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Merchant City

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Hot deserts make for hot sales!
"If it can't be had here, it can't be had on any world."
High Market flavor text, Magic: The Gathering

A city populated mainly by merchants, or known for its trade opportunities. While the term "trade city" can be tautological because any settlement large enough to support any kind of labor specialization requires trade between two different parties to function, these cities are defined by the influence of its traders, merchants, and financiers in its daily life. Tends to be a port, especially a seaport, as ships have historically been the most cost-effective means of transporting cargo in large quantities. Other transportation links are also important, such as rails and roads. In science fiction settings, it may take the form of a spaceport or Space Station (or even an entire City Planet).

Access to large amounts of financial capital is usually needed in order to support the high-risk/high-reward ventures often undertaken by an Intrepid Merchant, so there will be plenty of banks and wealthy investors, along with insurers, lawyers and other professionals. If not ruled by a merchant guild, these trade organizations will play a key role in governing the city, ensuring that the city provides the infrastructure needed to support trade.

As a port city, it will often be filled with warehouses (including some Abandoned Warehouses), which provide locations for heroes and villains to plot intrigues and move and store secret cargoes.

Some large merchant cities may have entire neighborhoods dedicated to particular goods, such as foods, textiles or spices. Merchant cities are on a Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty. While merchant cities trading gems and silks may be wealthy and opulent and filled with Blue Blood elite, a merchant city that specializes in the trade of less valuable raw resources such as timber or wheat may have more humble, middle-class buildings and inhabitants.

Obstructive Bureaucrats and City Guards hover to check papers, enforce rules, and collect taxes, but some wily operators know how to use a wad of money to get them waved through inspections. As a port city, it may have a section on the Wrong Side of the Tracks that’s become a Wretched Hive of rogues and pickpockets, so watch your back (and your wallet). While wily characters may be able to elude government officials, they'll likely have to pay any fees required by The Syndicate, as these criminal overlords require a "cut" from all goods moving through their territory.

It usually has a Black Market or Secret Shop where a Venturous Smuggler can get you "off the books" items (drugs, weapons, etc), gear that Fell Off the Back of a Truck and/or a Bazaar of the Bizarre. You can buy the best hard-to-find items there, or at least have the most variety to choose from. Often, plenty of entertainments are available for weary travellers, from booze and gambling to The Oldest Profession.

This is often, but not always the capital or Hub City of a nation. On many occasions it will be the hometown of a Proud Merchant Race, and will be the favorite hangout of the Intrepid Merchant. Some are even ruled by Merchant Princes.

Examples! Examples! That's what we've got! Examples! Examples! Nice and hot!

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  • In Written by the Victors, an Stargate Atlantis fanfic by Speranza, the main characters turn Atlantis into this as it's the only city that could protect an inter-planet market from the Wraith.

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  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome: Bartertown. Trading is required to be able to enter, and holding on the deals is enforced by law.
  • Star Wars: "Mos Eisley was built from the beginning with commerce in mind."

    Literature, for free, and that's cutting me own throat! 
  • Animorphs: The Iskoort world is a giant ecumeonopolis where one can purchase anything he or she wants (even recorded memories).
  • Children of Earth and Sky: Trade is the life blood of both Seressa and Dubrava, where power and wealth revolve around commerce.
  • Discworld: Ankh-Morpork is without compare. Invaders often found that within a few days they no longer own their weapons and are just absorbed into the general ethnic character of the city. These days, Ankh Morpork is basically immune to war, because it's the trade and economic capital of the world. Not for nothing is their national anthem "We Can Rule You Wholesale" — "Let others boast of martial dash / For we have boldly fought with cash / We own all your helmets, we own all your shoes / We own all your generals — touch us and you'll lose".
  • The Grishaverse: Ketterdam (based on Amsterdam), is a Wretched Hive city that runs on the worship of the god of commerce and trade, as well as allowing anybody to trade anything. The city is even run by a merchant council.
  • Guardians of the Flame: Pandathaway, a port city which is a commercial hub and caters to visitors looking for goods. There is practically nothing that's not out for sale (this also makes it the center of the regional slave trade, much to the heroes' disgust). Merchants and guild heads run it officially, but the wizards are really in charge of the city.
  • Invisible Cities: The aptly named Trading Cities, although they play with the idea. One particular city trades stories, while another trades character roles.
  • Myth Adventures: The Bazaar on the dimension of Deva. While it doesn't come close to covering the world's landmass and in fact slowly migrates across it, it's the only settlement, transportation to Deva always routes visitors wherever it presently is rather than to geographic coordinates, and there's nothing else on Deva worth seeing in any event. (The land itself can no longer support life and the natives turned entirely to cross-dimensional trade to support themselves.)
  • Realm of the Elderlings: Bingtown, situated near the mouth of the Rain Wild River on the Cursed Shores. The Bingtown Traders consider themselves an exclusive caste, basically rule themselves via the Traders Council and are very proud of being the descendants of those who came to the Cursed Shores with nothing but themselves and not only managed to survive but also to make a fortune.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Many of the Free Cities, most prominently Pentos and Braavos, are hubs of maritime trade, importing and exporting goods from across the known world and being ruled by wealthy merchant elites.
    • Also Vaes Dothrak, the sacred city of the Dothraki where merchants come from across the world to trade with each other under the protection of the Horselords (who themselves have no concept of money).
  • The Sparrow: Gayjur, and while it's due to his unfortunate life circumstances, Supaari is definitely a Proud Merchant Race Guy.
  • Tales from Netheredge: Isle of Stars, whose main port is a landing point for most of the trade between the countries of Netheredge and the Calisto Empire.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The City of Canals generally is one, ruled by a council of corrupt merchants.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Jackson's Whole is nothing but a Black Market, selling devious and unethical goods and services for high prices.
    • Komarr's society is based on Intrepid Merchants, taking advantage of its location at the crossroads of several interstellar trade routes.

