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Some cities are just places where a lot of people live and work. Some are seats of worldly authorities, elevating them above others. And then there is the Holy City, a site so intrinsically tied to a particular religion that it became a symbol of faith all by itself. In peacetime, it will result in thousands to millions of devoted pilgrims visiting it every day. In wartime, expect it to be defended to the last breath, even more so than a national capital (unless it is the national capital), and the consequences if it is ever sacked by an invader are either a lot graver or a lot worse for the other side. It's likely to be The Theocracy, although it doesn't necessarily have to be.

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Holy cities come in two flavors:

  • Vatican-style: The seat of the High Priest, The Pope, or the head of The Church by any other name. Often wields significant political power in the setting, whether formally or informally.
  • Jerusalem-style: A city historically important to religion but not directly under its influence.

See also Holy Ground.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Rabona in Claymore, by the virtue of being at the center of all known lands.
  • Northen District of Mid-Childa in Lyrical Nanoha, governed by the Saint Church.
  • Sailor Moon: The ruins of the Moon Kingdom on the moon. In the manga, Sailor Moon's power-up came from praying to the crystal tower.
  • One Piece: Holy Land Mary Geoise, capital of the World Government (often translated as Marijoa or Mariejois). Said to be at the center of all the world's seas, it lies 10 kilometers above the surface atop the Red Line, a massive rock wall of a continent that circles the globe. The only permanent residents are the world nobles, their servants and slaves, and high ranking government employees and leaders. The walled off world noble district, known as the "Domain of the Gods" takes up most city space. Ascending to the city and crossing through it is the only safe way to travel between the Paradise and New World halves of the Grand Line, if not the only safe and two-way route between the entire eastern and western hemispheres. The only other conventional routes are going under the Red Line through Fishman Island or over it at Reverse Mountain. The former is extremely perilous, while the latter is dangerous and a one-way trip into Paradise.

    Film 
  • The Hometree in Avatar serves as both a city and a sacred site for the Na'vi, though not as sacred as the Tree of Souls (which, on the other hand, isn't really a city).
  • Rogue One: Jedha City, capital of the moon Jedha, is a sacred site to those who believe that the Jedi will one day return. Pilgrims come from across the galaxy to pray, and the non-Force Sensitive (possibly) guardians of the temple still walk the city's streets, teaching of the Force. The Empire has control of the city, and excavates the Kyber crystals (which the Jedi used to focus their lightsabers) as a key component of the Death Star's superlaser. When Krennic destroys the city using a partially-powered blast from that same superlaser, he claims that he destroyed the last reminder of the Jedi in the galaxy.

