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City of Canals

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"They call it the Walls of Water, but it's not just the walls — it's the whole damn city."
Gladiolus Amicitia, on Altissia, Final Fantasy XV

Perhaps it's for some aesthetic reason, or perhaps it's simply because they're so unusual — for whatever reason, cities with canals instead of streets are a very popular setting, especially in fantasy. In stories set in the real world, or some alternate universe sharing its geography, this city is, of course, Venice — there are actually other cities and towns with lots of canals, but none are quite as famous or as glamorous, especially since Venice renewed their efforts to make everything really nice and clean in the 1980s. Meanwhile, other worlds often have cities which are suspiciously similar to Venice, usually (though not always) within an Italy-like country. Pretty, old-fashioned European-style architecture and gondolas are optional, though common.

As a result of being typically inspired by Venice, these cities are usually ports and hubs of merchantry. It is consequently common for them to be ruled by a circle of merchants or by an elected prince of some variety.

Besides Venice, a number of real cities do actually have canals — Amsterdam is the second most-famous Western example — though most lack Venice's aesthetics due to their most common, ahem, industrial function.

See also City on the Water, for a settlement that's entirely floating on a large body of water.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • .hack: Mac Anu, the first Root Town (city and only areas free of monsters) new players of The World see. It maintains its presence in all .hack Media. After the destruction of The World's servers and creation of The World R:2 it has a new design with steampunk elements, though it keeps its characteristic canals. When The World R:X is released the design of R:2's version seems to be left intact but without the steampunk elements, creating a fusion of sorts between the two.
  • ARIA is set in the city of Neo Venezia, a copy of the original, with exact duplicates of some of the more famous landmarks, on a terraformed Mars and the source of a lot of beautiful imagery. The choice of Mars for this is something of a Historical In-Joke: due to a faulty translation of observations by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, it was believed for quite a while that Mars had dry canals belonging to some dead civilization.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (2003): There's a Venice-y city called Aquroya, which is sinking so fast they don't expect it to be there in five years' time.
  • Guardian Fairy Michel has Precia, which took a more realistic approach with the canals being full of stinky trash.
  • Monster Girl Doctor has the city of Lindworm which has several waterways due to the fact that it was built to accommodate many species including mermaids.
  • One Piece: The island Water 7 is modeled after Venice, down to the canals and festival costumes. But exaggerated.
  • Pokémon Heroes, the fifth Pokémon movie, was set in a City of Canals called Alto Mare (Italian for high sea); the director visited Venice beforehand to scout out the city. Within the games, there's Canalave City in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.

    Comic Books 
  • Aquaman: New Venice, from at least the early Silver Age comics, is an American town that had suffered permanent flooding and decided to go the canal route.
  • Drowntown: London has become one, although not intentionally — parts of the city have flooded due to Global Warming, but the city is still fully inhabited.
  • Labyrinth: Coronation starts with a human baby Jareth being kidnapped from Venice and brought to the Labyrinth. Jareth's predecessor, The Owl King has the Labyrinth as a City Of Canals.

    Fan Works 
  • Flipside, a Discworld Round Robin published in The Wizard's Knob magazine in the mid 90s, has the city of Venialli, famed for its open sewers... er, canals.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • James Bond goes to Venice three times:
    • At the end of From Russia with Love, where he ends up making out with the Girl of the Week on a gondola while throwing footage of their first night of sex overboard just before the end credits roll.
    • In Moonraker, Bond spies on the Big Bad's secret laboratory in Venice where a Deadly Gas is produced (with a glass museum as facade). Bond also gets ambushed on the canals by a fake funeral gondola and a chase ensues (Bond's gondola turns out to have an engine and can even go amphibious).
    • In the climax of Casino Royale (2006), Bond and Vesper go on vacation to Venice, but it turns out Vesper betrays him by handing the huge sum of money he won at the Casino Royale tournament to Quantum agents there. Bond follows her, a fight erupts with said agents inside a building, and said building sinks when the buoys get shot.
  • The second act of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning takes place in Venice, where everyone who's interested in getting the keys to the source code of the rogue AI "The Entity" meets at a party at the Doge's Palace. A foot chase in the ground streets and fights on a bridge ensue.
  • Babe: Pig in the City takes place in a mashuptropolis that, among other, weirder things, has Venice-style canals in place of streets.
  • A significant amount of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade takes place in fictitious catacombs underneath Venice (which in reality is a city pretty much at sea level and built on pilings constructed on islands).
  • The Italian Job (2003) begins with the eponymous caper pulled off in Venice.
  • The second act of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film takes place in Venice, although some alternate Venice where the Bridge of Sighs is tall and wide enough to let the freighter-sized Nautilus pass under it and has long roads suitable for car chases.
  • The Dutch horror film Amsterdamned is all about Amsterdam's canals, including a speedboat chase (which was filmed in Utrecht, incidentally).
  • In the Israeli film Blaumilch Canal, a lunatic named Blaumilch steals a jackhammer and drills in the middle of Allenby Street (a major street in Tel-Aviv), and the bureaucracy is in such chaos they start believing he was actually authorised by someone. This eventually leads to a variation of this trope in the climax: Blaumilch destroys the road's infrastructure so that the Mediterranean Sea comes gushing in, and City Hall celebrates the grand opening of "Allenby Canal", with the mayor taking credit for the project and calling Tel-Aviv "Venice of the Mid East".
  • The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter features the city of Amarganth, or Silver City, which is located on a lake full of Hollywood Acid (tears in the book). People there dress like it's the Carnival of Venice at all times.
  • A high speed boat chase happens in the canals of one such city in The Protector.

  • The Book of Dragons: In "The Nine Curves River", the city of Arlong is built on a system of elevated wooden platforms above a small archipelago. Water lies beneath most streets and bridges, and in some areas travel is by boat.
  • El Conquistador: Like in real life, Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Mexica empire, uses waterways for navigation.
  • "The Watery Place": When the strange-talking foreigners said they were from "the watery place", Sheriff Cameron figured they were talking about Venice. (He had misheard them, because they said Venus.)
  • In Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities", there are numerous fictional cities full of canals.
  • Michael Ende's The Neverending Story features a city of floating silver filigree palaces on a lake of tears.
  • James Gurney's Dinotopia: Waterfall City, which is also set on a hill, so the canals turn into awe-inspiring waterfalls (which have the side effect of making everything in the city permanently a little damp).
  • Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga: The city of New Venice was built by a property developer and is based on the canals of the original Venice.
  • The first part of Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series is set in an Alternate Universe Renaissance version of Venice called Bellezza, presided over by their beloved and masked Duchessa.
  • Stephen Hunt's Jackelian Series: Hermetica City on Jago has a canal network, complete with gondolas and cargo barges. In this case, some of the canals are boiling hot, Jago being a geothermally-active island which humans originally settled as a refuge during an Ice Age.
  • Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: Since corpses and human refuse are often dumped in some of the lower city's canals of Illian, they stink something awful.
  • Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard: In The Lies of Locke Lamora, the city Camorr has waterways to navigate. Tal Verrar is similar, being a city of artificial islands means they need to use the water to navigate around.
  • Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson's Fabled Lands: One of the cities was very heavily based on Venice, being a major trading port with a Mediterranean climate and lots of canals.
  • Alastair Reynolds's "Zima Blue": This Short Story has a planet with "one hundred and seventy first known duplicate of Venice, and one of only three Venices rendered entirely in white marble."
  • Kai Meyer's Dark Reflections trilogy is partly set in an alternate Venice.
  • Brandon Sanderson:
    • Canals are also used as a sort of highway system in the Mistborn: The Original Trilogy. The city of Urteau in The Hero Of Ages had canals, but they dried up and they have street slots now.
    • The Reckoners Trilogy's Firefight mostly takes place in Babylon Restored, which is Manhattan after some severe flooding. Most people have built bridges between the roofs of buildings, but some travel over the streets in motorboats.
  • In Ian Sime's Birthright (2017), the city of Sangam, being built on the islands of a river delta, has an extensive series of canals. Most of them appear to be completely natural rather than man-made, complete with mangrove trees growing out of the water and along the banks.
  • Star Trek: Typhon Pact's Zero-Sum Game: Utyrak, on the planet Salavat in the Breen Condederacy, is underground, like all Breen cities. However, this one also has a subterranean canal network.
  • In William Timlin's 1923 Science Fantasy novel The Ship That Sailed to Mars, the Martian Fairy City is built up around a system of canals — the titular sailing ship that crosses the distance between Earth and Mars even touches down in one of the canals when it arrived on the red planet. Timlin's depiction played off the idea that Mars was covered with a network of alien-constructed waterways, which enjoyed much popularity in the early part of the 1900's. From the text:
    Now already the City was ablaze with lights of welcome, and Fairy bridges across the Great Canal were as shimmering half-hoops of jewels; boats and wonderful barges moved in slow procession along the water-ways... And their chief City is of amazing opulence, and is built around and upon a hill, and canals radiate therefrom through wooded valleys, and flowers grow everywhere.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: Laketown is a large human town built on top of a lake. Initially it was just a small village, but it grew larger and expanded out onto the lake because it was right next to a mountain.
  • S.D. Tower's The Assassins of Tamurin: Kurjain, the capital city of Bethiya, has Canals and Lagoons instead of streets, i.e. Copper Bell Canal and Jade Lagoon instead of Jade Street.
  • Catherynne M. Valente's Palimpsest: Zarzaparilla Street is a milky river covered in coats that must be navigated by gondola.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: Cited by name as one possible location that tourists may visit. It will be a maze of filthy canals, bridges, and mouldering houses that only locals know how to navigate and is typically ruled by a council of corrupt merchant-princes, one of which is likely to be the leader of the local Thieves' Guild.
  • In Envoy from the Heavens, the city of Mad-Eborn is the capital of the province of Feynland on the planet Osier. The main character visits it and is amazed at the beautiful canals.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of The Detectives involves Bob and Dave in Amsterdam (which also has a lot of canals) but think they're in Venice.
  • Doctor Who: "The Vampires of Venice" is set in 16th century Venice, but, ironically, filmed in Croatia.
  • Game of Thrones: The Free City of Braavos, which is loosely based on Renaissance Venice, is built across several marshy islands in a lagoon and crisscrossed by hundreds of canals.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The capital city of Numenor, Armenelos, is meant to evoke Venice In-Universe, per production designer Ramsey Avery. The architecture of Venice served as main inspiration for how Armenelos would look like, having domes and suspended water channels, the material used to build the city being white marbles, and the location of the city being around a bay.