    Live-Action Television, you'll never find a better one anywhere else! 
  • Star Trek: Ferenginar, homeworld of the Ferengi. Being merchants is the Ferengi's hat, and it really shows. There are hidden fees everywhere, from entering someone's home, to using the elevator, to even sitting down in a waiting room.

    Tabletop Games, wouldn't you like some? 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Forgotten Realms has Waterdeep, Calimport, Raven's Bluff... Amn in general is known as "Merchant's Domain" — people there call the god of death "Black Forecloser" and that's not even a joke. Its capital city Athkatla (nicknamed "City of Coin") is so much of a merchant city, it's a Holy City of the trade goddess.
    • The City of Brass, the Efreet capital. In Fourth Edition The City of Brass is stated to be the largest mercantile city in the multiverse.
    • The city of Union, introduced in the 3rd Edition Epic Level Handbook. It was founded by the mercane, a Proud Merchant Race with a mysterious aversion to Sigil, and run largely to support the mercane's mercantile empire. Precious little has been done with it since it was first introduced, however.
    • Planescape: Sigil is one — it hosts portals to literally anywhere, so it's THE crossroads of the multiverse. The Golden Lords are periodically mentioned as some of the most fantastically rich individuals on the planes, mostly by taking advantage of Sigil's opportunities. However, since the game is focused on the ideological conflict of the factions as well as Sigil's potential as a jumping-off point for adventure, the mercantile side of the city went largely unexplored by the writers except as what would support adventurers.
  • Exalted:
    • The Imperial City is literally at the centre of the world, so it's the logical place for merchants from all (D)irections to bring their goods. And before the Imperial City, there was Meru, home to nearly all the mansions and tributes given to the kings of creation. Rules-wise, everything bought in one of these places is one dot cheaper than it would otherwise be.
    • Gem is so far to the South that basically everything can be mined there, including gems, metals, and naturally-occurring gunpowder (which is as rare as it sounds). Despite the place's insane heat, it's a bustling city where someone can be dirt-poor one day and rich the next, and the industry cartels who rule it jealously guard their power. Like the site of a gold rush, except that the gold rush never ends.
  • Ironclaw: Triskellion, the capital of Calebria and by far the most cosmopolitan city on the island. A century ago, the king handed over most governance to a council of trade guilds.
  • Rocket Age: G'Pak, the only island city on Mars' silt sea, is run by the Pilthuri, the merchant and diplomat class who most other city states look down on and despise. The royal and priests caste have no real power there and are essentially kept around for show, to ensure that other cities don't attempt to use the unusual arrangement against them.
  • Traveller: Most starports have facilities for buying and selling goods, but a few worlds such as Regina in the Spinward Marches are notable for having grown rich from their position on the interstellar trade routes.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: The Free City of Marienburg in the Wasteland to the north of the Empire (the Wasteland used to be known as the Westerlands, but ever since Marienburg bought its independence and refused to return the Imperials have taken to demeaning its importance in every way they can). Its location on the mouth of the primary river leading inland into the northern Old World gives it a controlling position for trade moving between inland nations and ones along the rest of the Old World's coasts — anyone who doesn't wish to make an overland trip across monster-infested forests and mountain ranges must go through Marienburg. It's also one of the very few ports where Elves will trade. This makes Marienburg fantastically wealthy, and has led to it being ruled by a number of powerful merchant families.
    • Lothern, the southernmost city on Ulthuan in the kingdom of Eataine. The home continent of the elves is ring-shaped with a single strait allowing access between the inner sea of Ulthuan and the wider ocean. In other words, all trade between the prosperous inner kingdoms of Ulthuan and the wider world flows through Lothern at some point. It's also worth nothing Lothern is the only city in Ulthuan where a significant permanent population of non-elves is allowed to reside. Human traders from the Empire, Bretonnia, Estalia and Tilea, and even far-off Cathay come to Lothern excited to exchange goods for elven wares. Even a handful of Imperial dwarfs can be found in the city, despite dwarfs being forbidden to directly trade with the elves. Of course, Lothern's important strategic position ensures it is also heavily fortified - Lothern isn't just the richest city in Ulthuan, but the safest to be as well.