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    Literature 
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series: "The Mayors": In the past few decades, Terminus has become the center of a religion practised throughout the Four Kingdoms. When the King of Anacreon (influenced by his ambitious uncle) tries to send their navy to conquer Terminus, the military and civilian populations revolt in defense of the Holy City.
  • Rhuidean from The Wheel of Time series is a Jerusalem-style holy city for the Aiel.
  • Cantisca for the Sole and Unified Church in the Arcia Chronicles.
  • Agaris for the Esperatian Church in Reflections of Eterna until it is razed and burned to the ground.
  • On Gor the one holy place is the Sardar Mountains, where the Priest-Kings live. Four times a year, at the solstices and equinoxes, there is a fair at the base of the mountain. Every Gorean is expected to attend the fair at least once before their 25th birthday.
  • In Catherynne M. Valente's In The Night Garden, the city of Al-a-Nur is a Holy City where stand twelve Towers, each a temple for a completely different faith, from the Tower of Sun and Moon, to the Tower of Patricides, to the Tower of St. Sigrid, etc. In Al-a-Nur, all the different devotees live together in harmony.
  • The Citadel of Kom, capital of the Theocracy of Omnia and centre of the Church of Om in the Discworld novel Small Gods is a Vatican-style holy city. (It's also in the Discworld version of the Middle East, about where Jerusalem would be...)
  • The middle third of A Wolf in the Soul takes place in Jerusalem. The protagonist moves there deliberately under the belief/hope that it will help him fight off his lycanthropy.
  • In the Dreamblood Duology, Gujaareh is the main and most important city for the worshippers of Hananja. In fact, Hananja's Law is what the Gujaareens live by and are in return bestowed with Hananja's magic, narcomancy, which is virtually unknown and unused outside of the city-state. Gujaareh also houses the Hetawa, the main temple of Hanaja.
  • Second Apocalypse: There are two key ones that factor in the story.
    • Sumna is the holiest city in all of Inrithism. The Vault-of-the-Tusk is kept in Sumna as well as the vast temple-complexes of the Thousand Temples. The Shriah, the High Priest of Inrithism, maintains his seat in Sumna.
    • Shimeh is the second holiest city in Inrithism for being a site of scriptural importance for Inri Sejenus. Reconquering Shimeh becomes the object of the Holy War declared in the first trilogy. Shimeh is also a holy city to the Fanim because the Cishaurim keep their holy tabernacle, the Ctesarat, maintained within Shimeh.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Urithiru, the ancient home of the Knights Radiant, was the most holy city in the world, protected from the Highstorms and inaccessible except by a Knight Radiant. The Knights withdrew from the city shortly before the Recreance, where they abandoned their oaths, so the city was lost for thousands of years. Most people, even religious scholars, don't believe it ever existed. In the first two books, Jasnah and Shallan are looking for the city in the hopes that it contains records that have not been altered by the Hierocracy, which might have more information on the upcoming Desolation.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Vaes Dothraki is the only permanent settlement for the Dothraki and regarded as holy ground for them; spilling blood is forbidden - killing without drawing blood is still permitted.
    • Oldtown is this for Westeros, due to being the (former) seat of power for the Faith of the Seven, the most important religion in Westeros besides the Old Gods of the North. Though the Faith has since moved to Westeros' capital in King's Landing during Baelor the Blessed's reign, Oldtown still has significance as the rulling noble family House Hightower has close ties with the Faith.
    • Inverted with Asshai by the Shadow, which is about as unholy as it can get in this setting: it's an dark and sinister city populated almost exclusively by shadowbinders and dark wizards and where no dark practice is forbidden, no matter how depraved. Traders do visit to export food since no plants grow and every animal gets sick and die upon setting foot in the city, and everyone is wary of them. There is also no children in sight.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: The Dothraki view their only city, Vaes Dothrak, this way. It lies in the shadow of a single, vast peak known by the Dothraki as the Mother of Mountains, which is considered sacred. Dothraki holy women, known as dosh khaleen, live in the city and are respected by all Dothraki.
  • Stargate SG-1 has Celestis, a holy city populated entirely by the Priors of the Ori, and located on a vast, flat plain of very shallow water. The Ori themselves manifest a sacred eternal fire there that they use to communicate with the Doci, their head priest.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A ton of them in Eberron.
    • Flamekeep in Thrane for the Church of the Silver Flame, both a Jerusalem and Vatican style, as it hosts the Silver Flame itself and the Speaker of the Flame and High Cardinals.
    • Ashtakala in the Demon Wastes, an evil version, for the Rhakshasas and the Lords of Dust. A Jerusalem-style (Former capital of their empire).
    • Greenheart in the Eldeen Reaches for the Wardens of the Woods, a Vatican-style (home of the Great Druid Oalian).
    • Shae Mordai in Aerenal, the City of the Dead hosts the Undying Court the elves worship. A Vatican-style.
    • Most of the cities of Adar are also temples of various monk orders.
    • Athur in Karrnath is a Vatican-style. It houses the Crimson Monastery of the Blood of Vol. The religion's true figurehead, Vol, lives somewhere else. The monastery is home to the cardinals who spread her teachings.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, Holy Terra, besides serving as capital for the Imperium, is also the seat for the Imperial Cult and Ecclesiarchy. There's literally a galaxy's worth of other holy worlds, of course, including Cardinal Worlds ruled directly by the Ecclesiarchy, and Shrine Worlds dedicated to an Imperial Saint. And in a weird example, the Imperial fortress-planet of Cadia is a holy site to the heretical Word Bearers legion, since it's where their primarch converted to worship the Chaos Gods before the Horus Heresy.
  • In Forgotten Realms many people consider cities visited during Time of Troubles by deities they venerate to be especially blessed, worthy of pilgrimage or something like this.
  • Albidion (Vatican-style), or rather the humongous cathedral-city at its center, in Anima: Beyond Fantasy. Arkángel, the capital of the Holy Empire of Abel, could count too (rather as Jerusalem-style).

