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. Hawke is known to become the Champion of Kirkwall.
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.
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", two 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 jealously guarded by the ever-changing rulers of the city for the wealth of tolls, taxes and extortions it has allowed; 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.
Founded under the name Emerius, after Magister Emerius Krayvan, on the edge of the Imperium to be the main supplier of jet stone to build a Minrathous temple, the city gained notoriety after it was elected to be the new heart of the slave trade after a slave revolt made Archon Vanarius Issar fear for his security when he was almost killed. Magisters competed viciously for the honor of governing the port for nearly two decades before Emerius married his son to the archon's daughter. The Krayvan family constructed the Gallows, patronized the next three archons and were the main backers for the Imperial Highway into the Fereldan Valley, which devastated them when Andraste led her rebellion from there against the Imperium. At the time it was defended by the Fourteenth Cadre (aka The Black Cadre) and was regarded by most Imperial soldiers to be a punishment to serve there. It wasn't until a massive slave revolt circa 25 Ancient that the City of Chains came to be known as Kirkwall when a popular elven slave named Radun was assassinated by wary magisters for his influence, which led to violent retributions, such as the sacking of Hightown and the expulsion of Tevinter leaders (by means of hanging).
In 7:56 Storm, Qunari invaders took Kirkwall in a night raid and occupied it for four years, forcibly converting much of the populace to the Qun and making the natives work in labor camps previously manned by slaves. It was liberated by Orlesians under the chevalier Sir Lumile de Marais, who was appointed Viscount in 7:60 by the emperor. He pursued a campaign of religious reeducation and formed the Kirkwall City Guard to act as the city's defenders.
In 8:05 Blessed, Kirkwall rebelled against Orlesian rule and gained independence, but maintained the title of viscount as its ruler.
In 9:21 Dragon, Viscount Perrin Threnhold attempted to expel the Templar Order from Kirkwall, killing Knight-Commander Guylian in the raid of the Templar stronghold, only to be overthrown by the Templar Knight Meredith Stannard, who was promoted soon after. With the Chantry's support, she appointed Marlowe Dumar to succeed Perrin, but commands the true authority in the city from the Gallows.
Kirkwall is governed by a Viscount since the Orleisian occupation of the city, as the title itself is Orleisian. It has never truly been free to determine its own course, and since the ousting of Perrin Threnhold the Templar Order holds considerable influence over his successor, Marlowe Dumar, and the city.
If the ruling line of a Viscount dies out due to no living heirs, then the nobility of Kirkwall will gather to elect a new line from their ranks.
|“There are men who embrace destiny; these are the ones that change the world forever.” — Flemeth|
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This stylized knot work representation of a dragon evolved from a symbol of rebellion etched into countless walls during the time when Kirkwall was a center for the Tevinter slave trade. It was an image that catalyzed the slaves who overthrew the ruling magisters, and while the symbol has changed, its meaning has not: Kirkwall is a city unto itself, beholden to no one.
- Kirkwall declared the common nug a noxious vermin in 5:20 Exalted over fears that the animals carried the Blight. The extermination became known as the Battle of Squealing Plains. It is not spoken of in polite company.
- Several of the nobles in Kirkwall are of Orlesian origin, such as the Launcet and the Carrac families. This might be due to Kirkwall previously being under Orlesian rule. Despite the fact that Kirkwall has been an independent state for more than a hundred years, it may still have strong connections to Orlais. Since Kirkwall was "liberated" by Orlais from Qunari rule and not conquered in the same way as Ferelden or Nevarra the people of Kirkwall need not necessarily feel resentment towards Orlais.
- A few of Kirkwall's citizens have names corresponding to virtues or characteristics. Examples of this would be Lucky, Worthy and (Lady) Elegant. Others have names corresponding to their roles within the game, e.g Charade.
- The drawing up of an underwater chain to close off a harbor is a characteristic of the ancient city of Constantinople, now Istanbul, in modern day Turkey. It is also occurs in the fictional city of King's Landing, from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, as well as the Great Gates of Azulon from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- In the codex entry Speculations on Kirkwall, it's implied that the city being built in proximity of Corypheus' Prison might be the reason for all the plagues and violence happening in it. This is similar to the explanation given in Buffy the Vampire Slayer to explain all the paranormal activity happening in the city of Sunnydale (which was built atop the "Hell's Mouth"). This is possibly a direct reference, as the writers of the games have said to be fans of the show.
- Kirkwall also draws parallels with the city of Cologne during the Holy Roman Empire:
- Cologne was the capital of the Roman province of Germania Inferior, while Kirkwall was a major frontier city of the Tevinter Imperium.
- Kirkwall has heavy Orlesian influence due to the latter's occupation of the city after repelling the Qunari, while Cologne was at one point conquered by the French.
- Cologne was the seat of an archbishopric and Kirkwall's Chantry is prominent enough to have its own Grand Cleric. Also, Cologne was ruled by the Archbishop of Cologne, similar to how the Chantry in Kirkwall exhibits greater power than the Viscount.
- Cologne's municipal council opposed the influence of the archbishop, though were dependent on his authority. In Kirkwall the people would prefer the city govern itself, though the Chantry (mainly the Knight-Commander) holds incredible sway to the point that the Viscount must submit to the will of the Knight-Commander or risk being removed from office.
- Kirkwall's position on the Waking Sea makes it a major commercial hub, and Cologne was a major transportation hub along the Rhine. Also, craftsmanship in Cologne was administered by independent guilds, similar to how guilds dominate trade in Kirkwall.
- Both Cologne and Kirkwall use red and white as their heraldic colors.
- Codex entry: The City of Kirkwall
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 1
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 2
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 3
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 4