    Video Games! You want 'em, we got 'em! 
  • Black Sigil: Tradefair, Rogurd's hometown, is a Merchant City and also has a black market.
  • Breath of Fire I: Prima, which is also an Underwater City.
  • Civilization: V and VI introduces independent city-states that can be interacted with by major players classified by type, one of which is Mercantile, after famous ones throughout history. Get on their good side and they'll give bonuses to you without the need to conquer them outright, such as sending out shipments of luxury goods to increase major nations' Happiness, including unique goods that can't be obtained any other way. The player can also choose to focus cities on trade by building Wonders such as the Great Lighthouse, Petra, and the East India Company, or turn their entire nation into a Proud Merchant Race by taking specific focuses on commerce.
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic DLC introduces Merchant Republics ruled by families of Merchant Princes, including many Real Life examples.
  • Dragon Quest VII: One of the final forms for the immigrant town is the Bazaar, which has shops selling some of the best equipment in the game (including the Metal King Shield, hands down the best shield in the game).
  • Europa Universalis III: Any and every province designated a "Centre of Trade", including several of the real-life examples below.
  • EVE Online: Jita has become such a massive trade hub that all missions and resources have been removed from the system and it's been moved to own server in order to handle the traffic. Of particular interest is the fact that Jita became the premier trading hub of New Eden not through developer edict, but through players following actual market forces of supply and demand.
  • Final Fantasy V: Mirage, a city in the Cleft of Dimension. When it reappears in the real world it's full of merchants and some of the best items in the game can be bought there.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: The nation of Ul'dah is practically run by merchants. While the nation does have a Sultana, she's just a figurehead since the true leaders are the Syndicate, which are a group of the nation's wealthiest merchants. The nation's motto is "For Coin and Country".
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: The Carcino region comes to mind; it's the only nation of the six in the game that doesn't house a Mineral MacGuffin, in favour of being a mercantile state. That said, it doesn't have any particularly special items for the player party purchase ingame...
  • Freelancer: Zoner Freeports and Junker bases are like this, according to rumors on bases, and chatter on Artificial Atmospheric Actions, but Gameplay and Story Segregation is in effect when you visit.
  • Guild Wars: In-universe, the Kodash Bazaar is considered this, being the capital of a merchant nation. In gameplay terms, though, it has a pretty average selection of merchants.
  • Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar has the world-famous Zephyr Town. Or had. At the start of the game the bazaar is a shadow of its former glory. It's up for the newbie farmer protagonist to revitalize it.
  • Heaven's Vault:
    • Renaki is a merchant moon. The explorable map consists of two shopping plazas crammed with goods and stalls. The player is able to exchange artifacts for various items here, but there's nothing of substantial value for sale unless you're trying to unlock the gecko-related achievements (or really want an apple).
    • There is another merchant moon you can discover, that was this in the Age of Sail. It's now in ruins.
  • League of Legends have the sister cities of Piltover and Zaun, located in a crucial port between continental halves of Runeterra, and both are collectively the economic and technological capital of the world. Piltover (which rests on the actual sea level) is the Shining City where magic and technology merge and pave the way to tomorrow, while Zaun (an Under City built among underground cliffs) is where all of its industrial work and underclass are shunted down to, for better and for worse.
  • The Legend of Dragoon has the Commercial City, Lohan, in the first disk. Not only is it Serdio's main hub for traders all across Endiness, it also sells plenty of the game's best accessories, alongside the Legend Casque, which gives ridiculous magic defense and evasion. Catch? These items will range in the thousands of Gold, whereas most battles barely give around 100 in the later areas of the game.
  • Mass Effect 2: Illium is a capitalist heaven: It is an independent planet outside the jurisdiction of any major government and while the planet is extremely rich, there are almost no rules on anything. During your stay, you are constantly bombarded with cheesy comercials and merchants making ridiculous claims to their customers.
  • Medieval II: Total War: Constructable is the Merchants' Quarter, which turns over an entire section of the city to trade.
  • Octopath Traveler has the city of Grandport, the final stop on the budding merchant Tressa's quest line. It contains outdoor merchants carrying nearly every category of item for sale/theft, and is home to a multi-millionaire who promotes trade as a means of finding trinkets for his daughter.
  • Pokémon has Celadon City, Goldenrod City, Lilycove City,Veilstone City, Castelia City, and Lumiose City, with a big department store in each. Alola has a few cities: Hau'oli City, Royal Avenue, Malie City, and Konikoni City, which is explicitly referred to as a 'city of merchants'.
  • Quest for Glory II's Shapeir has Katta in every square, selling all sorts of items, that's not taking into account the smithy, apothecary and the joke shop.
  • Ragnarok Online: Virtually every major city is packed with Intrepid Merchants, but a special mention goes to the Port Town of Alberta, where Merchants are trained from Novices.
  • RuneScape: Varrock city is this for players, as it's where the Grand Exchange, a big facility that lets people put their items for sale or buy from other players without direct contact, is located. Before the Grand Exchange was added, it was Varrock for free players and Falador for members, but only on certain merchant worlds. Ardougne, another big city with lots of stalls in the middle is this for NPCs.
  • Tales of the Abyss has Chesedonia. Located directly between Kimlasca and Malkuth (in spite of ongoing tension between the two nations), nearly all goods that cross the border pass through it, and since each country is heavily specialized (with Kimlasca producing weapons, armor and fontech, while Malkuth grows crops for food and medicines), consistent and well-managed trade is an absolute necessity. Notably, if you're somehow incredibly rich early on in the game (if you carried money over onto a New Game Plus, for example), you can buy weapons there that are ludicrously powerful for your level.
  • Trails Series: Crossbell is a sprawling metropolis similiar to real world New York City and Hong Kong, being the heart of commerce of the continent and one of the richest places in Zemuria. However, this also makes it a very hotly contested territory between the two major superpowers of the world: the Erebonian Empire and the Republic of Calvard.
  • Trials of Mana: Beiser is a port city full of merchants, and has a Black Market that you can access by waiting for it to become night. Ironically though, it's the only town in the game where you can't buy regular supplies. This was actually fixed in the 2020 remake.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • The goblin-controlled cities of Gadgetzan, Booty Bay, and Ratchet. As a Proud Merchant Race they are open to both factions and also provide access to the Neutral Auction House, the only method of cross-faction trading.
    • Shattrath and the Northrend version of Dalaran used to serve as this when they were the main cities of their respective expansions. Having portals to each of the original capital cities, auction houses, high-end armor vendors, and close proximity to end-game content meant a high player density and trade. These days the city of choice is the Broken Isles version of Dalaran.

