Kirkwall once lived on the edge of the Tevinter Imperium and was home to nearly a million slaves. Stolen from elven lands or shipped from across the sea, all slaves fed the Imperium's unquenchable thirst for expansion. They worked in massive quarries and sweltering foundries that produced stone and steel for the Empire.
The city's complicated past is not easy to forget, history having earmarked many corners of the stone city. A ship approaching the harbor spots the city's namesake: an imposing black wall. It is visible for miles, and carved into the cliff side are a pantheon of vile guardians representing the Old Gods. Over the years, the Chantry has effaced many of these profane sentinels, but it will take many more years to erase them all.
Also carved into the cliff is a channel that permits ships into the city's interior. Flanking the channel are two massive bronze statues—the Twins of Kirkwall. The statues have a practical use. Kirkwall sits next to the narrowest point of the Waking Sea, and a massive chain net can be erected between the statues and the lighthouse, closing off the only narrow navigable lane. This stranglehold on sea traffic is jealously guarded by the ever-changing rulers of the city as the net trolls taxes, tolls, and extortions in from the sea.
—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi