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Aldarion

King's Landing - an unrealistic city?

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I had been doing some research for worldbuilding, and came across this. This is important point:

Quote

But the key point is that no major cities are situated around a large river delta. This type of city location would be very rare for the simple reason that deltas flood, they silt up ports, they get filled with bugs, they’re surrounded by pestilence-ridden marshes, and sometimes they shift completely. The great cities of Medieval Europe were often coastal, like Constantinople, Alexandria, Grenada, Venice, or Naples, but were rarely situated on a major river delta. Roma was miles back upriver, served by the ports of Ostia and Portus. Alexandria was at a harbor well away from the Nile delta. Constantinople was along an estuary of the Bosphorus. London was well up the Thames. Paris was well up the Seine. Large freshwater deltas are not where you built a major city. You build it as far upriver as seagoing boats will go, if you’re connected to oceanic trade, or as close to fertile farmlands as you can if you aren’t. In this sense, Tolkien’s story of the decline of the Numenorean ports like Lond Daer makes lots of sense as they shifted from a maritime empire to more parochial, inland kingdoms.

Now, normal estuary may not be as bad as a river delta. But even so, major cities seem to be away from estuaries:  London is miles inland, and so is Rome. Ostia seems to have been located at the river estuary, but it is merely a port of Rome, not a major city in its own right. Yet King's Landing is right at the estuary of Blackwater Rush. So am I missing something here?

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58 minutes ago, Aldarion said:

Yet King's Landing is right at the estuary of Blackwater Rush. So am I missing something here?

You have a point. I can't seem to find an old world city located exactly like Kings Landing.

However, NYC is kinda close with the Hudson representing the Blackwater Rush and Brooklyn similar in location to Kings landing-right at where the bay and river meet.

Edited by Br16

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May depend on the exact geography around KL. It may well be that the south side of the Blackwater is full of marshes whereas the north side is more rocky and sloped. 

ETA: Actually that there are three hills relatively close to the river is indication of the later.

There relatively old cities, though, that are located at the end of estuaries: Lisbon,  Bilbao, Gothenburg, St. Petersburg, Shangai etc. Venice is in a Lagoon and prone to flooding.  The reasons and conditions differ.

 

 

Edited by rotting sea cow

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4 minutes ago, rotting sea cow said:

May depend on the exact geography around KL. It may well be that the south side of the Blackwater is full of marshes whereas the north side is more rocky and sloped. 

There relatively old cities, though, that are located at the end of estuaries: Lisbon,  Bilbao, Gothenburg, St. Petersburg, Shangai etc. Venice is in a Lagoon and prone to flooding.  The reasons and conditions differ.

Even so, proximity of marshes would make it for unhealthy living. As for RL, it seems that Lisbon's estuary is closer to a fjord, Bilbao seems to be a classical river city. Couldn't find any good map of Gotenburg, and Lodose was 40 kilometers upstream from Gotenburg. You are correct about St. Petersburg, and Shangai maps are also problematic.

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The city's location was determined by Aegon the Conqueror and his sister wives, right? They didn't send out surveyors looking for a good location, they just picked a site that looked like a good place to create a defensible keep and - unlike real world scenarios - a good place to live with dragons. They had lived on an island called Dragonstone up until they invaded the Westeros mainland, right? They were less focused on sea trade and more focused on dragon-enforced consolidation of power.

Although there probably would be disease and flooding at the mouth of a river, we know from Arya's POV that there are drains under the Red Keep that are large enough for a person to walk through. Maybe those drains also helped to keep the castle from being undermined by seasonal flooding. Like the hot water running through the walls of Winterfell, the drains may have been designed to take advantage of the river's flowing water.

Granted, the name of "Flea Bottom" may stem from the bugs that would infest low-lying areas. Although I suspect there would be bugs in a medieval city no matter where it was located.

The river is apparently configured well enough for ships to unload and trade to occur, based on the number of ships destroyed in the Battle of the Black Water. It's not as great a port city as Braavos, to be sure.