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  • Drowtales: "Chel'el'Sussoloth was built around the Klar'bol, the market section is literally the heart of the city".
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Sandsedge is a town of tents, but one gathering traders from the whole Western Continent.
    • Cliffport is another, more traditional example. They even decide to support Gobbotopia for trade reasons.

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  • Arcane: Piltover, even more so once the Hexgate is created. Airships from all over flock to take advantage of the reduction in transit time, massively boosting trade to the city. It's also ruled by a City Council dominated by Merchant Prince noble families.

    Real Life! While supplies last. 
In general, if one were to look at a list of the world's largest and most prosperous cities, one would find that nearly all of them built their wealth this way, through being centers of trade and finance in which people from elsewhere gathered to do business.


  • The Mississipian mounds of Cahokia near present-day St. Louis are considered the largest pre-Columbian urban center to have ever existed north of Mexico, with archaeologists estimating its peak population to be as high as 40,000 in the 13th century (putting it on par with London in the same time period). Among the sites there is evidence of trade in copper, chert (a stone useful for making tools for farming, hunting, and firestarting) and seashells with tribes as far north as the Great Lakes and as far south as the Gulf Coast. St. Louis itself continued the legacy with its founding in 1763 (long after Cahokia had dispersed) by French fur traders, since its location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, along with the Ohio River nearby, made it an important meeting spot for travellers coming in all directions.
  • Boston during the late colonial period into the 19th century was a major anchor of transatlantic trade, being one corner of the colonial molasses triangular trade which saw ships from the Caribbean carrying sugar from slave-worked plantations into New England where it was distilled into rum and shipped out along with other products like lumber and fish to West Africa. Many colonial merchants were based in Boston, and were the most adversely affected by the British Parliament's taxes that were levied to pay for the French and Indian War — consequently Boston became the early center of unrest in the years prior to Lexington and Concord.
  • Chicago. On the other end of that east-west overwater trade route from New York was Chicago, because of its location right on a portage (a land bridge where boats or their cargo can easily be transferred between two bodies of water) between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Watershed, with the Illinois and Michigan Canal later being dug so that passenger, cargo, and ship could traverse together. When the rails began to be laid down, Chicago was the hub for many lines, which is probably the biggest reason for its growth into the Second City, as being able to send goods easily in most any direction made it a great trading spot, whether they be the destination of many a Texan cattle drive (Chicago had many slaughterhouses, including the one in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle) or if you're selling stuff by catalogue and use the rails to ship your sales (i.e,. Sears). Chicago's answer to Fifth Avenue for luxury shopping is its own Michigan Avenue, specifically the Magnificent Mile north of The Loop.
  • Miami has developed into a shopping destination based on its tourism industry, whether as the starting/finishing point of many Caribbean cruises, its own world-famous beaches, or the large Hispanic population. Richer tourists from countries with high import taxes like Brazil often find it cheaper to fly to Miami to go shopping for things like home electronics than to buy them locally. Furthermore, it serves as the US' gateway to Latin America, the hub of a great deal of trade between the two continents and with the Caribbean.
  • New Orleans became the main trading port of the southern United States from its early days as the center of the trade-centered French Louisiana through the antebellum period, situated at the mouth of the Mississippi River on the Gulf of Mexico. Along with goods transported from up the extensive river system reaching deep into the Midwest and Great Plains, sugar from the nearby plantations and the slaves used to work them all passed through its port, and by 1860 it was the third-busiest port overall in the US and far and away the busiest slave market. The abolition of slavery after the Civil War, coupled with the growth of the US rail network diminishing the use of the Mississippi as a transport route and the continuing challenge of maintaining the levees needed to keep the river from flooding the below-sea-level city and in its present course has contributed to the city's relative decline in Southern prominence as Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta have passed them in the 20th century, though it still remains an important port.
