Let's say I have a mountain range similar to the Andes but with no easy passes, hence forcing everyone to circle around it (for hundreds or even thousands of miles) in order to get to the other side.

I want to cut through it where it's easier: high enough that the area to cut through is no longer than about 40 miles / ~64km (taking Moria as an example) but not high enough that even getting to the entrance becomes difficult. It will be comparable to the upcoming Turin-Lyon high-speed railway.

At first, it needn't be anything more than a wide tunnel that allows four carriages to pass through (let's say 12 meters wide and 4-5 meters tall) but we will want to expand it so that workers' housing can be built in the underground passage itself (and, over decades or even centuries, become a city somewhat comparable to Moria). The tunnel can be wider if need be, e.g. for transporting excavated rock outside.

Also, it might have a slight ascending slope, so that bringing rock outside gets easier (we could have full carts go downhill, and empty cars be pushed uphill)

Of course, the most livable areas will be those close to the two entrances, but I suppose people will be able to inhabit the middle section of the tunnel too as long as getting food and supplies there isn't a problem.

A few notes:

  • technology is comparable to that of 14th century Europe
  • the nation/kingdom/faction doing the excavation doesn't control the territory on the other side of the mountains, so it can only dig from one side (and not from both simultaneously). Assume that attacks from the other side are not a problem, though.
  • the nation/kingdom/faction doing the excavation knows (and uses) various kinds of food that can be grown underground. So assume that growing food is not a problem.
  • assume that safety from attacks (wild beasts or other factions) is guaranteed
  • they need some way to improve air flow
  • workers are dwarves who can see even in total darkness up to 60 feet away (in black and white), so lighting is not a problem

If availability of manpower is not a problem (let's say we can field as much as 100,000 dwarf workers, but it can be much fewer if that high a number creates more problems than it solves),

  • how long would it take them to dig through 60km of rock and dirt?
  • what would be the greatest difficulties in doing so?

This question is very interesting, but is more about "how could dwarves survive in such a city" while I am interested in the making of.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ do you mean something like this india man do? also do you want the mountain intact? something like the petra? $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Jul 22, 2020 at 13:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yep, it's purely a question of available labor and your time-scale. Tho' accurate surveying is a good idea so your tunnel doesn't rise to the surface a few dozen km too soon, and doesn't go a few compass degrees to the left of your target. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 13:24
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Do they have a light source that does not use combustion? Neither 40 miles in total darkness nor 40 miles of dense smoke seem an appealing journey. Also, um, folks will need to pee during their journey: Anybody unfortunate enough to live 20 miles deep in the tunnel, in the pee-smelling dense smoke, will need a clean water supply. And some poor soul will must be paid to haul food 20 miles into the tunnel for those residents every day, so living in the tunnel may be relatively expensive. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jul 22, 2020 at 13:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user535733 the dwarf workers see in the dark up to 60ft (in black and white, but otherwise perfectly). The others are valid points $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 14:02
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Gotthard Base Tunnel: 57 km long, dug under a mountain; digging took 12 years (1999 to 2011), at a cost of over 9 billion Swiss francs. And that was with 21st century technology! There were quite a few interesting adventures while digging; apparently not even late 20th century geological survey techniques were able to offer a complete accurate prediction of the actual conditions. (And please take care with those 2000 meters of rock above the tunnel -- they will tend to squish it shut. You need reinforcement.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 22, 2020 at 15:45

9 Answers 9


A few centuries

By the middle ages, miners were quite good. They employed technology that was advanced for the time to solve major problems like flooding, ventilation, and removing spoil. If you're willing to wave your hands about some practical concerns, you could conceivably have your tunnel and underground living areas built within a few centuries. When you're thinking about staffing levels, remember that the Channel Tunnel involved 13,000 workers using 1980s tech, and that's not counting all the people who were tangentially involved (making food, manufacturing tunneling equipment, etc.). So 100,000 people is not an excessive number.

Challenge 1: Tunnel life

The realities of living in a tunnel would be harsh. You mention that the miners can see in the dark, which is important. They'll need fresh water brought in, waste removed, etc. You say that the living areas will be near the entrances to the tunnel, but it might be more useful to put the living areas near the middle. After all, your workers are going to be tired after swinging a pickax all day and will be grumpy if you make them walk or ride a mule cart for 25 miles to get back to the entrance housing. At that point, they might as well live outside.