    Video Games 
  • Civilization IV introduced religions to the series, and when you found a religion by researching the requisite technology, one of your cities will become its holy city. Not only will a holy city help spread the religion further, but a Great Prophet can build a religious wonder in it that brings in extra income based on how widespread the religion is. Capturing holy cities can thus be very lucrative even if you don't share the religion in question... and if you burn a holy city to the ground, you can expect severe diplomatic consequences.
    • Civilization V changes up Holy Cities a bit (and religion in general). A religion's Holy City is the city in which the religion was initially founded by a Great Prophet. It exerts massive religious pressure on surrounding cities, which doubles when the Grand Temple national wonder is built. A Holy City's designated religion can never truly be wiped from it from outside pressure; even if all of its citizens have been converted, the religion will regain traction there in a matter of turns. Holy Cities also cannot be razed, so players going for religious dominance will either have to continually send waves of missionaries to counter the Holy City's natural pressure, or capture the Holy City for themselves and send Inquisitors to strip the city of its Holy status.
  • In the Dragon Age series:
    • Val Royeaux is the capital of the Chantry of Andraste.
    • Ditto Minrathous for the Imperial Chantry.
    • Denerim, the birthplace of Andraste, is also this, albeit Jerusalem-style. Though a few other cities claim they're the birthplace of Andraste as well.
  • Dragon Quest VIII features several important religious locales home to the Templars, but none are more important than the Holy Isle of Neos. The city and its population are systematically wiped out when Rhapthorne finally escapes from his sceptre and levels the once-sacred place to serve as his stronghold, the Dark Citadel. Neos has some good equipment, so you might want to avoid the plot for a bit.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Sienne in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, home of the Tower of Guidance, Mainal Cathedral, and the Holy Apostle, Empress of Begnion.
    • Downplayed in Fire Emblem: Three Houses with the Garrech Mach Monastery, which serves as the Vatican-style headquarters of the Church of Seiros, the residency of the Archbishop, and a major pilgrimage destination in its own right, thanks to hosting the tombs of Saint Seiros herself and of many other early Saints. The downplayed part comes from the fact that as a population center, Garrech Mach is minuscule compared to other continental capitals like Derdriu, Fhirdidad, and especially Enbarrnote : beyond the monastery fortress itself, the Church Knights' barracks, and the Military Academy for nobles under its auspices, Garrech Mach is surrounded by handful of villages providing it with necessary supplies.
  • St. Heim Papal State for the Church of Granas in Grandia II.
  • Halo:
    • High Charity, a colossal, mobile planetoid that serves as the capital of the Covenant and the Prophets' Holy City.
    • Halo 5: Guardians introduces Sunaion, a temple city on the Elite homeworld built right over a sea.
  • At the time of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the eponymous province has three clear Holy Cities, one for each of the three Tribunal gods. Almalexia and Vivec are clear Vatican-style cities, as they not only house the deities they're named after but also high-ranking Temple officials (the head of the Temple in Vvardenfell in Vivec and the head of the Temple on the mainland in Almalexia). Sotha Sil... is a bit more complex, as the inhabiting god stays away from mortal affairs, and the city's location is unknown to mortals (and, as such, has no mortal inhabitants). The city of Necrom is described in terms suggesting it has holy significance (it is specifically called out as a necropolis in a religion with elements of ancestor worship), although unlike the Triune cities it isn't visited in Morrowindnote .
  • Daath, where the Order of Lorelei is based in Tales of the Abyss is a Vatican-style Holy City. "The Watchers' Home", Yulia City, is something of a hybrid of the Vatican-style and Jerusalem-style, being linked with the Order and historically significant to it, though only high-ranking members and residents of the city even know of its existence.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy X has Bevelle, the main base of the Yevon clergy, and effectively the capital of Spira.
    • Final Fantasy XII has Mt. Bur-Omisance, the spiritual center of the Church of Kiltia, which is followed by most Ivalicians to a certain extent (judging by the opening movie, it has spread to places like Dalmasca).
    • Luxerion in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the capital of Nova Chrysalia and the headquarters of the Order of Salvation.
    • Mullonde in Final Fantasy Tactics is where the Church of Glabados is based out of. It wasn't always an island; the Cataclysm Backstory tells us that a powerful earthquake destroyed much of the original Mullonde region after St. Ajora Glabados was executed by the Holy Ydoran Empire.
  • Yet another Vatican-style location is the city-state of Nirvath in Vandal Hearts II, particularly its greatest landmark Nigran Cathedral. It's also the location of the final battle, and it collapses after defeating the last boss.
  • The City of the Sun God in The Secret World. Essentially a purpose-built Vatican-style capital city for Atenism, it was constructed in the last of Pharaoh Akhenaten's reign and features a ridiculous amount of monuments - most prominently the Black Pyramid in which Akhenaten was buried following his defeat.
  • Trials of Mana: The Holy City of Wendel acts as the center of the religion that worships the Goddess of Mana and is led by the Priest of Light from the Temple of Light. Pilgrims come to seek blessings and sage wisdom from the Priest himself.