  • New York City was another city with colonial merchant roots as it started as a Dutch trading post, but moved ahead of other Eastern Seaboard port cities and seized the title for the US with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1821, which connected the Hudson River to the Great Lakes through the Mohawk Valley (one of the few natural gaps in the Appalachian Mountains) and made it easier to ship stuff between the then-West (now Midwest) and the rest of the world through New York. It helped that New York Harbor is one of the largest natural harbors in the world, which meant New York could easily handle a lot of ship traffic without needing a ton of infrastructure improvements. The establishment of the New York Stock Exchange from its roots in the Buttonwood Agreement of 1792 and its growth alongside New York itself through the 19th Century helped to seal the deal. Today, Manhattan's Fifth Avenue is world-renowned for its high-end shopping.
  • Philadelphia was another major colonial-era center of transatlantic trade, also growing from import trade of sugar from the Caribbean and export of grain and lumber to Europe combined with a policy of religious tolerance which attracted religious-minority immigrants. By the eve of the Revolution, the city was the second-largest in the English-speaking world after London.
  • San Francisco owes much of its explosive growth as a city in the 19th century to its location at the mouth of the Bay that bears its name (or rather the city bears the bay's name - it was formerly called Yerba Buena after a local plant). Its position as one of the best harbors on the Pacific coast of North America made it a natural choice for traders to head for — Spanish, British, American, even Russian (the city's Russian Hill neighborhood is named after the small graveyard of deceased Russian fur traders located at said hill's top). The 1848 gold rush in the nearby Sacramento Valley brought forth the wealth that would (eventually) make the city rich and the Forty-Niner wave seeking their fortunes, either passing through to get to the gold fields just across the Bay or the more business-savvy who sought their profits serving those miners like Levi Strauss' denim jeans and Wells Fargo bank. The Transcontinental Railroad didn't quite reach all the way to the city, but Oakland is right across the Bay so it was close enough for the railroad tycoons who settled in San Francisco, particularly Nob Hill, and the city opened what became the Pacific Stock Exchange in 1887. Even as Los Angeles eventually overtook it in population over the course of the 20th century, San Francisco still remains the financial center of the western United States, exemplified by the Federal Reserve Bank twelfth district covering everything west of the Rockies being headquartered here and being a major source of venture capital for many a Silicon Valley startup.
  • Vancouver is home to a massive port and ships almost all of the goods passing from Canada to Asia and vice versa. As such, you can buy almost anything if you know where to look.
  • Panama City became a focal point of Spanish wealth coming out of the Americas going back to Europe because of its location on the Isthmus of Panama, the narrowest stretch of land between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea (and thus the Atlantic Ocean), and that's before the Panama Canal was constructed to allow large ships to pass through directly and cut out several months of travel time. It became a major banking center, to the point where it's attracted some suspicious eyes from those trying to track down less scrupulous financial dealings across the world.
  • São Paulo for Brazil. Its growth to the 4th largest metropolis in the world today began rather similarly to San Francisco's, in that it was the staging point for the many seekers of wealth in the otherwise-hard-to-access interior of Brazil which merchants would help supply before they headed out, including several gold rushes. Plantations in the nearby lowlands also provided additional wealth and demand for labor (initially slave until 1888), first in sugar and then later in coffee. Today, Sao Paulo is known as the city that does the work in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro is where you party); high-end luxury brands looking to enter the Brazilian market usually start in the Jardins district.


