I am writing a fantasy story in a fantasy world and I have a question about the development of cities. One of the major kingdoms in that world decides to build a city on a newly discovered deserted island for strategic purposes. It is akin to colonization, where a group of people is sent with resources to build a city with a strong foundation.

However, I am facing difficulty in determining the direction this city should evolve in, such as how it will appear and what are the most important buildings to be constructed in the initial stages of the city. Does the kingdom have a well-thought-out plan, or is it just unconditional development?

Now, I will explain the environment of the island and the location where the city plan will be implemented.

The Island: It is an extremely large island of unknown exact size but sufficient to build several small cities on it. It is a tropical island with dense vegetation, dormant volcanic mountains, freshwater rivers, and lakes.

Rocky cliffs and slopes are scattered along the edges of the island, leaving few areas as sandy beaches, surrounded by an archipelago of small islands and irregular landmasses.

The city will be built on the eastern side of the island near a small sandy beach approximately 150 meters in the shape of a crescent. The sandy coast is bordered on both the northern and southern sides by rocky cliffs and steep slopes, with a small archipelago to the south and steep rocky prominences to the north.

In the northern region, there is a dungeon, which is the main target of the kingdom to build a fortified city to exploit its resources, as it appears in the form of a skull of a giant dragon made of rock near the northern cliffs.

To the west, beyond the sandy beach, there is an irregular grassy marshland with a tropical forest behind it.

I was thinking that the city would be built close to the coast with an external harbor, and the Lord's palace would be built on the southern cliff, with the city in the middle between the harbor and the Lord's palace. The city's inhabitants would benefit from the kingdom's support but would also prefer to benefit from the island's resources, such as timber from the forest and stones from the hills and the nearby northern dungeon. The Sea Temple will be built in the small archipelago near the island.

Well, that was just an initial idea, so do you have any thoughts on how the city will evolve by utilizing these resources?

Simple modification:

The strategic objective behind building the city is to secure the Dungeons (fortified towers), as dungeons are considered valuable assets in that world, given the diverse rich resources within them.

However, there are also military and commercial objectives, as the island is located on the kingdom's border with an adversarial kingdom. Therefore, it is utilized as a type of fortified commercial city, also situated near the nearby commercial shipping lane. However, due to the difficulty of accessing the island because of its geographical location, it is rarely visited.

Hence, the kingdom intends to confine this city to make it a commercial hub and a fortress simultaneously, with the materials extracted from the dungeons aiding in this endeavor.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ What sort of strategic purposes? Trade? Military? Communication? Something else? Please edit your question to provide these details. Until we know the purpose and the funding for this city, we can't say how its construction might progress. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Mar 19 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a few mosquitomancers to keep tropical diseases from killing everyone, or at least aspirin? It looks like a great place to live, other than that. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Mar 19 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ A small map of the island (in paint or powerpoint, doesn't need to be very "pro") might help show us where these differnt biomes are located, and how they relate to the kingdom establish this outpost and other socio-economic forces around the island. $\endgroup$
    – Whitehot
    Mar 19 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ Cities are living things. They require food, water, air, and a way to dispose of their wastes. Where does their food come from? Can enough be grown on the island or do large quantities need to be imported? If the island is in an ocean, where do they get their water? And where does their wastes go? Do they just dump it in the water and hope the currents and wind remove it? $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ What's the technology level of this kingdom? $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 13:47

9 Answers 9


Well-known historical example

The ancient Greeks went and founded dozens upon dozens of cities all around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in their archaic colonization days, roughly in the 8th to the 6th centuries before the common era. The colonists, oecistes, were explicitly sent out to set up a new city-state.

The newly founded city-states were set up as small copies of their mother-cities, the metropoleis. (Yes, "metropolis" means mother-city.) With time, many of them grew into large and powerful cities, sometimes becoming much larger, richer, and more powerful than the mother-cities.