I read somewhere that real-world royal courts would regularly pick up and move in part because the waste and excrement from the large number of courtiers and servants had to be given a chance to wash away so people wouldn't be overwhelmed by the stench. Maybe Aegon and his sisters realized that they didn't need King's Landing to be a full-time, year-round residence. The growth of the city around the Red Keep may have not been envisioned in their original plans for the royal seat at that location.

Edited by Seams

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3 hours ago, Seams said:

The city's location was determined by Aegon the Conqueror and his sister wives, right? They didn't send out surveyors looking for a good location, they just picked a site that looked like a good place to create a defensible keep and - unlike real world scenarios - a good place to live with dragons. They had lived on an island called Dragonstone up until they invaded the Westeros mainland, right? They were less focused on sea trade and more focused on dragon-enforced consolidation of power.

Although there probably would be disease and flooding at the mouth of a river, we know from Arya's POV that there are drains under the Red Keep that are large enough for a person to walk through. Maybe those drains also helped to keep the castle from being undermined by seasonal flooding. Like the hot water running through the walls of Winterfell, the drains may have been designed to take advantage of the river's flowing water.

Granted, the name of "Flea Bottom" may stem from the bugs that would infest low-lying areas. Although I suspect there would be bugs in a medieval city no matter where it was located.

The river is apparently configured well enough for ships to unload and trade to occur, based on the number of ships destroyed in the Battle of the Black Water. It's not as great a port city as Braavos, to be sure.

I read somewhere that real-world royal courts would regularly pick up and move in part because the waste and excrement from the large number of courtiers and servants had to be given a chance to wash away so people wouldn't be overwhelmed by the stench. Maybe Aegon and his sisters realized that they didn't need King's Landing to be a full-time, year-round residence. The growth of the city around the Red Keep may have not been envisioned in their original plans for the royal seat at that location.

:agree:This. Beat me to it, Seams.

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16 minutes ago, Feather Crystal said:

"NOLA" - New Orleans, Louisiana is situated near the delta of the Mississippi. 

I would imagine more modern cities have much more complex flood protection than their medieval counterparts. Even a few hundred years back, could be wrong though I genuinely have no knowledge of this subject.  

Edited by Trigger Warning

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@Seams is right in his insight that the lower lying areas would be inhabitted by lower classes and as such Flea Bottom might be about the bugs. As @Aldarion pointed, Lisbon's location as a port city was chosen for being a safe port and defensible as it's a sort of enclosed estuary with hills flanking it. Actually, it's still called City of Seven Hills. If KL's established taking advantage of the hills available around the innermost part of Blackwater Bay, the system might not be that different. 

In Lisbon's case, further upriver and at the south bank of the Tejo, there's insufficient elevation to safely install a numerous population without incurring in the problems exposed here. Bugs, flooding, etc. The actual marshland and delta area is maybe more inland and in the southern bank of the Tejo, which is only heavily populated in much more modern times. 

If the template is similar, and only as the population grew were the lower areas occupied, it'd be a matter of class strata and people migrating to the capital as the successive wars over the Targaryen reign displaced peasants that flocked to the capital.

It is only due to the complete destruction of the Lisbon riverside due to the 1755 earthquake, which was followed by both a tsunami and a very extensive fire, that the organized riverside new builds don't show the labirintine medieval streets. So I can plainly see Aegon planning his capital to use the hills - because Dragons - and leaving the higher areas for his vassal houses. But still the flocking of displaced people to the mercantile area of the Bay and following the Court and noble houses residing in the capital of the Seven establishing a city of the poor in the lower parts. 

So, some Targaryen lack of forethought despite the earlier plans, but mostly a result of the wars and continued instability would turn a somewhat planned hills city for say, a hundred thousand at most if winter, into a chaotic cesspool of disease in the poorer areas as it grew to over half a million stuffed within the walls?

