So, I would like to know if it is reasonable that two walled cities exist in extreme proximity of each other.

A little background: The story is set in an imaginary world, comparable to the Late Middle Ages, but with magic (duh). Most of the world is covered with forest, except for some mountains and one big desert. Most of the wilderness is very dangerous due to the wild creatures roaming it. Therefore, the humans live in two completely walled cities (the walled areas being large enough to contain fields to grow crops and stuff, thus making the civilization sustainable).

The cities are at enmity. The only reason they're not at war is their equally strong military; a war would push both cities to the brink of collapse.

Given all of this, I would like to know if it is reasonable that both these cities exist very close to each other (like, one or two kilometres distance from gate to gate). Is it possible that these cities developed this close to each other into seperated cities? And if so, do I need to include any criteria making this scenario sustainable (e.g. the cities must have been enemies since the very beginning of building the cities)?

Some more info about the reason for the conflict: While generally the citizens of both cities are raised to detest the respective other city, the conflict is mainly motivated by the respective noblemen who are in control of the cities. The reasons for their mutual hatred date back a few generations and are not generally known.

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    $\begingroup$ They could be on opposite shores of a river. What I'd actually find more improbable would be the concept that the entire human population somehow ended up within these two cities. You'd need a very good explanation for how that came about, or perhaps modify that to refer to just the population in that area. $\endgroup$ – GrandmasterB Nov 24 '14 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ Considering Minas Tirith was in sight of Mordor, I'd say that a fantasy story set with Middle Age technology combined with magic could be made to work with enemy cities in sight of each other... Mountains will probably be your friend in setting up such a scenario. Being 10,000 ft. up increases your visibility range to about 135 miles, IIRC. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 24 '14 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ That's funny, I thought about that when I was asking :D However, mordor is technically a country, not a city (way to be a dick, I know); additionally, while the borders to mordor are in sight of Minas Tirith due to the fact that the borders are giant mountains, both Minas Morgul and the Black Gate are farther away. Also, Gondor is inhabitat by men, Mordor by orcs (which of course originated from crippled elves, but are their own species nevertheless), so I guess this situation somewhat differs ... nice thought though :D $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 24 '14 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ True, still the mountain concept used by Tolkien could make your scenario work out. 135 miles isn't really even close for cities, but it's still plenty for them to be mutually visible if at least one is on a mountain. One point to note, though, is that the line-of-sight distance to the horizon does depend on the radius of the planet, so a story not set on Earth would be subject to a different relationship between altitude and distance-to-horizon. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 24 '14 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ A thing to keep in mind, if you want the "enmity" and a late middle age setting - some 80-90% of the relevant population would have to live and farm in the surrounding countryside dominated by each city simply to support and feed the non-farming minority who live in the city; cities are a center of trade and administration, but not of population (contrary to modern times). Any city of measurable size needs farmlands that they can't even see, or they starve - unless magic changes that completely. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Nov 25 '14 at 22:30

12 Answers 12


Two small villages growing in sight is absolutely possible. The more they grow, the close they get. To have something that separates them without causing instant and vacant war (or a state of cold war) it will need a clear separation of culture and roots. If you place one city at the beginning of a valley or a glen, surrounded by insuperable mountains and the other into the flat between lots of rivers and creeks and maybe at or near a lake, then it's quite easy:

  • Mountain Men feel well in the mountains where you have to watch your step and oversight everything. The ground is hard and doesn't go away, they know where they stand. They feed their cattle on alpine pastures, know how to climb through rock fields and what herb cures what.
  • River Men feel well in and on the water where you don't feel your own weight but the wind in your hair. They fish, they dive for shells and know how to swim.

Take the following map as an example (Carinthia/Austria):

Two Cities

Image base: Google Maps

This would create a scenario where one group doesn't want to change places with the other and wouldn't have much profit from having the others gone. It would also allow to have a bit of a trade as both places are very different from what they can harvest and produce. And it would allow to have completely different types of characters, shaped by climate and surroundings who would have a natural distrusted against each other while leaving it open if there is hidden admiring of the others capabilities or total hate.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the elaborate answer! A shame I didn't come up with this by myself, now I would feel bad for using it °v° But I'm positive I'll find some different condition predisposing said cultural difference ... thanks! $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 24 '14 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Gin-San I'm no author and the scenario isn't that un-common in Sci-Fi. Please don't feel that way. It's nothing more than a (very thin) base. What makes it kool is what you craft in between and what you make out of such a scenario. I like to play kool games, read good books, watch nice films, so please don't step back just to come up with a "unique" story for the lowest 1% of what the final result will be. Me and this site are just a tool in your toolbox :) $\endgroup$ – kaiser Nov 24 '14 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ Well, if you put it that way ... °ω° Thanks :) $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 24 '14 at 20:48

If you push the distance back a little bit, since they are on hills etc, they could be more like 5-10 miles apart and still see each other.

