Here's a terrain map of Iridia, my made-up country. It shares borders with two countries (Country A to the north and Country Z to the south). Iridia has friendly relations with country Z but has been in three wars in the last 200 years with country A, mostly as a result of disputes on the resource-rich plateau region to the west. Assuming no other constraints, where would the country's capital and the other major cities be located?
closed as primarily opinion-based by Mołot, sphennings, Vincent, Aify, kingledion Dec 4 '17 at 19:43
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Many cities are sited where rivers enter the sea. This produces natural harbors and the river allows barge transport from further inland. I had thought that most of these cities were set back along the river a ways. That is true for New Orleans but I suspect it is because the land closer to the ocean is unsuitable for building. Singapore and Shanghai are right up on the ocean.
X is your capital and Constantinople equivalent. It would have a wall on the landward side. Z is a Shanghai equivalent. Y and U are New Orleans / Baltimore equivalents. V and W are Detroit equivalents where traffic coming from inland or on river barges are loaded onto oceangoing vessels.
A, B and C are inland cities / oases where I imagine there to be low points or passes through the mountains - like Kashgar on the Silk Road.
Assuming no other constraints, where would the country's capital and the other major cities be located?
Near your major rivers or lakes. People need a lot of drinking water.
Usually, the capital is in the coast (or it has access to the sea by a river) and/or in the middle of your major trading route.
Thousand of people also need a lot of food, so you need fertile land near (or the sea for fishing). Civilizations that abandoned their capitals usually did it because the land became barren after centuries of farming or a climatic change left them without a realiable source of water.
Major cities will tend to be located where they'd logically make sense, taking into account when the cities were founded. As an example, New York City is located on a natural harbour with the Hudson providing access to the interior. Montreal is located the furthest an ocean-going ship can go up the St. Lawrence river (without canals or locks), with the Ottawa River providing access to the west and the St Lawrence continuing further to the southwest. London and Rome were founded where the Thames and Tiber respectively were narrow enough to bridge, allowing both sides of the river to be used by one community. Quebec City was founded where the St Lawrence narrowed enough that cannon on one bank could dominate the entire river and a steep bluff provided a defensive position. Kansas City grew from the fort established at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers that had three major trails to the west converging nearby, and so on.
The location of your capital, however, is very much a case of your country's history. In a case like London or Rome, it's where the most powerful (economic or military) community was that kept that role as the nation grew. In a case like Paris, it's because it's where Clovis I established his capital, and subsequent rulers kept it there. Ottawa was chosen for Canada in order to have a place roughly midway between the major population centers of Upper Canada and Lower Canada and also further away from the American border for defensive considerations. Washington DC was chosen due to political compromise that took into account everything from geography to slavery. Ankara became capital of Turkey after World War I when Constantinople was occupied by the Allies (and they originally planned to keep it) and Ataturk based his resistance movement out of Ankara and made it the capital even after they won. Brasilia was specifically built as a new city to be the capital located more centrally than the existing major cities.
If you were to rewind history on Earth to the point where there was some change so an alternate timeline developed but things like technological progress and population growth were roughly the same, you'd see cities in large part where you'd see cities now. The capitals of the different or changed nations that exist, however, will show a significant variation because of that changed history. If the Treaty of Sèvres hadn't partitioned Turkey, Istanbul probably would have remained the capital. Or Ataturk may have based out of Erzurum instead of Ankara. Without the American Civil War and the American attacks on Canada in the War of 1812, the capital of Canada may have ended up being Kingston instead of Ottawa. Change Peter the Great's fixation on sea power, and you don't get the Russian capital moved to Saint Petersburg. Make Lenin less concerned about foreign invasion, it doesn't move back to Moscow. Have someone take less of a risk than Tokugawa Ieyasu did in trading away his home province to Toyotomi Hideyoshi in exchange for the Kanto area, Kyoto might have remained the capital of Japan instead of Tokyo.
So, TL;DR, your cities will tend to be where you'd logically expect cities to grow. Your capital city is where the country's specific history puts it.