Fortunately, you won't need to house 100,000 people in the tunnel. A large portion of your workers can stay outside. This project will require an entire city's worth of support activities. For example, you'll need animal breeders for fresh animals, blacksmiths to build and repair tools, lumberjacks to fell trees for support timbers, tailors to make clothing, laborers to dump the rock coming out of the mine, etc.

Challenge 2: Air

You'll need a supply of fresh air deep within the tunnel. There is precedent to mines installing air supplies in the middle ages. Here's a great guide to mining technology in the era you're considering. I suggest reading the whole thing, but here's a relevant excerpt:

Delving deeper beneath the surface of the earth led to a second complication for the miners: less oxygen for those working in the elongated tunnels. Rather than limit the depth that the mines could extend, ventilating machines were developed as a solution. The simplest form of ventilation, sufficing only for the shallower mines, was merely the flapping of cloths to circulate air. Later, revolving fans and single- or double-acting bellows maintained air flow, while allowing miners to dig to new depths.

So you can hand wave a superpowered bellows to keep air moving.

Challenge 3: Transportation

As the tunnel gets longer, it'll become harder and harder to get stuff in and out. Even with two lanes moving in each direction, horse-drawn railcars aren't fast. Let's assume you're running a really coordinated operation where each car is filled rapidly and there's always another one waiting right after it to take the next bit of spoil. You'll still need a lot of people running the carts. And remember that the carts will have to go far enough out of the tunnel to dump the rock, so by the end of the project, your carts could conceivably be traveling a 100-mile round trip. The good news is that you'll have lots of empty carts going into the tunnel to carry supplies.

Challenge 4: Precision

It's going to be really really hard to hit a specific target from one end after all that digging. Especially given that miners were used to digging paths that weren't necessarily straight. Here's a great description of a mine from Reddit:

How did a medieval mine look? Some were open pits, but most were mine shafts, dug down and reinforced with wooden supports. The miners tried to follow the streaks of ore in the mountain, and the mines could meander quite a bit. The larger mines had not only pumps keeping water out, but also bellows to pump air down to the miners. To break the mountain, the miners would light fires down in the mining shafts to heat the mountain, and then rapidly cool it by throwing water on it. It cracked, and was then much easier to pickaxe and shovel into small handcarts used to transport the ore to the shafts...

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Great answer. An additional problem related to the air circulation is Fire: fires in enclosed living spaces like mines and tunnels are terrifyingly deadly. Without circulation the fire can use up oxygen quickly suffocating everyone. However, circulation and ventilation can both fan the fire and also circulate the smoke further and faster, killing people via smoke inhalation and heat. Modern large tunnels and dwellings have sophisticated multi-channel vertical ventilation system to address thing like this. Possibly to difficult for medieval builders. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 23:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @RBarryYoung I think fire could be prevented if you adhere to strict "quarantining" of all burneable objects. Build the workers accomodations purely from stone and separate every 3 or so sleeping spaces by a high enough stone wall or so. That way any fire is sure to burn out quick $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Jul 24, 2020 at 2:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ One thing I'd suggest for this otherwise great answer: How about adding a pair of aquaeducts? You need manually or animal driven water pumps (kinda horizontal waterwheel) to get the water flowing, but you can tow barges in, tow waste out, and can generally move much more weight much more easily. It's not worth doing for short tunnels, but at >50km, it could change everything. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 24, 2020 at 7:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Another thing to consider: You can't ventilate a single tunnel; the incoming air would slow down the outgoing air. You need a double tunnel, one ingoing, one outgoing, with a connection at the tunnel end to let the air turn around. In the end, you'll likely have regularly spaced connections, all but the last one usually closed - those connection doors would also be helpful in case of disaster. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 24, 2020 at 7:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I have received quite a few great answers, but I decided to accept this one because, well, I can only accept one, and also because it's the one that most accurately answers what I asked. The other great answers mostly provided me different (although very interesting and useful) ways to circumvent the problem (e.g. having an existing cave system, which wasn't factored in in the question) $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2020 at 14:53

Base it on a qanat.

Qanats are deep tunnels bored into mountains to convey water down to dry lowlands. They are built using ancient Persian tech which impressed the Romans when they showed up. 14th century European medievals would not have been able to do this. These tunnels serve their intended purpose to this day.

