I've always liked the ways that geography and transportation shape the locations of cities. I'd like ideas for geographic barriers that could be overcome by an infrastructure project that would make a secluded spot in the mountains suddenly become a major trade hub. The infrastructure project should be ambitious but feasible with Medieval technology.

One idea I was thinking was a project to render a Mountain Pass that had previously been impassable in the winter usable year round. What would be involved in such a project for people without explosives or power equipment?

Another thought was a canal. What geography would result in a relatively short canal in the wilderness having a huge impact?

Ideally I'd want a configuration of geography that would create opportunities for a lockless canal and a "Mountain Pass Improvement" project near each other in the same wilderness.

I'm visualizing a scenario where an ambitious King has to build a temporary village/work camp to complete a project in an isolated and nearly uninhabitable area, and suddenly a booming cities springs up when the project is complete. This is a scenario that happened a lot later in history when railroads were built but I'm trying to think up scenario where this would happen in a less technologically advanced world.

I realize long canals and mountain terracing existed in the Medieval world but I'm thinking of a project with a quicker payoff.

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    $\begingroup$ Please "limit (the question) to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer." Asking for ideas is the definition of "Vote To Close -- Too Broad". $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 15 '18 at 1:42
  • $\begingroup$ Hello and Welcome to Worldbuilding EdLincoln. You've asked some potentially very interesting questions but you've grouped them all together into one and then thrown in your own thoughts as well. Generally, we want you to stick to One Question per Question. So asking about just the mountain pass is okay or just the canal is okay, but both can make it a very broad answer. Secondly, questions about the impact on local geography and wilderness requires you to tell us about the local geography and wilderness and are often too difficult to answer. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Nov 15 '18 at 1:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'd suggest just focusing on the Moutain Pass question for now. Tell us roughly what century or civilization technology we have access to and some details about the mountain pass (e.g. Height, width, length) and why it is impassible in the winter. As a bonus you can have a read of this article, where a man created a road through a mountain by himself goodnewsnetwork.org/man-single-handedly-carved-road-mountain $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Nov 15 '18 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ It's really difficult to run canals through mountain passes, since the highest point on the canal needs plenty of water...and your technology does not lend itself to inexpensive pumps, weirs, gates, or other classic hydrological tools. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 15 '18 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ I wasn't thinking of a mountain pass with a canal running through it. More of a canal and pass being used to get around the same mountain range. I have terrible spatial reasoning skill, so I have trouble visualizing how (and if) this would work. Tech pre-gunpowder...Or maybe 1300s without gunpowder. $\endgroup$ – EdLincoln Nov 15 '18 at 1:55



Gaddara aqueduct

This tunnel through solid rock was 170 km long and built with Roman technology - arguably better than medieval but for engineering reasons, not because of superior tools.

Your "mountain pass" is not a pass but a tunnel cutting underneath impassable peaks. Inside the pass is a road wide enough to allow the passage of persons on foot, horses, and even loaded wagons.

Your city springs up in the previously inaccessible mountain valley because something people really like is in there and so the people want to be near it. Maybe the water can heal you, or there are spices or jewels or what have you.

  • $\begingroup$ Not what I had in mind, but I like it. If they could do an aqueduct with that level of technology they could do a "Highway Tunnel" or an underground canal...or both. I notice "Access Tunnels" in your diagram though. Would that technology/technique have allowed for doing this in a place where the "Access Tunnels" are impossible because of snow capped peaks up above? $\endgroup$ – EdLincoln Nov 15 '18 at 3:26

The Chinese built the Grand Canal primarily for economic and governmental reason (goods, and communication).

Many civilisations such as the Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Babylonians, etc... constructed grand monuments for Religous reasons, and invested heavily in farming infrastructure to feed their populations. It is no mean feet building their temples, or getting irrigation channels rebuilt every year, or building farms on the sides of mountains and finding ingenious ways to capture water.

So economic capacity, or even scale isn't the issue. Political will however is. None of those civilisations needed advanced ships for colonising across oceans, and the one country that did, chose not to because of politics. So did any of those civilisation colonise or expand thier empire around the world?

So that mountain pass, be it a tunnel, bridges, cutting, etc... would be built if it was politically important to do so.

  • Maybe its strategic consolidating the monarchs control on both sides of the mountain range.
  • Maybe its economic allowing them to tax, or avoid being taxed.
  • Maybe its religious, somehow building the tunnel brings them closer to the good afterlife. Or not building it angers the clergy.

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