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I'm imagining a town in a river valley. The river runs straight through the town and is diverted or spread out into canals that form a grid in the central, low-lying part of the town. Technology is early Renaissance, e.g. Florence ca 1450. No magic. Given the valley, the town rises up the hills on both sides of the river. I'm assuming, then, that the canal network spreads only through the flat, central vein of the town, but I'm open to ideas for extending it, e.g. locks.

Is this basic formulation feasible? Anyone know when locks were invented? Any ideas about how to make this colorful and interesting in light of the constraints? All suggestions, including how to better articulate this question, are welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ Locks were invented by Leonardo Da Vinci in the late 15th century so they would be brand new cutting edge tech in your town $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 23 '16 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ What are the canals for? Transport or irrigation or drinking water or something else? $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 23 '16 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Canals are for food and garden irrigation and also gondola transportation. I'm assuming this is a rich town of artists, artisans, and financial innovators not mainly agriculturalists. But they have to eat, and it makes sense that they would feed themselves, so I'll definitely use the idea of locks for hill canals and irrigated terraces. $\endgroup$ – brt Aug 23 '16 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz thanks, just un-accepted. $\endgroup$ – brt Aug 23 '16 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ «any idea when…» try Wikipedia first! history and development was seconds away. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 23 '16 at 16:15
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The basic structure seems feasible although it will lead to your canals being more like rivers as they will have a flow and their water level will fluctuate more than normal canals.

As I mentioned in the comments locks were invented in the late 15th century so they should be available for you allowing more canals up the valley sides. Maybe the hills could be turned into terraced steps and used for agriculture irrigated by the canals. Having canals on the hill could also allow for rain water to be collected and funneled to the river by the canals. This would allow some level of flood risk management.

To make it more interesting consider floating houses or a canal fed lake or basin with a floating market connected by walkways to the shore.

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Yes, and in fact it has been done before (to a degree). The best location for this would be the alluvial fan where a steep and narrow river valley opens to a broad, flat plain. Here is a town in Kazakhstan partly on an alluvial fan:

Beskol, Kazakhstan

Alluvial fans are more common in arid and semi-arid regions. If that doesn't work for you, another option would be in a broad river valley with a braided river. Braided rivers have multiple channels that branch and reconnect:

Braided river

In both cases you're dealing with a broad plain rather than a river valley proper, and that's preferable. The steeper the valley the narrower, shallower and swifter the river, which would make treating them as bi-directional canals very difficult. You want slower, deeper water.

The risk in both cases is flooding, but construction of stone walls based on existing divisions of the river course could protect against flooding and reinforce the position of each channel.

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