  • The Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama The Stones of Venice was set in a 23rd century Venice on the point of sinking completely. With amphibious gondoliers.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Blades in the Dark: Duskwall, the primary setting, stands on the delta of Dosk River and so is crisscrossed by canals both natural and artificial, to the point where you can reach more places by boat than by carriage. The Gondolier Guild is a major power player in the city, and the Whitecrown island creates a natural haven for ships in the North Hook Channel, making Duskwall a perfect sea port, much like Venice's famous Lagoon. Word of God is that the city is basically a hybrid of Venice, Victorian London, and Prague.
  • The Delvers Guide To Beastworld: The city of Pristana, capital of Vinyot, is based around thirteen canals,with smaller inlets threading between them.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Eberron has something similar in Zarash'ak, the major city in the Shadow Marches. It's a collection of buildings and plazas built on stilts over a swamp and frequently connected by bridges. Unlike most cities of this sort, the Marchers don't use the canals to move around as much due to occasional hostile wildlife.
  • Rocket Age: Practically every Martian city is built around at least one giant canal and a few smaller ones that bring melt water down from the ice caps in the flow season.
  • Shadowrun: Hamburg is not only called "Venice of the North", it actually is one due to massive flooding in the early 21st century submerging large parts of the city, creating a maze of canals.
  • Warhammer:
    • Marienburg is based pretty closely on the real-world Amsterdam, and consequently takes the form of a port city cut through by an extensive network of canals.
    • The Tilean city of Miragliano is crossed by a network of canals, seven large ones and many more narrow ones, that the natives use as roads, and which are often filled with a procession of boats and elegant barges.
    • The High Elf city of Tor Elyr in Ulthuan is criss-crossed by a number of minor river tributaries and canals.

