Kirkwall (also known as The City of Chains) is a coastal city-state and a major population center located in the Free Marches. It is on the southern edge of the Vimmark Mountains, east of the Planasene Forest, and north across the Waking Sea from Ferelden.
Any ship approaching Kirkwall will first see the cliffs – the “wall” that the city is named for – from many miles off. This sheer cliff is made of the same black stone that the city was built on, a pantheon of vile guardians representing the Old Gods carved into its face.
The twins of Kirkwall
A channel has been carved into this cliff, allowing ships to sail through a dark corridor with sheer walls hundreds of feet high into the city’s interior. Flanking either side of this channel are the “twins of Kirkwall”, massive bronze statues that are present for more than show: the city sits next to the narrowest point of the Waking Sea, and a massive chain net can be erected between the statues and the lighthouse on the nearest outcropping of rock that marks the edge of the narrow navigable lane. By extending a chain net from the lighthouse to the Twins, the city is able to close off the only navigable sea lane and extort duties from passing ships. This stranglehold on sea traffic is zealously guarded by the ever-changing rulers of the city for the wealth of tolls, taxes, and extortion it allows; the transitory politics of Kirkwall are as brutal and treacherous as the sea currents below.
The city is wealthy from its position on the Waking Sea but there are still many decrepit areas. Much of the destruction caused when the Tevinters fell has never and can never be repaired. Although the Chantry and the Keep are visible from most of the city it is easy to get lost in the maze of dwarven courtyards and prowling groups of outlaws prey on those who travel through Lowtown without a reliable guide or map. Lowtown is perpetually smothered in black smoke billowing from the many foundries. When the air is cleared by cold winter storms the baleful howl of wind over the open mouths of abandoned shafts is hardly better. Outside of Kirkwall the remnants of the oldest slave quarries still remain in the mountains, most abandoned and some haunted by spirits clinging to the memories of the torture inflicted on those enslaved long ago.
Fundamentally then, Kirkwall still resembles its ancient self; greed drives the ragged and dispossessed scum of Thedas to its cursed shores and the unscrupulous consume them.1