The Qanats of Iran, Scientific American 1968

The qanat system consists of under­ ground channels that convey water from aquifers in highlands to the surface at lower levels by gravity. The qanat works of Iran were built on a scale that rivaled the great aqueducts of the Roman Em­ pire. vVhereas the Roman aqueducts now are only a historical curiosity, the Iranian system is still in use after 3,000 years and has continually been expand­ ed. There are some 22,000 qanat units in Iran, comprising more than 170,000 miles of underground channels. The sys­ tem supplies 75 percent of all the water used in that country, providing water not only for irrigation but also for house­ hold consumption


The linked article provides details about how the qanats were dug. The coolest thing to me was sighting underground to keep the tunnel straight - they started at the exit and were trying to hit a well far inland. By far I mean a serious long way; the longest known qanat is 71 km.

In your world the qanat is ancient. Possibly the construction techniques have been lost. The flowing water is key because that is what draws air down thru the vent shafts. There are methods used today to cool houses using ancient qanats - if you have a chimney it can create a suction and draw cool air up from the qanat flowing beneath the house.

Making side tunnels off the great qanat is a reasonable thing. Over time these tunnels grow. The main thing for this city is not to mess with the water - it has to flow or the city will suffocate.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is very interesting, but considering that the qanat will have to pass through an aquifer (and a lot of silt, rather than rock), I suppose it would pose a huge threat to the main tunnel? Flooding, collapses etc Since the qanats were conceived only as aqueducts and not as a means of going from one side of the mountains to the opposite $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 15:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Hankrecords - collapse and silt were and are concerns for the qanats too. The linked article describes how they were fortified with pottery hoops for such areas as you describe. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jul 23, 2020 at 1:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It seems that qanats, while probably allowing for airflow and having natural chimneys for smoke from fires to escape, would probably be prone to flooding, since they were designed to flood. $\endgroup$
    – cowlinator
    Jul 27, 2020 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @cowlinator - rivers also flood, and this causes much trouble for the settlements along them. There are technologies to attenuate this risk. In an artificial underground waterway bounded by stone, a dam would be easier to make than it is above ground. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jul 28, 2020 at 13:18

In ad 41 the Romans used some 30,000 men for 10 years to push a 3.5-mile (6-kilometre) tunnel to drain Lacus Fucinus. (Source)

Unfortunately, 14th century Europe wasn't, from an engineering perspective, more advanced than 1st century Rome. So I consider that estimate to be reasonably valid.

  • 30,000 people @ 60 km = 100 years.

Could you simply scale this? (300,000 people would take 10 years)? You need to be careful with that. There's only so much space inside a tunnel. The Romans were pretty good (not godlike, but pretty good) at maximizing their efficiency, so my gut tells me the best you could do by adding more people is to pull 100 years down to 80.

Also note that both medieval Europe and Rome have one thing in common: no explosives. The work would be brutal and you can bet your bottom dollar that a lot of those 30,000 men died during construction.


That same source makes the following observation about ancient tunnels:

Ventilation methods were primitive, often limited to waving a canvas at the mouth of the shaft, and most tunnels claimed the lives of hundreds or even thousands of the slaves used as workers.

Even by the 14th century, atmosphere, gasses, and human physiology were only crudely understood and what we, today, understand as completely obvious (duh!) was to them, far too often, incomprehensible witchcraft.

  • Without massive ventilation, possibly requiring active fans, a 60km tunnel would kill most people before they ever got through it. You could possibly help this by making the tunnel consistently sloped, but that means there's a boat-load of bad effluvia at one end. Barometric changes at both ends will complicate this — and downhill or not, if those pressures line up correctly, the air inside your tunnel won't move an inch (everybody's dead).

  • Average hiking speed is 2 miles (3.2 km) an hour. Your tunnel's basically 19 hours non-stop, which means people will stop. Possibly extending the passage to 3 or more days. During that time you have fires (camping, heat, and torches), defecating people, defecating animals, bats, dust and gas, all building up over time. See the previous point.

  • Sewage removal could be a challenge, unless you get lucky and find a couple of cave systems along the way and some water sources to wash it all down the caves.

  • Speaking of water... pray you don't find much.

  • The tech existed to shore up the tunnels, but historically it wasn't used much to do so, so you'll have problems with collapses.

  • Caves (tunnels...) are notoriously slippery and cold.

  • Heaven help you if someone half-way through the trip goes mad from claustrophobia or Nyctophobia.