  • The Merchant of Venice, though the plot doesn't make any use of the canals; back when the play was written, Venice was more famous for being a Merchant City.
  • Volpone, similar to the above.
  • The first act of The Gondoliers is set in Venice. The Duke of Plaza-Toro remarks that, although he would have preferred to arrive there on horseback, "owing, I presume, to an unusually wet season, the streets are in such a condition that equestrian exercise is impracticable."

    Video Games 
  • The second half of Assassin's Creed II takes place in late 15th century Venice. Ezio Auditore can either use gondolas to move around on the canals or parkour his way on the roofs. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has a flashback level set in Venice in those years as well.
  • Atelier Iris 3 takes place in a City Of Canals. The gondolas are rowed by a fairy.
  • The capital of water planet Hillys, from Beyond Good & Evil.
  • Founder's Falls in City of Heroes is basically the game's Nob Hill, and has lots of canals running through the neighborhood proper to allow for yachting.
    • And then there's Crey's Folly; before the Rikti War made a mess of it, its more-or-less official name was Venice, so called because of the canals designed to carry industrial waste.
  • Dragon Quest XI has Gondolia, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of Venice. You can use the gondolas to traverse the canals, and at one point you are required to do so to sneak past Heliodorian soldiers.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • As the cities in Arena are Randomnly Generated, any city may be one of these. Most are not considered canonical, especially those that re-appear in later games and do not have canals.
    • Morrowind has Vivec, the Egopolis of the Tribunal deity, Vivec. It looks nothing like a European city — each of its city blocks is a single gargantuan building (a 'canton') rising up from the water, and the bridges binding the cantons together are part of the buildings themselves. Still, it has gondoliers to ferry you around for a modest fee.
    • Oblivion has Bravil. The number of canals is more limited, but contributes well to the city's atmosphere as an impoverished dump. Its built over a swamp, after all. A modestly pestilential one.
    • Skyrim has Riften, a Bravil expy to the extent that it is a canal city and a Wretched Hive.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Treno from Final Fantasy IX has canals across its watery lower reaches. At one point Dagger's team has to use a gondola to sneak into a place that has an item they need to save Blank.
    • Altissia, the capital of Accordo in Final Fantasy XV. Located on one of Accordo's many islands, the city is noticeably well below sea level, and has many gondolas to navigate the resulting canals.
  • Canals and gondolas are a feature of the Kingdom of Cyrum in Grandia II.
  • House of the Dead: 2 is set in Venice, with the player traversing the canals in Chapter 2: Muddy. Strangely, 4 is set in Venice with a layout of London (in the Japanese dub, 4 is set in London, likely a error in translation).
  • Hydro Thunder has Venice Canals, is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Various areas of Haven City in Jak and Daxter has these; it helps when half the city is knee deep in water.
  • The Journeyman Project III: Legacy of Time: Atlantis, complete with a gondola service. The chatty boatman fills you in on the background of the setting.
  • The Legend of Dragoon has one.
  • Lineage 2 has Heine. Given that it's a water-themed city, there are naturally a lot of elves and swampy grindzones nearby.
  • City on the Water in Painkiller.
  • There was one actually called "Canal City" on Planet Notak in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando.
  • Soleanna in the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog.
    • Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity has Aquatic Capital and Tempest Waterway, though with a very futuristic, Solar Punk look. The city runs on not just canals, but high-pressure streams of water that connect one water node to another. Bizarrely, one hard-to-reach shortcut in Tempest Waterway involves the character getting off his or her Hover Board and riding a gondola a short way down a drainage chamber.
    • Sonic Rush Adventure uses this theme in Pirates' Island. Much of the stage takes place underwater, within the canals, and while the city has been long abandoned except for dolphins, their technology is still very much intact, and the means to move the water around the city form the bulk of this stage's unique features.
  • There's a city like this in Tales of Destiny.
  • Venezia in Tales of Phantasia. The canals make getting around a little annoying at first.
  • TimeSplitters Future Perfect has a deathmatch level called Venice.
  • There's a level in Tomb Raider II set in Venice. In fact the whole second part (levels 2-4) is set there.
  • Shown in several parts of the Sakura Wars franchise, which takes place in the 1920s; Tokyo once was full of canals, most of which are now gone because of World War I (or a Demon War) and urban development afterwards.
  • Sigfried's level in SoulCalibur for the Dreamcast is set in Venice.
    • It also makes an appearance in the first installment of its stablemate Tekken.
  • The Plaza maps in Water Warfare have large, shallow canals running through them, but they're effectively drained—you can run in them without getting wet. However, you can refill your squirt guns by standing anywhere in them (so long as you hold still).
  • Spinon from Solatorobo combines this with Floating Continent: it's a city in the sky with a network of canals which all flow right off the edge of the island.
  • Sunken City in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons became one after it was flooded when the seasons went nuts.
  • Minecraft allows the player to build this. In earlier versions, it was the only way to build a city with streets that could be driven on freely, due to boats being the only controllable vehicle. Nowadays, there are rideable animals that the player can control, but a City of Canals is still possible if the player desires.
  • Naturally one of the cities in the world of Valencia from Pirate101 has since it's based on Venice.
  • Mario Party 7: Grand Canal, a Venice-inspired board, takes place in a canal city. The paths of the board go through wooden bridges, piers or even aligned gondolas.
  • Metal Slug: the second mission from the first game takes place on Ronbertburg City, named after the real-life German city of Rothenburg and based on various European metropolises like Hamburg and Amsterdam. The later part of the stage has you traveling over canals via "building-bridges" - bridges that contain buildings beneath them and can be adequately habitable for residence. Most of them are destroyed by rebels in pursuit of you.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Stomrwind City has extensive canals, though it still has cobbled roads.
    • So does Undercity, although the canals in question contain green goo instead of regular water.
    • The abandoned capital city of Gilneas has canals as well.
    • Suramar City in Legion is much more Venice-like, complete with gondolas; diving into the canals is one of the best ways to escape from enemies.