    Webcomics 
  • The titular and perhaps mythological Suihira, where the last lake on earth is said to be.
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    Real Life 
  • Jerusalem is probably the Ur-Example. It's the Holy City of three world religions (in chronological order): Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Temple Mount is the direction that all Jews face towards during prayer and it used to be the same thing with Muslims until a Qur'anic verse was written (or handed down by God, if you're a faithful) requiring them to switch the direction to the Kaaba in Mecca.
  • For the Catholic Church, Vatican City and, by extension, the whole of Rome. Some popes and cardinals did try to change Avignon, France, into an alternative Holy City to Rome in the 14th century, though that had less to do with the holiness of the city and more to do with the French crown attempting to seize control over the papacy.
  • Mecca and Medina for Islam, Mecca being the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the location of the very sacred Kaaba, and Medina being the city that housed the Prophet during his flight from Mecca and is the site of the all-important Prophet's mosque. As noted above, the Kaaba is the direction that all Muslims face towards during prayer and the mosque that surrounds the structure, the Masjid al-Haram, was designed to be circling it so the faithful will face the same direction everywhere they pray. See also the list of holy sites in Islam on The Other Wiki.
  • Constantinople, AKA Istanbul, has some aspects of this for the Eastern Orthodox Churches, because it is the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the first among equals of the Eastern Orthodoxy.note  There is an ongoing dispute over whether the successor of the resident Patriarch will need to get a Turkish passport.
  • Alexandria, seat of the Coptic Pope (who lives in Cairo these days, but who's counting?).
  • Salt Lake City is this for the Latter-Day Saints note .
  • To a lesser extent, Canterbury in England. It was a very common destination for pilgrimages on account of its beautiful cathedral and it being the site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket. It is the principal see of the Church of England, and has been ever since it was still a part of the Catholic Church. Also the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury — the de facto head of the Church of England — although he lives in Lambeth Palace in London.
  • Echmiadzin for the Armenian church.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church is led out of Danilov monastery in Moscow, while Troitse-Sergieva Lavra in Sergiev Posad is the most revered of all Russian monasteries, being the seat of the greatest Russian saint, St. Sergius of Radonezh.
  • In addition to Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias are holy cities in Judaism.
  • There used to be a Muslim proverb, "The holier the city, the wickeder its people." While that is probably not true, the contrast makes it noticeable, and anyway it is likely easier to fleece pilgrims, whose only qualification is having money to travel, than it is to fleece merchants who have been at the game long enough to know all the tricks.
  • Serbs have been known to refer to Kosovo as their equivalent to Jerusalem, which would make it a holy province.
  • New Norcia is Australia's holy city.
  • The four holy cities of Buddhism are Lumbini where Gautama Buddha was born, Bodh Gaya where he achieved Enlightment, Sarnath where Buddha preached for the first time thus starting the Wheel of Dharma (founding Buddhism) and Kushinagar where Buddha dies. The first is in Nepal the other four are in India.
  • Lalish, Northern Iraq for the Yazidi faith, which is the burial site of Adi ibn Musafir, a Sufi sheik believed to be the living avatar of the Yazidi angel Melek Taus.
  • Acre and Haifa, two coastal Israeli cities, are sacred to the Baháʼí Faith. Acre is the burial place of Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the religion, and is considered by the faithful to be the holiest place on Earth. Haifa is the burial place of Báb, Baháʼu'lláh's spiritual predecessor, and the Baháʼí World Centre, the central administration of the religion.
  • Shia Islam has a quite a few of these in Iraq and Iran.
    • Karbala, Iraq, is probably the holiest place in Shia Islam after Mecca and Medina. It was the place where Husayn, Muhammad's second grandson and the third Imam, was martyred by the forces of Yazid I, the second Umayyad caliph. The commemoration is known as the Day of Ashura, and during that time, millions of the faithful descend into the area around the shrines of Husayn and Abbas (Muhammad's fourth grandson who was also martyred during Ashura) for a massive mourning procession. 40 days after Ashura, the place is host to an even larger gathering, Arba'een, which is comparatively more cheerful. It is interesting to note that Arba'een attracts more people annually than Hajj does, even though unlike the Hajj, it is not religiously sanctioned.
    • Other Iraqi cities which witnessed the martyrdom and burial places of Shia Imams are Najaf, Baghdad, and Samarra. Najaf is especially important as the resting place of Ali, the first Imam, Muhammad's son-in-law (and cousin) and Husayn's father, after he was assassinated in the nearby city of Kufa.
    • Mashhad is the holiest city in Iran, because it hosts the burial place of Ali al-Ridha (or Alireza in Iran), the only Imam who was martyred in Iran. His sister, Fatimah, was buried in Qom, a city to the south of Tehran, but Qom today is considered holy for a different reason: it is the largest scholarship center of Shia Islam and produces hundreds of clerics annually.

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