes, shifting on the debris of its history.