  • Amsterdam was and is a commonly used port for trans-Atlantic trade, especially when the Netherlands had overseas colonies.
  • Germany: Lübeck, Hamburg, Danzig and the rest of the Hanseatic League.
  • An upmarket area of Glasgow directly adjacent to the city centre is called actually called the Merchant City. (Commemorating the fact that before it was an industrial center, Glasgow was a commercial center. Let's not dwell too much on the fact that the commerce it specialized in was the transatlantic slave trade.)
  • Name a city-state from medieval or early Renassiance Italy and it's probably a Merchant City. Special mention should go to Venice — there is, after all, a Shakespeare play called The Merchant of Venice. Buoyed by settling on a bunch of islands (so outright attacking it was impossible without a fleet, and the Venetians always made sure to have the best ships and shipwrights) and maintaining shrewd, if underhanded, business dealings with the major empires of its day, Venice dominated Mediterranean trade during the late Middle Ages and through the Renaissance (which they jump-started by taking in a ton of Byzantine talents and art when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453) until the Portuguese went the long way around Africa to bypass them.
  • Istanbul, exemplified by its Grand Bazaar. Both land routes (coming in from the east via Anatolia and west through the Balkans) and sea routes (from the Black Sea to the north and the Mediterranean to the south) converged here, the main reason why it became the seat of government for both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
  • Liverpool became a major trading port in the 17th century as Britain began to establish its overseas empire by being situated on the relatively enclosed (and thus relatively safe for sailing ships as well as being easier to reach) Irish Sea, especially after the nearby port in Chester became unusuable due to silt blockage. Coal, cloth, and salt from nearby Lancashire and Cheshire would be sent to Liverpool in exchange for sugar and tobacco coming in from the overseas plantations; enslaved Africans for said plantations were transported mostly by ships from Liverpool (few if any actually set foot in Liverpool as the vast majority were transported in the infamous Middle Passage between Africa and the Americas, but the ships' owners made hefty bank off of it regardless); when the Industrial Revolution started up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries cotton coming in en route to the new factories in Manchester and the rest of the newly-named Black Country would be via Liverpool. All of these made Liverpool the second city of Britain by the late 19th century, the "New York of Europe" because of the wide range of overseas immigrants settling there, a city whose policies were dominated by financial interests (it was a long-time resistor to abolish the slave trade which made it wealthy and continued to illegally engage in it even afterwards, and was among the most pro-Confederate places outside of the CSA when the American Civil War broke out because of Southern cotton). Deindustrialization in the late 20th century hit Liverpool especially hard, with the unemployment rate hitting 20% by 1985 before the city underwent a revitalization starting in the 1990's.
  • London specialises in merchant banking these days, but even that stems from its historical importance as a trade center for England as the location of the last bridge (the first London Bridge) downriver on the Thames, making it the location where goods were transferred between land cart and ship. It being the center of the largest empire the world has ever known also meant it was the collection point of all that wealth, and its port is still the UK's busiest.
  • Paris, back in her early days. That's why the city's coat-of-arms displays a trim merchant ship in silver (representing money by commerce, not through the royal mint.)
  • Portugal was the early leader in seafaring trade as the Ottomans controlled access to goods from India and China and they wanted to find a way to bypass them. As Portugal's martime trading empire spread across the globe from Brazil to southern Africa to Goa to Macau and Nagasaki, Lisbon became the hub of its wealth of goods from African/Indonesian spices to Indian diamonds to Ming vases and silk to Brazilian sugar, and other countries traders made their way to the city to make their money, from English and Dutch to German and Italian and even Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. By the mid-18th century other burgeoning European colonial empires were starting to muscle in on Portugal's hold, but Lisbon's sheer size and influence was so large at that point that the 1755 earthquake that destroyed 85% of the city and killed between 12,000 and 50,000 people was a massive shock to Europe beyond the physical rumbles, calling into question the idea of a just and actively caring God among Enlightenment thinkers of the day like Voltaire as the earthquake took place on All Saints' Day (November 1).
  • The Republic of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik in modern-day Croatia) also deserves an honorable mention. It had trade outposts and colonies throughout the Mediterranean, a lively and sophisticated merchant culture and eventually even outlasted its greatest rival in Venice.
  • Rotterdam doesn't look like it in city centre, but it has the biggest port of Europe, most of it located outside the city and largely automated.
  • Seville's merchants flourished during much of the Age of Exploration once Columbus reached the New World, as that city was given a legal monopoly on all transatlantic trade going into Spain. The loss of the monopoly to Cadiz, a plague in 1649, and the silting up of the Guadalquivir all contributed to its decline by the 18th Century.
  • Novgorod, in Russia, before Ivan the Terrible burned it down. It was one of the earliest cities to rise in what is now Russia, as an important trading stop for travelers going between the Varangians in the Baltic and the Greeks in the south.