The point is that the answer to the question "how it will appear" is that it will look like any other city of the civilization in question, just how the Greek colonies looked like any other Greek city.

Some of those colonies became very important cities in their own right, very much more important than their modern cities; for example, Marseilles was founded as colony of Phocaea and Constantinople was founded as a colony of Megara. Who knows where Phocea and Megara were? Do they even still exist?

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    $\begingroup$ And they were often success stories, because the colonists were more free - as in not subject to extremely conservative priesthood. Its often a "theme" in ancient philosophers fate, that they annoy the crap out of the mother city and then get bannished or flee to a colony. $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Mar 20 at 10:49

the major kingdoms in that world decides to build a city on a newly discovered deserted island for strategic purposes

This is what decides how the city will grow and look like.

Is it military importance, to allow the kingdom having a stronghold?

If so, the city will need to properly support several military bases and their related logistics, have refugees for the inhabitant and resources and have ways of getting water and food even during a siege.

Is it economy importance, to allow the kingdom having a commercial/financial hub?

If so it will need to have trade location for goods, services or financial products, location for banks and so on.

Is it diplomatic importance, to allow the kingdom establish and maintain diplomatic relationships with its neighbors?

If so it will need to boast all what is good and impressive of the nation, to positively impress foreign visitors.


I was thinking that the city would be built close to the coast with an external harbor

Yes, this was done very often. Most famously (for Europeans) in Athens with the port town of Piraeus, which was connected with Athens by 6 km long walls. Distancing somewhat your city from the coast has advantages in terms of security against invasions, storms (which in your tropical settings will be an issue) and occasional angry earthquake. In any case the presence of drinkable water source will have huge impact on final place chosen.

To the west, beyond the sandy beach, there is an irregular grassy marshland with a tropical forest behind it.

Ouch! Tropical + Marshlands = Chikungunya, Dengue, Malaria, West Nile disease, Zika, Trypanosomiasis. Or what was generally known as a "Bad Air" (but really are the mosquitos). You generally want to build city far away from such a place. Placing city on an elevated ground, open to sea winds was a good instinct on your side. However your port settlement would be still exposed and probably abandoned after series of outbreaks. The city infrastructure would have to adapt sometimes at a great costs, but don't fret as this happened historically when the port location was changed due to different factors (like sand clogging anchorages, inability to house big modern ships or unexpected vulnerabilities during the storms).The same goes for outlying farms.

Does the kingdom have a well-thought-out plan, or is it just unconditional development?

Absolutely the city will be planned. Meticulously. Ancient peoples did it, medieval peoples did it, Renaissance people did, well you get the point. This is going to be state-sponsored endeavor, not a bunch of settlers hooray-ing it and if your kingdom was anything like our real-word European kingdoms (I am not knowledgeable enough for other parts of the world), the city will be planned from locations of important building through exact street plan down to fortifications. City would be planned to house exact expected number of inhabitants. In part to know how much farmland has to be cleared and also where to plan the fortifications - as soon as walls are built, it is quite difficult to grow the city without compromising a bunch of things.

For the easy to follow medieval planned city I give you Bardejov, Slovakia:

enter image description here

Image courtesy of medievalheritage.eu

This is the reconstruction of it state in 16th century. The central square is preserved in it's more-or less medieval form to this day.

And the central square is where the building of a city would start. Square is THE vital center of the city, acting as meeting point and marketplace, the well may be placed there. First provisory houses would be placed around the square on the place of future planned buildings. Foundation of the church would be placed on the side of the square, as a dominant feature. Some kind of headquarters would be built, probably to be replaced by a town hall in the future.

In the image above the building in the middle of the square is the town hall. Such placement was quite common especially in cities built in German tradition.

Jungle would be cleared and outlying farms would be founded to provide food for the city very little agricultural capacities would reside inside the city itself.

Gradually provisory houses will be replaced by permanent structures, with wealthy traders and guild craftsmen, taking the best spots around the main square.