This would allow them to have grown up as normal towns to cities, areas of commerce and still be separate. Maybe they weren't always enemies, but likely some event or decision between the two caused terrible strife. And now they have been bitter enemies for years (decades?) and most probably don't even know why, just were taught to hate 'them' because.

  • $\begingroup$ That's a good idea, thanks! I needed them to be within visibility range to have something happen in the area in between with both of the cities noticing it and being able to react immediately. Hills bordering a dale or something like that are a good solution! $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 24 '14 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ No problem. Glad to help $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 24 '14 at 19:26

You need one of two stabilizing forces to combat the sharp-edged disagreements:

  • A negative feedback, such as a threat of a third party that would swoop in and take both nations out if they went to war.
  • A hard-to-predict chaotic feedback, such as a political house of cards (potentially revolving around complicated arranged marriages), where there isn't a clear "if we go to war, we lose", but rather a "if we go to war, it isn't entirely clear WHAT will happen." Humans tend to prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't.

In such situations, expect both sides to be trying to slice off parts of the other's domain (smuggling, stealing, political dissidents, assassinations). These effects are always there, regardless of distance, but they are stronger in short distances. You'd want a high value reason for both nations to stay put.

Also consider a Demilitarized Zone. North Korea and South Korea would be an excellent place to draw real life examples from, given their many-decade close-range war.

Distance doesn't really change hatred, so two civilizations that hate each other will hate each other regardless of being one mile apart or a hundred. The difference is merely the pace that one can interact between cities across such a short distance. Any effect which slows or inhibits this (such as a DMZ) will have the same effect as long distances.

One note: if they can see eachother, communication via. light at night becomes a possibility. This has huge implications for cloak-and-dagger operations.

  • $\begingroup$ Just an additional thought on the Korean argument: North Korea has built a "city" within sight of the South Korean border, just so it can be seen by the South Koreans. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 24 '14 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your feedback! I added some info about the conflict for further understanding. The negative feedback could be the wild creatures living in the world, which can only be withhold by the reinforced walls and gates. Thus, even a small breaking in the walls might be a disaster. Would this suffice as negative feedback? The comparison is helpful as well, thanks! $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 24 '14 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ That would definitely suffice. It strongly resembles MAD, our cold-war doctrine of Mutually Ensured Destruction. Any potential offensive action would be countered by a fear that such an attack could unintentionally cause their own walls to be breached, letting the wild creatures in. If a noble felt that there was a cause and effect relationship between "attacking the other city" and "creatures getting into my city," that would be a very powerful negative feedback loop to keep the nobles in check. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 24 '14 at 22:07

We do have at least one example of "0 distance" the Berlin Wall; while not completely equivalent to the situation you describe could fit your situation as well.

Perhaps the split is between two distinctive halves of the city; like agriculture and industry. Both halves rely on the other half (food needs equipment to produce, equipment needs food to keep workers alive).

You can define this split a few ways in terms of politics but it may be that the enmity is mainly expressed between a couple of noble houses. In effect this would play out somewhat like a large gang war; the citizens have no quarrel with each other but large political bodies erect gates that check for contraband between the two halves and generally slow down passage from one half to the other.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the Berlin Wall is only partially comparable to two completely seperate cities, since nothing could have split the cities in two halves. both with their own walls and gates, instead of one parting wall in between ... I added some info about the conflict, which is in fact mainly furthered by the noblemen. However, I thought it was illogical if the citizens beared no hatred for the respective other city, since in this case they could simply revolt and institute a peace-seeking government ... Thanks for your answer! $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 24 '14 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ Berlin, 2500--it would have been two separate cities by then. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 26 '14 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ Belfast could be another modern example: while not legally separate municipalities, certainly there are regions of the city that are walled (by the "peace lines"). They were certainly "at enmity" for many years. I don't think it's too difficult to imagine that if they'd started out with one nationalist and one unionist village a handful of miles apart, and the antipathy had lasted long enough, the result would be separate towns close together. Assuming of course they didn't wipe each other out first, which is the big question here. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Sep 1 '16 at 11:04

You should probably also consider that your humans had to come from somewhere. So the claim that the surrounding lands are inhospitable due to creatures needs to be explored with relation to time. It cannot always have been this way, otherwise humans would have been killed off before they could build their cities.

If I were to give a narrative that ends up with this, it would be that originally the desert region was a habitable grassland, and inhabited by two tribes of humans. The large space meant that war was not all encompassing, and although the two tribes feuded, they could get on with their lives. However, a change in climate pushed the habitable land into a progressively smaller area that started to force the inhabitants to the edge of the forests. As the two tribes were squeezed together, they naturally built rudimentary forts to hide behind. Because they had previously only fought in open plains, neither side had the offensive capabilities to defeat the forts of the others. The desertification progressively forced the two tribes up a broad valley of habitable, non forested land, with each side fortifying their sides as they moved up.