    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • In addition, several cities are titled "The Venice of..." because of the identification of this trope with the city. These include Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Annecy in France, Bruges in Belgium, Hamburg in Germany, Saint Petersburg in Russia, Stockholm in Sweden, Ft. Lauderdale in Florida, Birmingham in England, Suzhou in China and Recife in Brazil; and of course the Venice of Asia, Bangkok in Thailand (and, Once Upon a Time, Manila in the Philippines toonote ).
    Humphrey Lyttleton: Birmingham, known as the "Venice of the North", by people who haven't been to Venice.note 
  • Many, if not most cities of the Netherlands - of course, since this is the country that most major European rivers end in, and it lies mostly below Sea Level. To note just some of the better-known cities: Amsterdam (where Amsterdamned takes place; and like noted above, this city has the nickname of "Venice of the North"); Utrecht (where most of the before-mentioned Amsterdamned was actually shot); Delft (from Girl with a Pearl Earring) and Leiden (from Soldier of Orange).
  • Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, which was located on top of Lake Texcoco in what is now Mexico. However, seeing as it was the seat of power of an ancient Native American culture far removed from anything resembling European culture, it really wasn't anything like Venice, although it was even more beautiful according to the historical accounts.
  • Venice, CA was Abbot Kinney's attempt to re-create this in Los Angeles.
  • The ancient Sumerian city of Uruk was founded before 4000 BC, making it the Ur-Example.
  • Phoenix, Arizona has several canals to supply the area's water needs, most of which have scenic walkways on either side. They also have historical significance, as many of them were dug by Native Americans in the area centuries before white settles arrived.
  • There was some plan to do this in Raanana in Israel. It was quickly scrapped, though.
  • The practice of the native peoples around Lake Maracaibo of building their buildings on stilts in the lake led the Spanish to call the region around the lake "little Venice"—in their language, Venezuela.
  • Two cities are currently competing over the title of "Australia's Venice": Gold Coast (Queensland, south of Brisbane) and Woy Woy (New South Wales, north of Sydney). Here's a map of Mermaid Beach, Gold Coast, and here's a map of southern Woy Woy.
  • Deliberately invoked when Port Grimaud, France was constructed in 1966. Each of the (tiny) houses came with its own berth for a large-sized leisure boat.
  • Also invoked with the development of Cape Coral, Florida, which has over 400 miles of canals.


Video Example(s):


"An Opera of Fear"

This being Venice, Italy, the whole level is built around this.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / CityOfCanals

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