• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Is there any real life reason for a underground city to exist?


In my setting not all dwarves are blacksmiths or miners, to call all my dwarves blacksmiths or miners is like to call all Norse medieval people vikings.

Only 15% of my dwarves are blacksmiths or miners, 35% are pastorialist shepherds or goatherds, 10% are farmers and the rest are nobility, town-people, craftsmen and others.

My dwarves have surface cities and I am not inclined to have a underground city of dwarves unless you give me a reason for it.

I don't think that blacksmithing and mining is a reason for people to live underground.

Is there a reason for people to live underground? The sun doesn't burn them to death, they live mostly in the mountains, maybe its windy in the mountains or there is too much humidity in the mountains. So what could be a reason?


Myth Weaver
Maybe not full time, but I can think of a few reasons why they might do so some of the time.
Constant Climate. Most cave and tunnel systems have a fairly even temperature and humidity, throughout the year.
You could use this as protection from weather and it would be useful for storage.
So then there is food. Cheese could be stored there, wine too, in steady conditions until it matured and was ready.
Mushrooms too. Some varieties don't need sunlight, I have been told.
The rock "walls" would be secure to most levels of secure and if there are only a few entrances, that would make it easier to defend against predators and other unwanted attention.
Then there is general secrecy... Who know what goes on out-of-sight...
Also, you can extend your home, just by digging more of the rock out.
There is no reason why Dwarves HAVE to live underground, but there are plenty of reasons why some might.
It could be a quite safe place to hide from enemies. The entrances to the tunnels leading to the underground cities could be hidden. It would be hard to invade, but if there are multiple hidden exits, relatively easy to evacuate. A network of maze-like tunnels could be used to confound any intruders. If a hidden exit is found by an enemy you could just collapse the tunnel to seal it off. t's the perfect dwelling for a very secretive race imo.

I like the idea of living underground to hide from a threatening force. Underground is the perfect way to hide an entire city.

Maybe the dwarves had many enemies in the past that drove them to seek refuge underground, and now the ancient underground cities are still used.


Maybe the dwarves had many enemies in the past that drove them to seek refuge underground, and now the ancient underground cities are still used.

Great idea. I was thinking about the same thing.

Why limit it to mountains, hideouts can be in hills also.

Yes at first a group of dwarves lived in a stateless pastorial society which hided in underground cities in mountains and hills, but then they grew stronger and made their own state. They made their own army and a monarch to lead them.

Underground cities could have the same purpose as castles to the above said dwarves, they are useful only in the time of danger or invasion by humans.
These underground cities could be used to store explosives, gunpowder barrels, guns and food.

Those dwarfs which do not have their own state/nation still hide in underground cities in hills because they live in human territory.
Last edited:

Insolent Lad

Though an underground city/retreat might be a good place to hide from an enemy, it could also be a deathtrap when that enemy discovers it. How do you escape when that dragon slips in the front door?

I put some of my fairie-folk underground simply because they couldn't take strong sunlight.

K.S. Crooks

If you really need to have one, an underground city could be-
In a frigid region where there are hot springs within a cave system
On an island where there isn't enough surface area so they built inside their mountain
Built around a large underground lake which provides all the drinking water in the area


Article Team
Maybe they like living underground?

I'm thinking that since many of the dwarves in your setting seem to do just fine living above ground it might not be a valid reason in this case though.

Unless there's a great need or desire to live underground it's almost certainly easier to build houses on the surface rather than in hollows underneath. If you're not super fussed about living underground you probably wouldn't go and build yourself a city unless there was already a nice big cave to build in.

That said, if there are caves big enough to fit cities, and if there are at least some dwarves who prefer living underground, chances are they might have built cities there. Perhaps they have religious reasons?

Tangential anecdote:
The anfylk in my stories traditionally live in burrows underground (it's how their creator made them). In modern society most of them live among humans in regular apartments and houses, but out in the countryside they still prefer burrows.

In one of my stories, a young girl from a traditional-style village goes travelling and gets a room in an above ground floor. It makes her really nervous because she's never done that before.


Could be a cultural reason. A great example of this are the Drow Elves created by the legendary R.A. Salvatore.
Last edited:


my own reservation on dwarves is such that I would assume that logically dwarves would want to settle where large quantities of stone, metals, or gems would be located and especially so if there are multiple types in one area. They would eventually dig out the materials until the point by which they could settle deeper underground.

They would do this because first the logistics of moving resources would widen the deeper they got and medieval style transport systems are prone to bandits and invasions. They would want to keep their deposits of resources secret and hidden if possible to keep others from taking it from them until their society could become rich enough to do so. But also it would make more sense to process, refine, and manufacture goods close to where they are gotten. Or to offer services for things like stonework outside of their deposits.

Beyond that I think Tolkien make a good case for why the Dwarves were forced above ground since one of their cities had been taken over by Smaug as well as by Orcs in the case of Moria. They just had nowhere left to go. But to me it did not make sense that they just wouldn't seek other deposits or that in the whole wide world that Tolkien created did not have more mines in general.

It is not to say that you cannot make them topside dwellers but you should have a good reason for doing so. Since they are traditionally miners and smiths and portrayed as living underground.


Myth Weaver
I think one reason might be because the subterranean creatures kind of sprang up there in the first place. While dwarves seem to be ripe for being surface dwellers in most of the versions of them I have seen, it could just be that they were formed underground, have thrived there and made roots and cultural connections that would just leave them unhappy, or perhaps unable to survive elsewhere. I think it could just be that the Gods made them that way. Perhaps, if we were to journey to the center of the earth, there might be whole realms of creatures surface-types never discover. And, if a race of people were formed in the earth, to live in the earth, maybe they have additional skills such as magic to shape rock and tunnels, or a way of absorbing underground elements that helps to sustain them, not unlike the way frogs would breathe through their skin.

Earthworms mostly live underground, and far as I know can eat dirt...literally. Maybe underground peoples can do similar feats. Ants mostly live underground too, and I think what they have is kind of like an underground city. It would not be hard to imagine a race of ant-people living underground and thriving there.

Dwarves have always been shown to seek minerals and crystals, so going underground to get them would seem the trade off they have to make. But maybe in the way we might get vitamin E from sunlight, Dwarves might get some other benefit from the lack of it, or exposure to those things they seek.

And if the world underneath is crawling with caves and chambers and goes ever and ever deeper, maybe there are more and more eco systems hidden deep under the ground that can make for a new wealth of story complexities.

Just sayin, If you need a reason, it cant be that hard to invent one.

Another thought, I just decided to add, perhaps deeper in the earth than the dwarves is a more dangerous race that the dwarves are more uniquely fashioned to ward against. Thus, they stay in the places underground as a type of sacred duty to protect the world above.
Last edited:


Well, if you're basing it off of Norse Mythology the fact that Dwarves tended to turn to stone when exposed to sunlight or left over instincts from when they were maggots digging through the corpse of the primordial giant whose body became the world could explain it handily.
You are god, you are the one who should decide. But as you have elected to listen to the other gods here, I will advise that you weigh the reason for having an above or below ground city. Human habitation has mostly always been above ground, even in the mountains. Why would your characters build a city where they cannot be above ground? Do they have a natural predator that hunts them?

If you use history as your guide, you will find that human habitation which existed underground, was only because they had to hid from attackers. The only other reason was to store food in a root-cellar, otherwise living underground limits the character greatly.

In the case of my science fiction novels, the underground environments are either industrial (out of sight, out of mind), military, or because the environment above ground would kill you over the short term period of time (kill quickly) but you must build on the planet to exploit its resources.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
How about convenience? If you have some dwarves who work deep underground, even if it's only 15% of them, then it makes sense that some of the city would extend underground to accommodate them.