Eventually, the desertification stopped with the remainder of each tribe squeezed into two fortified areas opposite one another. Each one focussed on fortifying their position and making it tenable (digging in, like in ww1, where defensive postures were essentially unassailable). Once the fortifications were made, each side has worked on building its army, yet neither wants to commit to the field and have their forces decimated, reaching a stalemate, as there is no more room to move. This has now been the status quo for generations.


I'm tempted to say no to it being probable, but not impossible simply because human history proves the improbable frequently occurs. It depends on the time scale you are speaking of here and whether or not they are the only cities or if third parties exist.

An equally strong military is unfortunately not much of a deterrent if you look across human history for a few reasons.

  • The first being it's not obvious to an inside observer who is more powerful...there are repeated examples throughout history of a military attacking an enemy far superior to them without knowing it (and sometimes winning). To an all knowing observer, they may be equal and on paper they might very well be equal, but to me I'm stronger regardless. And will they remain equal over an extended (multiple generations) period of time

  • The second is human ambition, like it or not we are an ambition driven warlike species when possible, a ruler of one city will not be content until he/she is the ruler of both.

  • Third - military might isn't the only method you can conquer your neighbors...the mighty Trojans fell to deceit, the Byzantines fell to cannons (technology), and economic issues caused countless others to collapse.

  • As a fourth - Medieval societies had trebuchets...if they are within visual sight of each other, there is very little preventing them from adopting siege tactics such as flinging stones, fireballs, and even dead livestock to spread disease...all from behind their own walls.

  • And a final - the best defence remains a strong offence...the safest way to ensure your survival is not to allow your rival the opportunity to attack you.

  • $\begingroup$ These are good reasons ... I believe that my comment to Cort Ammons answer might solve this problem; the creatures living in the wild are an impending and lurking danger, which would render a both parties unable to wage open war. There might be guerilla tactics, assassinations and such involved, which is why the gates are guarded and strangers are scarcely welcome ... I'll keep your concerns in mind to keep the situation realistic, thanks! $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 24 '14 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Gin-San That would work...Increasing the distance so that 'artillery' fire in the form of trebuchets and catapults was out of range would work to solve that dilemma too. Being too occupied with safety from the wilderness (and perhaps expansion...expending resources to make a new walled city to expand to) would also work as a deterrent. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 24 '14 at 22:27

Actually, yes.
Thinking upon a list of countries (in our world) that have been or are at war with each other, a lot of them are in very close proximity.
This could be due to a range of factors -

  • Territorial Issues
  • Cultural/Religious/Race Issues
  • Resource Issues

I suggest you look look at a history of countries close together that have been at war with each other at some point (Indo-Pak, Israel-Gaza, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Japan-Koreas dispute -though not war, more like resentment for the colonization). It might help you characterise each city better and write a more realistic description of the feelings of the city people.

If the cause for the war is due to noblemen, family feud, etc, it would still be good practice to list out the reasons (for yourself). Look into the background of each of the cities. Also, to keep it real, you might want to have a few skirmishes between the city people which is quelled by an authority. Perhaps to honour a treaty? Or protect an enchanted object? Or to protect the people?

  • $\begingroup$ Good ideas, but a lot of your examples don't actually match the question. For example, Japan and Korea are a lot farther away from each other than the cities described in the question. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Nov 25 '14 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ You're right about that, sorry. I just wrote out the first 4 that popped into my head when I thought 'neighbouring countries at war'. The noblemen feud detail made me think of this BBC link. It seems relevant in this context. $\endgroup$ – catalyst Nov 25 '14 at 14:17

The concept that two distinct populations in close proximity would hate each other is fairly common in the real world. People tend to hate similar groups of people - when it comes to rivalry, familiarity breeds contempt. Ingroup-outgroup bias can be quite strong and grow over time as it becomes embedded in their respective cultures.

If you are talking about just the noblemen hating each other, you can always bring in issues of succession and rights - some from each city claims to be the rightful heir to the other city, and thus should rule both. You could even go a Helen of Troy route and make it about honor and past wrongs.

If you needed a stronger reason than just cultural/ethnic tensions, a resource disparity would engender any number of problems. Each could feel the other city grossly overcharges for whatever resources are traded, while being overly stingy on paying for what is being sold to them, and is capricious about supply. Traded resources may be difficult to produce and supply can fall short of demand, but the other city may not recognize just how difficult/rare it is to produce what is being sold and therefore resents the shortages (other-city people are just being mean and greedy about selling us X, while they are greedy and complain about how we are not giving them enough Y even though we sometimes struggle to make enough just for ourselves).