Edited by It_spelt_Magalhaes

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28 minutes ago, Trigger Warning said:

I would imagine more modern cities have much more complex flood protection than their medieval counterparts. Even a few hundred years back, could be wrong though I genuinely have no knowledge of this subject.  

Well, Kings Landing has the advantage of being part of a fantasy world where magic allows dragons to hatch and white walkers to exist. I don't think we have to worry too much about its location. :cool4:

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31 minutes ago, Feather Crystal said:

Well, Kings Landing has the advantage of being part of a fantasy world where magic allows dragons to hatch and white walkers to exist. I don't think we have to worry too much about its location. :cool4:

 

Well to be honest I've in the camp that GRRM never knew or thought of this anyway so it's gucci, if it doesn't flood it doesn't flood. 

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24 minutes ago, Trigger Warning said:

Well to be honest I've in the camp that GRRM never knew or thought of this anyway so it's gucci, if it doesn't flood it doesn't flood. 

This is probably it. But anyway, the city doesn't exist because a lot of people found the place convenient. The city exists because Aegon decided it. And no one had the choice. Even if it was not a fit location. Maybe why in thousands of years, no city was established there.

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15 hours ago, Seams said:

The city's location was determined by Aegon the Conqueror and his sister wives, right? They didn't send out surveyors looking for a good location, they just picked a site that looked like a good place to create a defensible keep and - unlike real world scenarios - a good place to live with dragons. They had lived on an island called Dragonstone up until they invaded the Westeros mainland, right? They were less focused on sea trade and more focused on dragon-enforced consolidation of power.

 Although there probably would be disease and flooding at the mouth of a river, we know from Arya's POV that there are drains under the Red Keep that are large enough for a person to walk through. Maybe those drains also helped to keep the castle from being undermined by seasonal flooding. Like the hot water running through the walls of Winterfell, the drains may have been designed to take advantage of the river's flowing water.

Granted, the name of "Flea Bottom" may stem from the bugs that would infest low-lying areas. Although I suspect there would be bugs in a medieval city no matter where it was located.

The river is apparently configured well enough for ships to unload and trade to occur, based on the number of ships destroyed in the Battle of the Black Water. It's not as great a port city as Braavos, to be sure.

I read somewhere that real-world royal courts would regularly pick up and move in part because the waste and excrement from the large number of courtiers and servants had to be given a chance to wash away so people wouldn't be overwhelmed by the stench. Maybe Aegon and his sisters realized that they didn't need King's Landing to be a full-time, year-round residence. The growth of the city around the Red Keep may have not been envisioned in their original plans for the royal seat at that location.

But that is just the thing. I doubt that city would have grown as much as it did if location wasn't good, even if it was a capital city. Constantinople became largest city in Europe for certain periods, but that is because it was supremely well positioned - in terms of trade routes, living space and protection. What do we know about trade routes in Westeros?

One of arguments cited in the article against estuary cities is that mud may clog ports. Also, if there are significant tides, being located at the estuary will cause not only potential grounding but also issues with powerful currents.

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Japan's capital and one of the greatest world cities, Tokyo, was originally named "Edo". Which is the Japanese for... "estuary". It was also just a fishing village until some lord went there and decided to build a castle...

Alexandria was built on the Nile Delta 3 centuries BC and grew to be the greatest city of antiquity.

But anyway, as Balerion the Cat suggests, the unrealistic thing would be that this spot had been an optimal spot to build a city and no one had never built one there in the thousands of years of Westerosi history before the Targaryens. If not even a town had been erected on any of those three strategically located hills, it had to be because the place had some drawback (Such as the need of some major draining works, building levees, etc.

George's geography is unrealistic in many ways, but I wouldn't say that KL's location is one of them.

Edited by The hairy bear

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On 7/6/2019 at 5:09 AM, BalerionTheCat said:

This is probably it. But anyway, the city doesn't exist because a lot of people found the place convenient. The city exists because Aegon decided it. And no one had the choice. Even if it was not a fit location. Maybe why in thousands of years, no city was established there.

