Kirkwall, also known as The City of Chains and historically as Emerius, is a coastal city-state and a major population center located in the Free Marches. It is on the southern edge of the Vimmark Mountains, east of the Planasene Forest, and north across the Waking Sea from Ferelden.
Kirkwall has changed hands many times and has always been a valuable port, the nexus of nearly all trade that flows between the Free Marches and Ferelden. Natives of Kirkwall are known as "Kirkwallers". 
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.—Excerpt from Codex entry: The City of Kirkwall
Kirkwall has long suffered from endless plagues of violence, lunacy, human sacrifice, and blood magic. Indeed, the mages of Kirkwall have a more troubled history than those in any other Circle. A greater percentage of them do not survive the Harrowing and a greater percentage turn to blood magic — almost double that of Starkhaven or Ostwick. These disturbing issues may be attributed to the fact that the Veil is thin in Kirkwall, though some have also speculated that Corypheus' presence near the city might have been a factor.
In the sewers underneath the city, there is a hive of hidden passages and caves. When the Tevinter Imperium first occupied Kirkwall centuries ago, hundreds of Tevinter mages lived and researched in this hidden underground maze — far from the scrutiny of common men.
Over the centuries, practically a whole civilization of slaves simply disappeared from the hordes of slaves that passed through Kirkwall. The blood of these countless slaves that went missing were spilled beneath the city in sacrifice. Whole buildings were built upon lakes of blood. The sewers even have grooves where blood would flow, all leading down. Furthermore, the outlines and patterns of Kirkwall's intersections, back alleys, and boulevards bear a striking resemblance to those found on magical glyphs. All evidence seem to indicate that these countless human sacrifices were meant to meet a purpose of a magical nature.
Through their investigations, the Band of Three discovered that a cabal of Tevinter magisters were running a large-scale operation that conducted vast amounts of blood magic rituals and human sacrifices. The Band of Three confirmed that the Kirkwall magisters' goal was to deliberately thin the Veil even further. The effects of their efforts still reverberate throughout Kirkwall even to the present day.
Beneath Kirkwall, demons can contact mortal men. Some apostates believe they can extract forbidden knowledge from these demons and they can utilize that knowledge to aid them in surviving and keep their freedom. These demonic interactions are likely the cause of the proliferation of abominations, maleficarum, and demonic influence plaguing the city. During the Dragon Age, the Forbidden One Xebenkeck dwells in a Forgotten Lair of Darktown.Xebenkeck guards the Fell Grimoire, a tome that not only contains long-forgotten secrets of forbidden magical arts, but also the knowledge of how to summon the Forbidden Ones. The promise of its power has enticed Tarohne and a group of maleficar cultists to learn the Fell Grimoire's teachings. Ultimately, Tarohne came to believe that summoning the Forbidden Ones was the key to eradicating her enemies. Tarohne copied the knowledge found in the Fell Grimoire onto tomes guarded by bound demons forged into their very bindings. Tarohne scattered these evil tomes through out Kirkwall in order to entice other apostates to seek its power and follow in her footsteps should she perish.
Imperial slave outpost
Kirkwall was founded on the edge of the Tevinter Imperium under the name Emerius in -620 Ancient, after its founder Magister Emerius Krayvan.The quarries of Emerius provided Minrathous with the jet stone it needed to build its mighty temples, though later research shows that the Imperium was unaware of Kirkwall's mineral wealth at the time of its founding.
After a slave rebellion in Minrathous and a failed assassination attempt on Archon Vanarius Issar by an elven slave, it was decided that a center for the slave trade would need to be established away from the heart of the Imperium. As the new slave outpost would become incredibly wealthy, a vicious competition between prospects raged for over two decades, allegedly resulting in the deaths of more than half the slaves in existence at the time. Emerius was finally chosen after Magister Krayvan's son married the archon's daughter. The Krayvan family would go on to patronize the next three archons and push for the expansion of the Imperial Highway into the Fereldan Valley, a move which cost them a lot of influence when the Imperium met with Alamarri resistance.