If the city walls need to encompass enough farmland to support the population, the walls themselves will be fairly small and unmanned (simply a relation between the circumference of the walls to population). It would be fairly easy to send sappers to open large sections of the walls - if the city walls are really only about a kilometer or two apart, one could build a tunnel between them and undermine the walls without ever exposing sappers to the wild - cause a wall collapse during a period of heavy monster presence and let the beasts kill off the opposing city.

Medieval agriculture was not that productive - if they needed to keep all agriculture behind walls, the primary focus would be extending the wall system to include more land. The obvious choice would be to connect their two wall systems - reduces the overall circumference of manned walls against the outside threat. You will need to address why the other city is the greater threat than the beasts forcing them behind walls in the first place.

Honestly it would be difficult justifying why each city would even want to focus on trying to kill the other, instead of being united against the common problem of a constant existential threat to their lives in the form of the beasts trapping them behind walls. That would probably be the biggest reason why they would not go to war - the peasantry would never take up arms against other people when there are much bigger threats, and would likely rebel if the noblemen actually caused the death of the other city. The fight against nature would take overwhelming precedence compared to any rivalry between the nobles.


I think you are assuming that these cities would have had to develop while being antagonistic. It's possible that the two cities developed as friends, but later developed enmity.

For example, one city started, but the population outgrew the capacity of the internal farmland. A kilometer away was another area that was flat and had a source of water and so they expanded to that area. It was far enough away that a literal, all-encompassing expansion didn't happen, but a separate walled city. The Twin Cities, if you will.

But perhaps the King moved to the second city and made it much more grand. His son, who he left in charge of the first city, is not on good terms with his father and the people of the first city are resentful of the glory of the second city. Perhaps the King never bothered to raise taxes in the second city, so essentially the first city pays the bills for the second.

Eventually a split occurs and outright rebellion. You can imagine a whole host of alternative scenarios: the second city was originally a cloistered monastery but the King turned against his religion; the first city was conquered by invaders, who eventually built the second city as an area exclusively for the bloodline of the conquerors; the first city was built on the shore of a lake which receded over time and the second city was built on the new shore, though the first city was maintained mainly because it enclosed farmland; the ancient king built two cities, one for each of his two sons, etc.


Two strongholds, both alike in dignity ... will there be a forbidden love story? :P

If you have sufficient protection by for example magic spells, it should be no problem to keep the cities that close.

Also it could be an intersting thing that the knowledge about the conflict is lost and needs to be found to unite the cities and save mankind while evil forces on both sides try to prevent it.

For two small villages a distance of 1-2 km is pretty normal, so start there and then let the communities grow by gathering more hunted humans and reinforcing/expanding the city walls. Maybe even start at 5 km distance and make it impossible to expand away from each other, causing more conflict for the land in the middle.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not really sure this answers the question. You've stated how two cities could exist next to each other, and how the story could go, but you haven't stated how they could hate each other but not be at war. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Nov 25 '14 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ ... in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hand unclean. Yeah .... probably not °v° Magic is a good suggestion, I will most likely sort out some stuff like supplies, food and such with magic, but I don't want to rely on that too much, since it's kinda getting old and "everything is kinda solved by magic" is a poor plot line to begin with ... $\endgroup$ – MoritzLost Nov 26 '14 at 14:20

Ok so the cities are close to each other, maybe a wall in between them, they are enemies but we're not seeing an all-out non-stop war either. Is this a reasonable scenario?

Are you familiar with Jerusalem?

enter image description here

Red line denotes the Israeli West Bank Barrier. Purple is Israeli settlements, yellow is palestinian areas.


There are pairs of towns facing each other across borders all around the world. Take for example El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Mexico.

They aren't currently "at enmity" (well, not quite), but they are separated by a well-defined border. Suppose that the USA and Mexico, like all great empires, eventually were to pass away. Then the original reason for the separation, the border, perhaps no longer exists. But the towns could quite plausibly remain administratively separated, and for whatever reasons (competition over resources, playing their music too loud) their degree of enmity could increase over time to reach the situation you want.

Therefore I would say that it's not necessary for the enmity always to have been there, there just needs to be some administrative reason for having "twin" municipalities that never fully merged. A national border is one fairly definitive reason that falls short of open warfare and therefore allows each town to grow fairly normally. You might be able to invent others.

You also need to explain why the cities remain 1-2 kilometres apart, instead of having both sprawled against their border. This could be a combination of (1) never historically having a motive and an opportunity to extend the city walls any closer to each other, and (2) everything outside the walls becoming untenable to inhabit as hostilities sharpened and/or the local beasties became more aggressive. So perhaps in the past the land between the two was partly or fully in use, but not now.


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