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It was founded thousands of years ago, before the time of Kahless the Unforgettable, as a fortress on a highly defensible mountain range, with the Great Hall as its only structure. (DS9 - The Left Hand of Destiny novel: ) Once Kahless united the Klingons, it became the planet's seat of power, though it was not until the reign of Emperor Sompek that it became a true city. (KE novel: A Burning House)
The architecture of the First City was originally dictated by the need for defense against aerial attack, leading to pyramidal designs and high spires. Other styles were used in following centuries; however, in the aftermath of the destruction of Praxis, Chancellor Azetbur decreed that all rebuilding in the First city should follow the design of the Great Hall and other structures of Sompek's era. (KE novel: A Burning House)
The city has come under attack several times over the years. In 2368, it was attacked by forces loyal to the House of Duras during the Klingon Civil War. (TNG episodes: "Sins of the Father", "Redemption, Part I") In 2376, it came under attack from forces loyal to Morjod, son of Martok during his attempted coup. (DS9 - The Left Hand of Destiny novel: Book One) Much of the First City - including the Great Hall - was destroyed by the Borg during their 2381 attack on Qo'noS. The destruction of the Great Hall led Martok to claim he was the only chancellor to have the Great Hall destroyed twice. (ST - Destiny novel: Lost Souls)