Kirkwall concept art 4
Kirkwall once lived on the edge of the Tevinter Imperium and was home to nearly a million slaves. Stolen from elven lands or shipped from across the sea, all slaves fed the Imperium's unquenchable thirst for expansion. They worked in massive quarries and sweltering foundries that produced stone and steel for the Empire.

The city's complicated past is not easy to forget,

history having earmarked many corners of the stone city. A ship approaching the harbor spots the city's

namesake: an imposing black wall. It is visible for miles, and carved into the cliff side are a pantheon of vile guardians representing the Old Gods. Over the years, the Chantry has effaced many of these profane sentinels, but it will take many more years to erase them all.

Kirkwall concept art 2

Also carved into the cliff is a channel that permits ships into the city’s interior. Flanking the channel are two massive bronze statues—the Twins of Kirkwall. The statues have a practical use. Kirkwall sits next to the narrowest point of the Waking Sea, and a massive chain net can be erected between the statues and the lighthouse, closing off the only narrow navigable lane. This stranglehold on sea traffic is jealously guarded by the ever-changing rulers of the city as the net trolls taxes, tolls, and extortions in from the sea.

—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi

The GallowsEdit

Statues of tortured slaves fill the Gallows courtyard, a ghastly memento of Kirkwall's history. Fifteen-hundred years ago, Kirkwall was the Tevinter Imperium's largest quarry, feeding the construction of the Imperial Highway.

The Imperium's hunger for expansion has led to legions of slaves forced into working the quarry. When the empire's construction phase ended, Kirkwall slid naturally into its new role as the capital of the slave trade -- the Gallows at its heart.

The statues are not monuments to the suffering of slaves. Every inch and angle of the courtyard was designed by magisters bent on breaking the spirits of newcomers. Executions here took place daily, sometimes hourly, and corpses were hung from gibbets throughout the yard. New slaves trudging in from the docks saw what awaited them.

When Our Lady turned her armies against the Imperium, the slaves of Kirkwall revolted and claimed the city for themselves. The Gallows stood empty for two hundred years, not to be reopened until the crowning of Divine Justinia I. The Gallows transformed the city again when the abandoned prison tower became the home of Kirkwall's Circle.

-- From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi


At the height of the Tevinter Imperium's slave trade, Kirkwall's elite prospered beyond dreams of avarice. Hightown was built for the wealthiest slavers, its glitzy mansions rising atop a great wall of rock that borders, on one side, the Waking Sea. Lowtown cowered on its other side until Kirkwall's slaves rose to plunder and destroy Hightown's riches.

Today, Hightown's prominent buildings are the Keep, home to the ruling viscount, and the chantry, home to the grand cleric and the city's religious center. Both are converted estates that once housed wealthy magisters, rebuilt and converted after the uprising.

-- From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi


Lowtown sits in a massive cauldron-shaped pit that was once Kirkwall's first quarry. The district was constructed by slaves who carved the city and its harbor out of the rock.

Today, Lowtown is a labyrinth of shantytowns, corridors, and hexagonal courtyards—"hexes" in the local parlance. Lowtown's poorest live in caves hewn out of the cliff face. The district is shoddily built and bears scars caused by collapsing walls. Foundry smoke smothers the area. Only a cold winter storm clears the air, but the icy wind howling over the mouths of old mineshafts hardly counts as relief.


Occasionally, these Darktown shafts erupt with gouts of foul air known as chokedamp. It's not uncommon to find whole slums silently suffocated, frozen in the midst of everyday activity.

The walls surrounding Lowtown are highest by the harbor. Its busiest street leads up to Hightown, where the wealthiest Kirkwallers perch. When one stands in Lowtown, all one sees other than the rocky walls is Hightown. It glitters overhead, always in sight, yet always beyond reach.

—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi

Elven AlienageEdit

Lowtown is home to a squalid elven alienage. Here, like in most Thedas alienages, elves are packed into tiny rundown apartments and effectively segregated from the human population.

Kirkwall's alienage is even more dilapidated than the rest of Lowtown, but the elves go to great lengths keeping the place looking bright and festive. The vhenadahl ("Tree of the People") standing in the middle of the alienage is a symbol for elven pride and shared cultural identity, and it is lovingly cared for.

It's difficult to say if the elves would continue confining themselves to the alienage if they were given the chance to mingle. They may not admit it, but some feel that living among their kind is far better than living with humans, no matter how terrible alienage life may be.

—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi


Darktown was once a mine controlled by the Tevinter Imperium. Once exhausted, the mineshafts were extended under the city to dispose of sewage from Kirkwall's overcrowded population of slaves.

Unsurprisingly, the tunnels became a refuge for those fleeing captivity. A similar trend continues today. The "Undercity," as some call it, is home to the diseased, the insane, to criminals, and even the dead—unwanted corpses are often discarded here by murderers and lazy undertakers.

Darktown's slums makes Lowtown look pleasant in comparison. The foul miasma known as chokedamp clogs and swells in every corner of the Darktown, creating a poisonous mist. Its sewers are a dangerous place. The walls are damp, slick, and coated with phosphorescent lichen. The sewer is a maze, and one foolish enough to enter is not likely to be heard from again.

—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi

The Wounded CoastEdit

One of the few roads leading into Kirkwall passes through a dangerous area known as the Wounded Coast. The road winds close to the cliff edge that looms over waters with many a precipitous drop to the churning waves below. There's many a local legend involving travelers falling, or jumping, or having been flung from those heights.

From the cliffs, the road leads through jagged hills that line the pass like sharp teeth. Bandits use these hills as cover from which to ambush caravans. There's more to fear here than bandits, of course. Once one leaves the hills, you come upon a maze of sharp canyons, the hunting ground for many fierce creatures. It is a place of secrets dating back to the golden age of the Tevinter Imperium, where Ancient relics and statues crumble in time with the rocks.

--From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genetivi


Kirkwall is guarded by the mountains to its north, the tallest of which is Sundermount. The mountain has a fearsome reputation. Legend says it was the site of the final battle between the Tevinter Imperium of old and the ancient empire of elves that perished with Arlathan. Both sides unleashed horrors into the waking world, and Fade creatures prowl the heights to this very day, unaware that the war for which they were summoned is long over.

There is a tale in the Free Marches that Blessed Andraste, upon reaching Kirkwall with her armies, sojourned up the slopes of Sundermount alone. She stayed there three days. When she returned, she wept as if her heart were broken.

I stayed two months in Kirkwall, and despite my best efforts, I never found a guide willing to take me up the mountain.

-- From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi


Dragon Age II Codex. Written by BioWare.