The kingdom wouldn't be directly building much in the city if it is not connected to infrastructure, administration or state sponsored industry (like the mint). Big attention would be paid to representative buildings which in medieval context is cathedral and town hall and sometimes monastery (Of course this is dependent on culture). Monasteries also often provided accommodation capacities for visitors, though some cities had dedicated lodging houses on top of privately owned inns.

And that's almost it.

At least if the city was to be built in a medieval way, which is a bit boring compared to i.e. Roman planning which expected state-built bathhouses, schools, hospitals and things like theatres and arenas surprisingly early in the city development as well as assortment of governmental buildings.

Similarly starting in renaissance times the amount of state-built buildings would to increase including housing (rather than expecting inhabitants to sponsor their own). Specific new feature were hospitals often associated with local monastery. But also much more attention was paid on art and it display like Italian Loggia

The thing about cities is that they are organic and living things. At some point they abandon the plan and start developing chaotically, leaving only the base outline visible. When the chaos becomes unbearable, the city often reimagined, expanded and re-planned. The most beautiful example in my opinion is Barcelona Which has some kind of planned (or quasi-planned) developenet in every thinkable period.


Geographically, your island is perfect for a naval base. The sheer cliffs and a difficult to navigate but extensive harbor area makes the island perfect for anti-naval defense AND as a home base for an aggressive navy.

Add a dungeon, and they are basically impregnable.

The initial colonization might actually have started as means to prevent the Dungeon Island to become a pirate haven, and only then focused on using the Dungeon itself.

All in all, I would focus on the city to be not just a giant port, but a giant Shipyard, in the style of the Venetian Arsenal. The island would quickly evolve to have the biggest and most advanced navy in the world, both to protect its merchant fleets AND to harangue their enemies with impunity.

At this point, the question is: why would the city remain a part of the original kingdom that established it, rather than become a fully independent Merchant Republic/ Corsair Freehold combo?

Seabound merchant empires grow extremely fast. A century after first colonists land on Dungeonia, the Dungeonian Republic would rule the seas, and the sight of their dragon-headed ships would strike dread into the hearts of other seamen.


Your city is going to, first of all, be built for purposes of defense. That is, it will be a garrison.

Your kingdom, because of its distance, will want to make it as self-sufficient as possible. You need to remember that transport by sea is much more efficient than transport by land, so you will have to provide ways to get things to city more efficiently from its hinterlands than by ship. However, local supply helps if the ships are under attack. Also, rivers would be practical

Even before it is self-sufficient, it will start to grow organically as the settlers pursue their own interests.


Nature has a bigger impact

Assuming larger ocean-worthy vessels (as opposed to the lighter greek ships some other answers depend on), the city will be founded where the best natural harbor of the island is (or the foundations that an artificial one may bee built upon).

Why? harbour construction without a natural starting point is hard even with modern machinery, and a future naval-base + trading hub will want a decent harbor.

So your nice creescent beach will be a bit away from the harbor-city. However, a slight split between the harbor-city and the city proper is not unheard of, so you do have some freedom in realistically placing the rest of the city.


Architectural Style

AlexP's answer already talks about it. It should be similar to the existing cities of that kingdom. Because the colonists will apply the same construction technologies and trends.

Not only that, you also want to attract new colonists -- including being welcoming to residents of that kingdom. How do you do that? Make your architectural styles familiar to them, which would also be the most economical thing to build.

Similarly, if there is a prevailing brand, or just recurring amenities like a type of business (item shop, blacksmith, etc), it should duplicate. So you have an opportunity to enrich your world with custom variations of shops and smiths. A type of armor is of a special material and use special tune to enhance? Have some of those shops in the kingdom proper and then in the colony too.

City specialization

But your colony city can totally still look unique. We do know that human cities specialize and can have very special look. Allow me to shock you (maybe) with a few imaginaries: a coal plant and its surrounding city; a view of Norilsk, Russia -- a city whose activities center around surrounding nickel mine and smelters.

enter image description here

Source: Xinhua. (The linked videos earlier contain the actual shocks.)