Probaby why the city is so bleak and filthy while Oldtown and Lannisport are so much better.

Aegon probably didn't even have a plan, he built a makeshift stronghold to meet immediate needs, and a city grew around it and it became a fait accompli.

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On 7/6/2019 at 10:16 AM, The hairy bear said:

But anyway, as Balerion the Cat suggests, the unrealistic thing would be that this spot had been an optimal spot to build a city and no one had never built one there in the thousands of years of Westerosi history before the Targaryens. If not even a town had been erected on any of those three strategically located hills, it had to be because the place had some drawback (Such as the need of some major draining works, building levees, etc.

We are told that the region had been a borderland for most of the history. River Kings had built fortresses there, but these had been destroyed in wars, and as of Conquest currently not rebuilt.

The Westerosi kingdoms seem fairly poorly fitted to sustain and subsidize a royal border fortress a long distance from capital. Arryns do have their Bloody Gate, but Starks leave Moat Cailin as unmanned ruin, and while they occasionally support Night Watch, what they don´t do is pay salaries of their own garrison at Wall - Watch gets a Gift but when that land becomes unproductive, the border is screwed, not subsidized by taxes collected further to the rear.

 

Compare Singapore. Is it a suitable place for a city?

It was a capital for over a century.

Sacked in 1400 - and not reused as a capital (Capital was moved to Malacca). A small trade town was left - and that was sacked in 1613, and not reused.

By 1810, there were people in Singapore, yes. Small villages of fishermen, small patches of fields, scattered around the over 500 square km island.  Under 1000 on the whole island, all villages. At Singapore... cannot find the numbers.

In 1811, a nobleman moved to Singapore. So in 1815, there were 150 people living at the mouth of Singapore river - more than in any other village of the island, and more than had been there for two centuries,

 

Singapore in 1810, when there were not 50 people resident, was not a worse location than Singapore of 1399.

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KL is not so much of a problem - it is the fact that there are no great cities at the mouth of both the Trident and the Mander. The latter is especially ridiculous, just as the fact that Highgarden is not both a castle and a city/large town (although I guess we'll learn that the castle is surrounded by quite a few market towns when we ever visit it) and that there are no other large towns/cities of note alongside the Mander. We know the Reach is very rich and a hub of trade, but it is missing the places where it would be conducted (i.e. in ports at or close to the mouth of the Mander up to the point where the river is no longer navigable by large ships). 

The Trident situation is sort of remedied by the fact that Maidenpool lies alongside the Bay of Crabs which is the bay at the mouth of the Trident - meaning Maidenpool may be the place where a lot of the international trade was done in ancient days up till now.

Still, Saltpans should be major city/town - or at least should have been one such in pre-Conquest days. It could have been a royal residence of some of the Trident kings - the Teagues or the Justmans - only to decline due to some tragedy.

The idea that the mouth of the huge Trident river system is not going to be the center of trade in the Riverlands - especially international trade with the Free Cities or those kingdoms of Westeros who would send goods by ship to the Riverlands - just doesn't hold any water. Just as it is ridiculous that there are no great harbors and ports on the Shield Islands and alongside the mouth of the Mander.

And charters and the like seem to be irrelevant here, considering none of the five cities of Westeros actually seem to have been gotten charters. Instead they grew large and prosperous and powerful because they were the residences and under the protection of powerful kings and lords (Hightowers, Lannisters, Manderlys, and Targaryens).

It is a pity that we have no idea where the Teague and Justman kings had their capitals/royal residences. They could have had both great castles as well as towns/city around such castles. If they did, we don't know anything about that at this point.

KL, on the other hand, is clearly at the vicinity of Westeros up until the Conquest. It was an insignificant borderland and the trade that happened in the region would have passed through Duskendale and Maidenpool. And once Valyria controlled Dragonstone, Driftmark, and the Gullet the Westerosi may not have been all that keen to pass through those waters if they could go around them ... causing the region to decline even further.

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