  • And remember if you do make it slightly sloped, whomever controls the up-slope entrance has a decisive military advantage if they have access to a river.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Caves notoriously cold? Real-life cave temperatures typically range from around 50-70F, although they can get colder at high elevations/latitudes. Caves are normally around the average annual surface temperature of wherever they're located, so about half the time, they're warmer than outside. Most times of the year, a cave will seem either pleasantly cool or pleasantly warm (depending on the surface temperature), and will almost certainly not pose any more of a survival threat than the outdoor elements. Great answer otherwise. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ More 50F (10C) than 70F. While this isn't freezing cold, it's too cold for humans to rest. It's probably a good idea for the author to make it so that the dwarves are built for living in such temperatures without too much clothing, i.e. isolation via a layer of fat or lots of fur. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 24, 2020 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang, I've toured too many caves to believe that statement. Only the first 10th of a mile is that temperature. Then they get cold (not freezing, cold). What I didn't mention is that when you get deep, really deep (from a vertical perspective) they get hot due to pressure. I'll update the answer to include that. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 25, 2020 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I can't think of a mechanism that would cool a cave well below the average annual temperature, except perhaps for a constant flow of cold water from higher elevations. The tourist info for many of the world's most popular tourist caves/caverns (Waitomo, Puerto Princesa, Howe, Carlsbad, Majlis al Jinn, Skocjan, Jeita, Cave of the Cystals, Mammoth) all state a year-round temperature in the 50s and up (ice and sea caves excluded). $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2020 at 15:11

Cappadocia is a mountainous region full of underground cities. The larges one is Derinkuyu, which was built some 700 or 800 hundred years BC and could house probably 20,000 people. Those guys were 22 centuries behind your world's people in technology and they managed it.

You could draw some inspiration from these underground cities. Do notice that this city was initially built by digging through soft volcanic rock; I am not sure ranges such as the Andes would be as easy to dig, but in a fictional world it may be a possibility.

  • $\begingroup$ I probably didn't say it very clearly, but the point about underground food was not a requirement, it was only supposed to be a "let's just assume that food is not a problem" $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 15:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Hankrecords no, it was me who didn't read it properly the first time. I'll adjust my answer. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ The challenge is the distance to the tunnel entrance. Derinkuyu is less than 4km in size, the question is about 64km (because they can't dig from just one side). $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 24, 2020 at 7:04

Start with a natural cave system

Many natural cave systems are hundreds of km long. Mammoth has over 600 km of explored cave systems and at its widest is at least 20-30km however no one really knows for sure since there are tons of unexplored tunnels meaning it could be much much bigger.

While this may not give you 64km as the crow flies, there are plenty of natural caves in mountainous regions than take a walk of more than 64km from point A to point B. Finding one that goes under a mountain that is too hard to go over is quite possible.

At first, it needn't be anything more than a wide tunnel that allows four carriages to pass through (let's say 12 meters wide and 4-5 meters tall)

This is a very unreasonable expectation in the 13th century whether this is man-made or not. Most roads built above ground in that time period were only 4-8 meters wide because wagons were not as common back then as cars are today; so, there were few places where you would expect to need multiple lanes going in one direction.

Most medieval carts and wagons were built to the same width as old Roman carts and wagons so that they could use the same roads. This width was about 1.5 meters. Since underground roads are much more expensive, you won't waste a lot of money on extra room; so, a more likely width for two way cart traffic is going to be something like 4m wide and 4m tall, but to really get started you don't need even that much. A donkey train can go over much rougher terrain and through passages as small as about 2.5m by 2.5m giving you enough room for 2 way traffic. So, your initial usage of the passage will probably be donkeys since you will barely need to modify the caves at all for that. As time goes on you can carve things bigger and smoother until it accommodates a 4x4 space all the way through, then scale that up to 12x4 only if the need arises (which it probably won't until the mid 1900s)

Because of the long trip, way stations may be installed to give travelers places to rest. Over time the quality of roads will improve and new joining tunnels will be dug to make the trip shorter, safer, and easier, and one or more way stations may grow into a proper town in its own right collecting money from travelers as they pass through to guide them safely through the massive underground labyrinth, getting paid by the local lords to expand the tunnels, and not to mention whatever natural resources the mountains already contain.

As waystations grow into towns, ventilation will of course have to be solved for, but the locations of these waystations will likely be chosen as places that have easy access to sunlight, water, and air anyway. So, if Moria is near the surface but sandwiched between two mountain ridges, it could get easy access to above ground resources despite being a long trip from either side.