  • China:
    • Hong Kong: Probably the biggest factor in its growth is it sitting right next to China at a time when the latter was closed to Western investment.
    • Guangzhou could be considered Hong Kong's forerunner, as for several centuries that city was the only one where foreign merchants could legally trade in China - many countries and trading companies sent ships there. It began losing its footing in the mid-19th century as Britain and France forced open other ports to trade and the UK basically starting their own in Hong Kong; it wouldn't be until Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms in the 1970s and 80s that Guangzhou would start trying to catch up again.
    • Shanghai: The city historically has had greater commercial impact than the Imperial Chinese government gave it (it wasn't considered an official city until 1927, only considered a county seat for most of its history), but it was one of two major Western-financed centers of banking during the 19th Century until the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War caused most foreign firms to flee for Hong Kong. The city managed to hold itself in the midst of the dearth of opportunities for growth until it was able to start growing again when China began opening up to foreign investment starting in the 1970s.
  • Japan:
    • Tokyo. Two different flavors, too - the modern, fast-paced, latest fashion stuff led by the huge corporations known the world over can be found in the western and southern parts of the city (especially Ginza, Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Shibuya); and the smaller shop mom-and-pop entrepreneurs to the north and east around the Sumida River (e.g., the long line of small shops leading to the entrance of the temple at Asakusa).
    • Akihabara can be thought of as a mix of these two things - it was a radio and electronic parts mecca after the end of World War II, where shops were small (and often black-market) but one could find parts for nearly anything electronics-related. Then just as the wave for futuristic parts passed, the anime explosion and the emergence of otaku culture starting in the 1980s revived the area, this time as the place where one could get all sorts of anime merchandise.
    • Historically, Osaka was this for Japan, as it wasn't until the Tokugawa shogunate was established in the late 16th Century that the center of power shifted east to the Kanto Plain. Being a port very close to the traditional center of power in Kyoto as well as being on the Inland Sea (so it wasn't as given to being trashed by tsunamis and typhoons), rice shipments (samurai were paid in rice) naturally congregated there and gave the otherwise looked-down-upon merchants (who traditionally were considered the lowest of the four classes in Japanese societynote ) economic power over the samurai by the time of the Meiji Restoration. The business mindset is woven into the stereotypical Osakan greeting of "Mokarimakka?" ("Are you making good money?").
    • What Guangzhou had been to China in terms of being the only long-time port that accepted foreign trade ships, Nagasaki was to Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate under its Sakoku (closed country) policy. Dejima Island was the only place where Westerners (specifically Dutch) merchants were allowed to operate until Commodore Perry persuaded the shogunate to open its ports in 1853 with 8.7-inch guns.
  • Kaesong, a city now located in North Korea, was this during the Goryeo Dynasty, the Dynasty that preceded the Joseon Dynasty that moved it's capital from Kaesong (then called Gaegyeong) to Seoul. The city prospered from trade with the neighboring kingdoms, including Song Dynasty and Heian Japan, and the city's merchants had a reputation for being skilled centuries after the fall of the dynasty. The city was so prosperous that if estimates were correct the city would have a population of half a million (more than the city's current population), which at that time (10th century) was quite a big deal.
  • Singapore. Originally a British Crown Colony that thrived on entrepot trade between the East and West, today it is a cosmopolitan metropolis full of shopping centres and features one of the world's busiest ports.
  • Manila, capital of the Philippines, used to be a prominent one, especially in the days of Spanish colonialism as early as the late 1500s, as the hub where richly laden Mexican galleons docked after the long Pacific voyage from Acapulco, in Mexico. Colonial Manila was in fact something of a bridge between the silver mines in Spanish Latin America on the one hand, and the huge Chinese market on the other. This continued to be the case into the 1800s, when British firms started setting up in Manila and other Philippine cities mainly to capitalise on sugar milling and textile production and shipping. Today, while perhaps not as globally outsized in influence as it used to be, the modern Manila (that's Metro Manila, the entire metropolitan area surrounding and including the City of Manila proper), still holds some of Asia's largest malls, many built or owned by Chinese-born or -descended entrepreneurs—reflecting the Filipino people's incredibly consumerist mindset.
  • The British East India company developed Mumbai (on the western side of the subcontinent) and Kolkata (on the eastern side) as the main ports of entry for their dealings (however defined) in India. Mumbai remains India's most important economic center.
  • Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan is historically defined by its prosperity thanks to being a major stop on the Silk Road that carried goods between China and the eastern Mediterranean.
  • Dubai. Started out as an oil center, but what made it leap to the top of the global city list was early diversification into other industries like tourism, finance, and aviation.
  • The Old City in Jerusalem, Israel, due to the amount of tourism and pilgrims stopping there for religious purposes, is more or less filled to the brim with merchant shops on roads between churches, synagogues, and mosques.
  • Vietnam: Hanoi used to be colloquially known as Kẻ Chợ (lit. "market people") because it has thriving markets that drew workers and traders from other provinces (and more rarely, other countries). The Old Quarter's original "36 streets" are all named after professions: Hàng Đường (Sugar Street) sells sweets, Hàng Bạc (Silver Street) sells jewelry, etc. It's also home to the huge Đồng Xuân market and a weekend night market in front of said building that stretches several intersections, packed with tourists and locals.


  • The site of Alexandria in Egypt was recognized by the founder himself as having great potential as a trading center when it was established in 331 BC thanks to its protective (if tricky to navigate, necessitating the construction of the Great Lighthouse to guide ships in) harbor, both nearby fertile fields to feed it and a lagoon to protect it, and location near the Nile Delta (which allowed sea trade from both upriver and the eastern Mediterranean as well as land trade from the Sinai and beyond to the east and along the Saharan routes to the west). The city also became a major center of knowledge as the trading was coupled with an intense effort to copy manuscripts that came along for the ride which was stored at the Great Library. For the next nine centuries it served as the capital of Egypt and was a truly cosmopolitan city which held a large Jewish and Hellenistic population. The Arabs conquering Egypt in 641 AD and establishing a new capital in Fustat (now Cairo) meant Alexandria lost its preeminence in Egyptian politics and intellectualism but remained a bustling port until Napoleon came knocking in 1798. The British took control of the city three years later and the city saw a major resurgence back to international prominence until Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized much of the Egyptian economy in the 1950s, forcing much of the city's Greek population to leave.
  • Port Said owes its existence to the Suez Canal which links the Mediterranean and Red Seas, cutting months out of the travel time for ships travelling between Great Britain and its colonies in India and beyond.
  • Timbuktu during the 12th through 16th Centuries, as a major trading center of gold, ivory, salt, and slaves. In addition, the University of Timbuktu was one of the largest and most innovative centers of education (actually consisting of three schools centered around the Djinguereber Mosque, the Sidi Yahya Mosque, and the Sankore Madrasah), which further encouraged the spread of books along its trade routes.
  • Djibouti City is an important trading spot due its location at the southern end of the Red Sea and relative stability and security near the most heavily trafficked sea lanes in the world and subsequently among the most vulnerable to piracy and other attacks. It also serves as otherwise-landlocked Ethiopia's main access to sea trade and world markets. Its status as a Truce Zone that hosts military personnel from many of the world's powers, including rivals like both the US and China, is mainly in the service of continuing to secure the sea lanes that keep it afloat economically.
  • Mogadishu rose to become one of the most prominent merchant centers on the Horn of Africa during the Sultanate era (roughly the 10th through 16th centuries), being situated on the Indian Ocean and conducting trade along the Arabian Sea - its zenith of prominence is around the 12th to 14th centuries. The writings of the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, who visited the city in 1331, noted that it was already "an exceedingly large city" that exported many goods like silk to Egypt.
  • Similar to Mogadishu, Mombasa also thrived since the Middle Ages under similar conditions in regards to Indian Ocean trade.
  • Zanzibar was another trading spot that thrived on trade on the Indian Ocean, being islands near the African mainland and a contact point between the Bantu people and Arab traders and eventually developing their own culture and language in Swahili (derived from the Arabic sawahil "coasts"). The Portuguese, Sultan of Oman, and British took it over as part of their overseas empires at various points but Zanzibar always retained a significant amount of autonomy; even today it retains significant autonomy within Tanzania (itself a portmanteau of its joining with Tanganyika despite the latter being an order of magnitude larger in both population and land area) and is often called the "African Hong Kong".
  • Most people outside Southern Africa tend to forget that Pretoria is the state capital of South Africa... simply because its younger sibling, Johannesburg, massively overshadows it both in size and international financial importance. The gold and diamond mines (and the rushes they spawned from in the 19th century) lie behind the whole of Gauteng being the beating heart of the entire greater region's trade links, despite not being anywhere near a coastal port. Rivers, roads, rail, airport and mines for the win. For the biggest traditional sea port, that would be Durban (sorry, Cape Town, but you know it's true). And, Jo'burg could still swallow both whole.

...Psst! Hey, kid! Wanna buy a stinger?note