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File:John Martin PaintingSmallCropped 8957.jpg

God doing some urban renewal.

A city or civilization that is destroyed after growing so complacent, hubris-laden, and/or corrupt that it is beyond redemption. Usually the agent of destruction is divine retribution or a scourge of God but also can be the result of Karmic justice, nature's revenge, Knights Templar, or even human error.

Often, the Soiled City was once a Shining City or Utopia but, humans being who they are, it fell victim to arrogance and moral degeneration. In fact, before destruction, the Soiled City can still look like a Shining City even though by then it's really nothing more than a whited sepulcher with a shiny gleaming exterior concealing the rot and vileness within.

Almost always a Wretched Hive. Can also be a City Noir. The opposite or (as mentioned previously) the corrupted version of the Shining City. This trope often overlaps with And Man Grew Proud and is used as An Aesop. The Shadowland of Arcadia and the Ghibli Hills; many a Farm Boy who went expecting the Shining City was lucky to escape with his life, if at all.

Water is a common means of the Soiled City's destruction.

The name refers to the City on a Hill, an early symbol of American Utopia.

Compare with After the End, Cataclysm Backstory, Look on My Works Ye Mighty and Despair, and Gotterdammerung.

Examples of Soiled City on a Hill include:


  • In Batman Begins, there's the League of Shadows which is a secret ancient organization that takes upon itself to destroy societies and cities that, according to their standards, have become too corrupt and decadent. ("The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption for thousands of years. We sacked Rome. Loaded trade ships with plague rats. Burned London to the ground. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence, we return to restore the balance.") Next on their list: Gotham City.
  • No Name City in the film version of Paint Your Wagon.
  • Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels shows signs of this, as does the Old Republic generally. At least, according to the Empire's propaganda. To be fair, the fact that they could and circumstances surrounding their willingly voting in the empire and its new and oppressive system does, ironically, illustrate it nicely.


  • Numenor in JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion. After Sauron is taken captive by the Numenoreans, he converts them to Melkor worship and tricks them into sailing to Valinor and violating the Ban on setting foot there. As a result, the Valar call upon Eru Iluvatar and he destroys Numenor with a giant wave, sinking it beneath the sea.
  • Andre Norton's "Operation Time Search". In our real world, Atlantis fell under the control of evil rulers and was destroyed. The actions of the hero prevent this, and as a result history is changed and Atlantis survives to the present day.
  • The city of Brussels, Belgium, appears this way in retrospect to Marlow in Heart of Darkness.
  • The Emerald City in Wicked.
  • The Thran Empire, particularly the city of Halcyon, that served as Precursors to the main setting for Magic: The Gathering is shown to be one of these in its titular novel, The Thran. Even before Yawgmoth started pulling their strings, they practiced Fantastic Racism against the goblins and other species, were much more concerned with aesthetic beauty than people's safety or comfort, created a massive undercity of caves where all the undesirables (both criminals and people who merely disagreed with the way of doing things) and had a superstitious understanding of disease (which they believed was caused by evil spirits....granted that was sometimes true in Dominaria, just not most of the time. After Yawgmoth...
  • Charn from The Magicians Nephew, the Prequel to The Chronicles of Narnia. The civilization (and the entire universe in which it existed) was destroyed by the Empress Jadis, who killed every single living organism just because she couldn't be queen. She kept herself preserved as Sealed Evil in a Can until two kids from another universe freed her from her slumber (they had been tempted by the Schmuck Bait-laden mechanism used to awaken her). Then she hitched a ride with the kids back to their universe, and eventually to Narnia, where she became known as the White Witch.

Religion And Mythology

  • In The Bible, there's, of course, Sodom and Gomorrah. The destruction of these cities is the subject of the 1852 painting by John Martin that's the image for this page.
  • In the Mahabharata, the city of Dwaraka (a.k.a., Dvārakā) sinks into the ocean after becoming corrupt.
  • Atlantis became one of these before it sank into the sea.
  • The sunken city of Ys in French folklore and Celtic Mythology. It was built below sea level and surrounded by a dike with a gate that was opened to allow access for ships during low tide. Ys was destroyed by being sunk under the waves as punishment for the Princess Dahut's and the other inhabitants' debauchery. (Although, in one version of the legend, Ys sank as a result of the Princess Dahut getting drunk and opening the gate at high tide during a storm.)
  • The medieval city of Vineta was, according to legend, a rich and powerful port on the Baltic Sea located near the present-day border of Germany and Poland. The sinfulness of its inhabitants led God to destroy it with thunderbolts and sink it underneath a storm tide.
  • In The Book of Mormon, the city Ammonihah is destroyed be an army of the Lamanites after they rejected the words of the prophet and killed those that did believe. They were pretty sure God couldn't destroy their great city in a day as prophecied if they didn't repent.
    • More broadly, the Nephite and Jaredite nations near the end of them. They did pretty deplorable things at the end.


Video Games

  • In Phantasy Star II, the entire human civilization of the Algo system is dependent on Mother Brain. This leads to complacency, and the world is unable to handle it when she starts going bonkers on them.
  • The Kingdom of Zeal in Chrono Trigger.
  • Kirkwall from Dragon Age II, best summed up by Varric;

  Varric: Kirkwall, "The City of Chains". Long ago it was part of the Imperium, slaves coming from far and wide to work the quarries. Now it's a Free City... but I use the word loosely


Western Animation

Real Life

  • On the Arabian Peninsula, there was Iram of the Pillars--the "Atlantis of the Sands". In Islamic legend, Iram of the Pillars (also known as Ubar) was a city of untold riches that was buried under the desert sands as punishment for defying God. Long thought to be a myth, satellite photos and recent archeological excavations have indicated such a city probably existed until around 300 AD.
  • Rungholt was a thriving German merchant city on the North Sea coast until it was destroyed by a storm tide in 1362. Legend attributed its destruction to the rampant greed of its citizens and acts of sacrilege against God.
  • The low-lying Dutch city of Saeftinghe was a prosperous trading center from the 14th to the 16th century until much of its surrounding land was lost to a disasterous flood in 1570. The city itself was abandoned in 1584 when, during the Dutch War for Independence, Dutch soldiers were forced to destroy the dike that protected Saeftinghe resulting in its sinking into the marshy bogs of the Schelde River. In Dutch folklore, Saeftinghe was an ornately rich but avaricious city that ultimately paid for its greed by sinking into the salty marshlands after being cursed by a merman for refusing to set his captured mermaid wife free.
  • Port Royal was an open haven for pirates and smugglers during the 17th century with economy largely based around boozing, whoring, and stealing. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692 that caused it to sink into the sea.
  • Imperial Russia as a whole. Contrary to popular opinion, it fell not because of Commies but because of too much income inequality and injustice. The Commies were merely the most successfull of the many shards of the empire.