At its height, Emerius was one of the mightiest Imperial cities, with nearly a million slaves living and working in the city, producing jet stone and steel. It was guarded by the Fourteenth Cadre, more commonly known as The Black Cadre. It was considered one of the worst postings in the Imperium.
During Andraste's Exalted March against the Tevinter Imperium, Emerius was the site of a slave uprising. Three magisters, including Magister Parthalan, and their legions were sent to quell the revolt before it spread, but they mysteriously vanished before reaching the city. In the wake of the First Blight and Andraste's invasion, the Imperium's borders receded. Numerous warlords tried to consolidate their power into a single kingdom, but Emerius held out for almost a century. The magisters were finally overthrown in -25 Ancient, after their assassination of a popular Alamarri slave named Radun led to a massive slave revolt. The magisters were hanged, the city burned, Hightown sacked. Emerius was renamed Kirkwall after its jet stone cliffs ("kirk" meaning black). The new city plunged into anarchy for over a decade.
Kirkwall declared the common nug a noxious vermin in 5:20 Exalted over fears that the animals carried the Blight. The extermination became known as the Battle of Squealing Plains. It is not spoken of in polite company. The next year, at the height of the Fourth Blight, Kirkwall was one of several cities in the Free Marches threatened by the advance of the darkspawn horde. The Grey Wardens were able to evacuate many thousands of refugees from the city to a safe haven in the Vimmark Mountains, albeit at a high cost in Warden lives.
In 7:56 Storm, during the third New Exalted March, Qunari invaders took Kirkwall in a night raid. They occupied Kirkwall for four years, forcibly converting much of the populace to the Qun and making them work in labor camps previously manned by slaves. It was liberated by Orlesians under the chevalier Michel Lafaille, who was appointed Viscount in 7:60 by the emperor. He pursued a campaign of religious reeducation and formed the Kirkwall City Guard to act as the city's defenders.
Threnhold vs Templars
At the onset of the Dragon Age, Chivalry Threnhold became Viscount of the city. Historical accounts paint him as a vicious thug who took power through a campaign of intimidation. His son Perrin succeeded him in 9:14. After he used the harbor's ancient chains to block sea traffic in the Waking Sea and charge exorbitant fees from Orlesian ships, Divine Beatrix III ordered the city's templars to pressure him into reopening the Waking Sea passage. As a result, in 9:21 Dragon, Viscount Perrin Threnhold attempted to expel the Templar Order from Kirkwall, killing Knight-Commander Guylian in the raid of the Templar stronghold. Knight-Captain Meredith Stannard and a group of her best templars marched on the Viscount's Keep and had him arrested, thrown in his own dungeons and stripped of his title. She was promoted to Knight-Commander by Grand Cleric Elthina soon after. With the Chantry's support, Meredith appointed Marlowe Dumar to succeed Perrin, though she remained the true authority in the city from the Gallows.
Dragon Age II
In 9:31, Qunari set out to meet Orlesians who have agreed to return the Tome of Koslun to them. However, the book is stolen by a Rivaini pirate. As the Qunari give chase, the thief leads their ship into a storm to try and escape them, leading both their ships to founder on the coast of Kirkwall. The Arishok and his surviving army refuse to leave without the Tome of Koslun and remain in the Qunari Compound.
In 9:34, following years of tension between Kirkwall's denizens and the Qunari, stoked by a faction within the Chantry, the Arishok attacks the city, starting the First Battle of Kirkwall. He kills Viscount Marlowe Dumar in the Viscount's Keep. Hawke's actions during the liberation of the city put a stop to the invasion, for which they are named the first "Champion of Kirkwall" by Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard.In 9:37, the apostate mage Anders destroys the Kirkwall Chantry and kills Grand Cleric Elthina, leading Knight-Commander Meredith to invoke the Right of Annulment on Kirkwall's Circle of Magi and igniting the Kirkwall Rebellion. The magical blast that destroys the Chantry rains deadly debris on half of the city. Hawke kills both Knight-Commander Meredith and First Enchanter Orsino during the rebellion, and is either named Viscount or flees the city. The events in Kirkwall inspire Circles across Thedas to rise up.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
If Sebastian Vael was recruited and Anders survived the events of Dragon Age II:
Sebastian Vael has reclaimed his title as Prince of Starkhaven and in 9:41 leads an invasion of Kirkwall. If the Inquisitor accepts Sebastian's offer of friendship, during the operation Annexing Kirkwall, Sebastian requests support from the Inquisition to help him suppress the city's resistance forces led by Guard-Captain Aveline Vallen and hunt down Anders and his associates. The Inquisitor can choose to send Leliana's agents to bolster Sebastian's forces, resulting in Kirkwall ceding much of its northern territory but ultimately ending in a stalemate, send Cullen's military to bolster Aveline's resistance forces and repel Sebastian's occupation forces back to Starkhaven, or have Josephine refuse to get involved.