In each case, you will see residential buildings you exactly expect to see in a generic (northern) Chinese/Soviet city respectively. But the overall landscape is unique due to the specialization.

So it will be good if pick some harbor hub images of your liking and coastal fortresses and apply such aesthetics to your colony.

Each installation will likely have similar architectural styles to those in the kingdom proper. Like harbor vs harbor. Encampment vs encampment. The overall look can feel very distinct.

Example fort + habor:

enter image description here

Source: Malta National Aquarium


I think you're going into this slightly wrong. Very rarely does anybody decide to build a city. What generally happens is that a small outpost of settlement is created close to a valuable resource for logistical reasons. Then through natural growth, it develops into a town, then a city.

During this process, any neighbouring factions might spot this development and decide that they want a slice of the cake too. I doubt anyone would be able to erect an entire city without their neighbours noticing, or if they do have that amount of time before the neighbours notice/can intervene, why are they building a city in the first place?

Depending on your kingdom's largest priority, they'll be creating a different kind of settlement. If they want to quickly access and "pillage" the resources in the dungeon, the main focus would be to create a large port that can quickly get the resources off this island and back onto the mainland. If they're wanting to establish a military presence to scare off/fight back any invaders, then you're looking more at strong walls protecting a largely military port, equipped with whatever weaponry people use to blast ships out of the water in your setting.

Whether or not this settlement can grow into a city depends on how the neighbours react too. Will the neighbouring kingdoms allow this dungeon to be exploited so easily?

If they do have time to develop, try to work from the basis. Sketch out what the initial settlement might look like on your island, then add on new parts "organically". If trade is the main focus, then you'll probably see markets and smaller ports open around the rest of the coastline to allow other goods to be harvested and sold to the passing ships. If it's a primarily military outpost, the soldiers posted there will want a tavern to drink in, and the generals will want a comfy bed to sleep in.

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    $\begingroup$ "Very rarely does anybody decide to build a city": The ancient Greeks went and founded dozens upon dozens of cities all around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in their archaic colonization days, roughly in the 8th to the 6th centuries before the common era. And the colonists, oecistes, were explicitly sent out to set up a new city-state. Some of those colonies became very important cities in their own right; for example, Marseilles, Syracuse, and Constantinople. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 19 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Sure, a lot of Greek colonies became cities, but I doubt they sent off a fleet full of cranes and marble columns with each one to start building a Parthenon as soon as they land. As the article for oecistes mentions, one of their roles was "guiding the fledgling colony through its hard early years", i.e. when it's still a settlement figuiring out how to use the resources available locally. You mention cities that exist today that started as Greek colonies, but how many settlements died out and disappeared for each Marseille that flourished? $\endgroup$
    – Whitehot
    Mar 19 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ Surprisingly few died out completely. Most of them endure to the present day. The Greeks were masters at choosing the good spots which cried out for a city to be established there. (And they extremely rarely, almost never, shipped out finished column pieces overseas. They almost always made them of local stone. They did ship the chisels and occasionally the stonemasons.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 19 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Whitehot AlexP is right in this, many cities were founded during ancient period literally on a "green field" or by quickly expanding (over few years). Alexander the Great founded at least 20. It continued to be a trend during Middle ages where kings often order the founding of a city in order outweigh the nobles in area. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ The city is very different power-balance wise than the castle or simple resource exploiting settlement and had to be quickstarted with all relevant infrastructure to play it intended role. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 13:46

Build the fort.

Give the fort a generous budget for supplies and expenses.

Let the merchants build the city, possibly with a nudge from a generous stipend for settlers there.

It doesn't sound like you will need city walls, unless enemies regularly manage to stage land invasions, so the city will be able to sprawl a bit more than a typical city of its era.


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