Hankrecords brings up a good question in the comments about how Moria's location would be planned, and the answer lies in the origin of the cave system itself. Many caves are created from aquifers eroding as they drain out. Basically you start off with an elevated lake or lakes sandwiched between the mountain ridges, as water drains off through underground aquifers it will erode the ground away following the path of the softest minerals creating underwater caves. Eventually these caves will begin to break through to the surface at lower elevations allowing the lake and caves to drain out.

enter image description here

This will create a natural sinkhole entrance where the lake used to be high above what will become the main town which will provide enough sunlight, water, and air for a significant underground population. The town may also have farms above ground in the valley that is otherwise inaccessible to the outside world.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ Many good ideas here. Supposing that the mountain range is completely impassable from outside, though, how would they be able to know where the surface above is closest, and thus where to build the best waypoints? Is there a way of knowing how close you are to the surface when you're in a cave? (without modern technology of course) $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2020 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Hankrecords Updated answer. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 27, 2020 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ that's great! very interesting indeed $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2020 at 14:07

The big question:

Data from quanats suggests 2-5 metres per day. This does not account for the hard rock, but it also assumes relatively small teams and getting the spoils out through narrow shafts. Bigger tunnels have a bigger cross section, but they also allow larger teams to work at the same time. So call it 35-90 years for the full distance.

The little comments:

  • Coming from one side only is no problem. There is no real chance to have two opposite tunnels meet in the middle. They might miss each other by miles and both tunnel the entire way.
  • Similarly, they could not really predict how the terrain on the other side looks because they can't really align the maps on both sides of the range.
  • Growing food underground sounds pointless. Transporting it 40+ miles is easier than growing underground.
  • Ventilation will be a big issue. Do they dig vertical airshafts every couple of hundred yards or do they use forced horizontal ventilation?
    • Bellows or pumps operated by men, animals, waterwheels?
    • Suction through either a fire or moving water?
  • Light will have to be flame, which further complicates the air supply. If the pumps fail for a few hours, people might die.
  • Transport of first spoils and food and then cargo with horse-drawn carts on wooden rails?
  • $\begingroup$ Moving water won't work well. A 64 km aspirator is really difficult to build and maintain, so that's not a good option. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 24, 2020 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ Since the question is about dwarves that can see in the dark, light is not an issue. (Cooking may be.) $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 24, 2020 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ Pressurized air can be made with a waterfall (there should be plenty in the mountains) using a hydraulic tube, as used in catalan forges some centuries ago (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trompe) $\endgroup$
    – Axel B
    Jul 13, 2023 at 16:26

Given the huge investment in terms of time, material and lives, the chances of an underground city developing because someone wanted a 60km tunnel built hrough a mountain range in a world with knowledge and tech similar to 14th century Europe are rather slim.

It would be more likely to develop such a city if you started off with a mine or a group of cave dwellers with belligrent neighbours who keep digging deeper tunnels/caves to stay safe than a tunnel project - i.e. like Moria, have some or other mineral that was discovered in a cave on the side of the mountain or in a streambed of a stream with its source underground in the mountain that is rare and precious enough that when the easily accessible mineral on or near the surface is mined out it would make sense to tunnel deeper. As the mines get deeper, workers start sleeping in the mine on their off shift and only returning to the surface once a week or whenever their "rest day" may be or if they are slaves to begin with, their "masters" may leave them in the mine for life. Either way, as the mines got deeper, making first overnight camps and eventually settlements underground may make sense. They could even cut through into natural cave systems which they decide will make a decent living space.

Cutting through the mountain then becomes a "byproduct " rather than an original goal. Maybe some slaves started a religion where the tunnel was needed (some day all our people will reach the promised land when the tunnel reaches that far, where we will be free) or after several generations of following mineral-bearing veins a mining tunnel eventually broke through to the other side. Once this happened, the possibilities of establishing a shorter trade route became possible, so the tunnels were enlarged, reinforced and cleaned up and only then did the underground village really develop (as a way station for travelers through the tunnels).