Sebastian Vael has reclaimed his title as Prince of Starkhaven and in 9:41 decides to aid in the reconstruction of Kirkwall, which has continued to suffer from Anders' actions. If the Inquisitor accepts Sebastian's offer of friendship, during the operation Aiding Kirkwall, Sebastian requests that the Inquisition send in soldiers and workers to aid in the matter as well. The Inquisitor can choose to heed Leliana's advice and ignore the request in order to focus resources on defeating Corypheus, have Josephine appeal to noble allies to help Kirkwall, or order Cullen to send in troops to expunge red lyrium from the Gallows and further rebuild the city.
Kirkwall has been governed by a Viscount since the Orlesian occupation of the city, as the title itself is Orlesian. It has never truly been free to determine its own course, and after the ousting of Perrin Threnhold the Templar Order has held considerable influence over his successor, Marlowe Dumar, and the city.
If the ruling line of a Viscount dies out due to no living heirs, then the nobility of Kirkwall will gather to elect a new line from their ranks.
Kirkwall's coat of arms is a stylized knot work representation of a dragon. It evolved from a symbol of rebellion from the time when Kirkwall was a center for the Tevinter slave trade. It was an image that catalyzed the slaves to overthrow the ruling magisters. While the symbol has changed over time, its message has not: Kirkwall is a city unto itself, beholden to no one.
- The Gallows
- Viscount's Keep
- Kirkwall Chantry
- The Hanged Man
- Hawke Estate
- Fenris's Mansion
- Anders's Clinic
- Bartrand's Estate
- Harimann Estate
- Gamlen's House
- Dark Foundry
- Merrill's Home
- Kirkwall Alienage
- Qunari Compound
- Black Emporium
- The Blooming Rose
- De Launcet Mansion
- Lirene's Fereldan Imports
- Amell Estate Cellar
- Castillon's Landing
- Disused Passage
- Killer's Lair
- Run Down Alley
- Secret Meeting Place
- Sewer Passage
- Undercity Warrens
- Winding Alley
- Brekker's Hideaway
- Forgotten Lair
- The Sewers
- Smetty's Fish Guttery
- Codex entry: The City of Kirkwall
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 1
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 2
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 3
- Codex entry: History of Kirkwall: Chapter 4
- Codex entry: Speculations on Kirkwall
- Codex entry: The City-State of Kirkwall
- Codex entry: The Enigma of Kirkwall
Party banter may be triggered at the following spots:
- Just outside the Hawke Estate
- Inside the Kirkwall Chantry, in front of the main door
- On the stairs leading to the Viscount's Keep
- At the base of the stairway leading from Lowtown to Hightown
- In front of the Hanged Man
- In Darktown, near the elevator leading to Lowtown
- Several of the nobles in Kirkwall are of Orlesian origin, such as the de Launcet and de Carrac families.
- Kirkwall, the real world capital of the Orkney Islands in Scotland, also had a Viscount, who was traditionally the heir of the Earl of Orkney.
- Kirkwall's key to the city controls one of the giant chain nets in the harbor.
- Kirkwall neighbourhoods follow old fault lines and veins in the rock. Longtime residents still get lost, with only dwarves never experiencing this problem.
- The noble Hightown neighbourhood is colloquially known as “the Garden.” There are no house numbers, instead metal plaques with family heraldry hang over the lintels of estate doors.