"Joseph Brodsky wasn’t speaking of Nanjing when he wrote, "There are places where history is inescapable, like a highway accident—places where geography provokes history." But he might as well have been. The geographical features of this area have invariably been a principal determinant of what was built, and when; of how the city was entered and exited and lived in; of who won and who lost in the great game of empire. There are four main elements that give shape and structure to Nanjing. Two of them are as old as the planet itself: the Yangtze River, which by a quirk of topography here delimits the city to the west and northwest; and Purple Mountain, which towers over it to the east. The other two elements began as natural structures, and later were altered by human hands: the Qinhuai River, whose course was changed not to benefit Nanjing but to harm it; and the city wall, which began as a simple stone bluff on the west side of present-day Nanjing."