Edit: Another option is if you make the underground living sort of non-optional e.g. if your region has horrendous winters with snow meters thick, you might end up with a system where people have summer and winter homes farming, hunting, gathering etc. out on the plains & forest & fishing rivers&ocean then retreat to winter caves when the weather turns. For a civilisation that evolved that way, tunneling deeper to hollow out new homes would not be that far fetched. Also, with those types of conditions, they may well decide a tunnel through the mountain is a good idea, as they would be unable to travel any other way for half the year and would have time on their hands. This would be a generations project, though. They would work on it all winter, but summers would be needed for gathering food.

  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking something like indentured servitude: the workers will work for X years, after which they will be freed of their debt and given a "plot of land" consisting of a household (and underground farm) along the tunnel. Could that make sense as a starting point for the tunnel becoming a city? Other than it being an important way station of course $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 7:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe. But most kings and governments are not that keen on projects that are not likely to bring either money or desirable territory into their hands in their lifetime. Perhaps if you made the rulers or all the people a longer lived race (say 250 years or more) they might decide to invest in a project likely to take >100 years before bringing any sort of benefit. Otherwise they'd probably rather use those indentured to cut down some forest for more farmland or something $\endgroup$
    – Gwyn
    Jul 23, 2020 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ fair point. This is out of the scope of the question, but it's useful for me to keep in mind, thanks. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Well, connecting two sides of a mountain range could boost trade and bring a lot of money in the kingdom, and even more with a toll $\endgroup$
    – Axel B
    Jul 13, 2023 at 16:27

(convert to comment if not good enough)

You might have a look at De Re Metallica, which has detailed drawings and discussion of 1500s mining technology. OK, couple centuries later than you posit, but maybe 1500s would be better assumption than 1300s. There were bellows, waterwheels, etc. So, you can see some ability to go after what you are talking about.

I still sort of doubt the economic justification for it (even now, really, but definitely with 1300s or 1500s tech). But maybe with some ruler just forcing it to happen, could be done.





I was immediately thinking about a two railway lane for the trolleys, with a pulley deep in the mountains and a long rope connection between the trolleys.

If you're digging upward, you can fill the trolley with stones. It will run down totally alone, pulling the rope behind, which goes over the pulley, and drags an empty car in. Or new workers or food. Anything which is lighter than the outgoing trolley.

Now ropes in the 14th century can't be extremely long. So you will have to build stations, where the full cart is attached to the next part of the railway. Like that a single cart full of stones on it's way out can pull in several carts, each one only to the next station.

Those stations need to be manned to handle the trolleys, to do the maintenance on the railway and pulleys and ropes. A city begins.

Furthermore, the dwarfs living in the mountains are forced to fill the trolleys with stones, always, or the railway stops working. This might be one good reason to continue building even when some groups of dwarfs say that the project will not be finished in their lifetime so you can as well let it be... no. You need to send stones downward to keep the railway working, always, or there is no supply.

That is, until they hit an underground water current. Then they can fill carts with water when sometimes they didn't make enough stones. This can be a great reason for fight between the dwarfs by the way, and a plotline driver. Also the other way round, when water accidentally fills an up going trolley and disrupts the system. Or when some part of the city needs water but gets stones sent... all kinds of nice plot drivers here.

In 13th century in Schwaz they also started to use water mills to keep the tunnels dry. The water would go over a big water wheel on it's way out of the tunnels, the wheel would provide force over transmission belts to some mechanics. Sometimes they used it to move trolleys upward, sometimes they hung buckets on it to get even more water or stones out of the tunnels below. In Schwaz they also used kids to get silver out of the mountain. They would be paid at the entrance with a loaf of bread when they came out with silver.

So. Sorry, no exquisite perfect answer here. But hopefully some ideas and some impressions. Make sure to notify me when your book is done, I'm a fan of fantasy dwarfs.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A lot of good ideas here, thank you! Especially the part about conflict between different waypoints/cities, and the fact of using the weight of downward-going carts to pull up the others, I hadn't thought about that. Unfortunately this is for an RPG campaign setting, so no book to notify you about... for now at least :) $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2020 at 14:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ An afterthought: the water may be an important part in the life's of your dwarfs. It rains outside, you can have flooded tunnels inside. You can have a constant flow for any swimming waste. You might have safety holes a little upwards from the main tunnel to get away when a flood comes, which in themselves can become death traps when the water stays too long. You might need a second tunnel, small, on top of your main tunnel, with vertical connections, for ventilation and to get away in case of rolling stones or water or loose trolleys.... wow ! $\endgroup$
    – Anderas
    Jul 27, 2020 at 15:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .