The City (aka The Eternal City) is the primary setting of Thief.
The City stretches across a area of land referred to as 'The Island,' as well as the surrounding coastline, referred to as 'The Mainland.' The Great River flows between these two landmasses, which are connected by a number of bridges. An autonomous city-state, the City is composed of six districts alongside a large port.
The City's docks are located in the southern area of the main island, and importing/exporting represents much of the City’s economy. The City was even once a maritime power, serving as the staging ground for several conflicts and wars in the past, both civil and otherwise. Its merchant fleet dominated the South Seas for many years, but in recent times, its power has waned considerably.
The City is not the first of its kind; previous incarnations have endured countless disasters, from rioting to wars to plagues, but the City has always risen from the ashes time and time again. Over the years, each new iteration has been built upon the structural bones of its predecessors. This has ultimately resulted in a total of seven different layers spanning hundreds of miles underground, creating a vast network of subterranean passages and antechambers known as The Hidden City. Located beneath the Old Cathedral, the ruins represent what remains of the current City's ancient past.
Areas like the House of Blossoms, as well as Our Lady of the Iron Litany, have been built upon such ruins, and remnants of the vanished quarters from the time of the Bresling dynasty can still be found beneath their foundations.
Most of the current City's new architecture is the work of Theodore Eastwick, built on top of the older Cities. This construction began in NRy830, during the Age of Industry brought about by the reign of Baron Elias Northcrest.
The origins of The City are a common source of speculation, which circulates throughout the many streets and alehouses. Several theories suggest that The City was created by the Old Gods who were aided by magical forces and mysterious energies controlled by a secret organization known as The Keepers.
While there appear to be no surviving historical records of the the City's origins, available evidence has led several scholars to theorize that the founders originated from the South Seas, with the First Landing Marker positioned in the initial City’s docks at the original landing site. It is believed that the colony’s initial goal was to establish a simple trading outpost, before discovering the surrounding area, which provided them with great agriculture and a variety of natural resources. This ultimately transformed the small outpost into an expansive city built on trade.
Over the years, subsequent lords, leaders and kings imposed various political and ruling systems, ranging from monarchy to feudalism to theocracy to merchant conglomerates. Eventually, Lord Laurence of House Black, the second of his generation, became the first Baron to rule over the City, and ushered in an age of stabilization. For over 800 years since, the City has always been ruled by a Baron elected from one of the Great Family Houses.
- South Quarter/Riverside
- Old Quarter
- Old Town
- Wayside Docks
- The City in Thief has more of a Charles Dickens-esque Victorian or Edwardian feel to it (mid-1800s to early 1900s) compared to the more medieval/renaissance & mechanist art deco influence of the older games . The technology is less fantastic, but is based on how the old City might look after three or four hundred years of progress.
- Electric fans (c. 1920-1930's in style), lighting, and other such technology are a common sight within the City, as one might expect from the industrial revolution taking place just before and during the early 20th Century.
- Many citizens wear top hats and bowlers, along with general Victorian-era clothing, compared the attire of the old City, in which citizens tended to wear clothing better suited to the Medieval or Renaissance eras.
- The mechanical security cameras seen in the Stonemarket First Bank look like 1890s box cameras.
- The Baron's government is decidedly 20th-Century fascist in styling, with red and black being the predominant colors of the City Watch .
- Despite the period, guards still lean toward the medieval in terms of weaponry, with the more elite guards wearing something closer to the Puritan Solomon Kane. There are no firearms in the City; instead, guards utilize heavy iron crossbows as long-range weapons.
- Buildings lean to a mix of late 1800s-1930s wooden/plaster/brick architecture, with a mix of old medieval stone fortresses here and there.
- Many of these latter buildings look more like the foundations of the older City, upon which the current City was constructed.
- Opium and related byproducts are popular within the City, much like they were shortly before the turn of the 20th Century.
- The time period of the current City is set after 842 of the NRy calendar, existing in a time of a newfound Industrial Revolution. Certain elements from the original Thief games still exist as part of the City's ancient history:
- The BRy dating system references the reign of House Bresling , with NRy representing the following reign of House Northcrest .
- The Hammerites, Mechanists , Keepers , and Pagans represent the old religions, which have since been outlawed by three generations of Northcrest Barons, and have not been practiced openly for many years.
- The war with Blackbrook (mentioned in Thief II: The Metal Age ) is mentioned as having occurred in the distant past, during the time of Baron Bresling.
- The Shalebridge Fire is mentioned as another event occuring in the distant past, possibly referring to the fire that erupted within the original Shalebridge Cradle .
- The old City is known to have suffered from catastrophic outbreaks of plague, a likely reference to the unnamed Cataclysm involving the plague of undeath that had ravaged the old City's Old Quarter.
- The current Stonemarket Clock Tower appears to be built on the very same location of the original Clock Tower , which was destroyed during the events of Thief: Deadly Shadows .
- The current Watchmen are the new City Watch set up by Baron Northcrest, and its said they are not like the old City Watch.
- The Crippled Burrick was moved from its original site near Shalebridge after the fires of NRy662.
- Moira Asylum was once the manor home of Captain Robert Moira and his wife Edwina . During the events of Thief: Deadly Shadows, Robert was killed by an undead plague, and Edwina widowed. She proceeded to convert her home into the asylum it is today.
- The Forgotten Ruins were once the Keeper Compound and Library , with the upper levels of the underground chambers having been converted into the House of Blossoms .