The cities of Utopia are almost identical, Hythloday says: if you know one, you know them all. Amaurote seems to be the worthiest of them, however, because the council house, a capitol of sorts, is located there. Arranged almost in a square, this city stands on a hill that runs for two miles down to the river of Anyder (from the Greek meaning “without water”); the city has a length a little greater than two miles. The Anyder has for its source a little spring eighty miles above Amaurote, and sixty miles beyond the city the river drains into the ocean. The water of the Anyder ebbs and flows every six hours, so that it is fresh and mostly salty in turns.
The uniformity of cities in Utopia reflects the civic virtue cultivated among the people. As their cities are the same, so are their values and beliefs (and Hythloday seems to make no room for the idea that variety and diversity could be good things in themselves). That the capital of Utopia is centrally located further reflects the Utopian commitment to equality and efficiency. Similar to Amaurote, London is situated on a hill and runs down to a river, the Thames. More the author is suggesting that Utopia is, in a spiritual sense, right under our feet—Amaurote is a “shadowy” potential version of London itself.
Another, smaller river, fenced in by the Utopians at its source to protect it from invaders, also runs through Amaurote, conveyed by brick channels. Where that water cannot reach, the Utopians use cisterns to gather rainwater. High, thick stone walls, loaded with defensive turrets and bulwarks, surround the city. Around three sides of Amaurote, furthermore, is a deep, broad, dry ditch full of bushes and thorns. On the fourth side the river itself acts like a ditch.
The Utopians wisely derive as much usefulness as they can out of their natural environment, but they never shy away from doing hard work. Given that Utopia is so hard to reach, and that it is so generous with its neighbors, we might wonder why its cities are so strongly fortified. Better safe than sorry, perhaps.
The streets of Amaurote are conveniently wide—some twenty feet wide—and well sheltered from wind. Gorgeous houses line them in gapless rows. In the back of every house is a garden. Each house has a front door to the street and a back door to the garden. These doors are never locked or bolted, so that any citizen can, when they please, freely enter any other citizen’s house. Every ten years the Utopians randomly change houses.
As we would expect, Utopia’s cities are rationally and practically designed, not built helter-skelter like many European cities. More the author borrows the detail of the unlocked doors from Plato’s Republic. This idea reflects the Utopians’ absolute commitment to collective ownership of all resources.
The Utopians care for their gardens meticulously, and they grow vineyards, various fruits, herbs, and flowers. They do so out of pleasure and also in friendly competition with their neighbors. There is nothing so useful and pleasant as these gardens in Utopia, which is perhaps why Utopus dedicated himself to taking care of them when he founded the nation. This great founder laid out the city in its current configuration, but he left its beautification to future generations.
In Utopia, the garden is a symbol for human work and desire imposed onto, and in harmony with, the natural world. The Utopians live in a world much more similar to the Biblical Paradise, the Garden of Eden, than do their European counterparts. Note Utopus’s focus on practical matters like city layout over beautification—there seems to be no room for art for art’s sake in Utopia.
Indeed, chronicles have been written since the island’s founding 1,760 years ago, and these show that the houses in Utopia were at first low and homely like poor shepherds’ houses, made of mud and straw. But now the houses are gorgeous, with three stories, built of stone, plastering, or brick. The roofs are made of cheap, fireproof plaster that also resists violent weather well. Glass and linen cloth dipped in oil or amber keep the wind out of the windows.
Utopia was not always ideal in its form. Rome was not built in a day, as the saying goes, and neither was Utopia. Realizing the ideal takes time, but before the ideal can be realized it must be shared. The Utopians are a people of pleasure, and part of that means creating not only a functional but also a beautiful environment (so long as that beauty is also functional, and doesn’t cause any inequality in the society).