It may be the most glorious city ever built by mortal hands.
It has rivals, to be sure: Dalaran, with its magnificent spires, floating in the Crystalsong Forest, and Darnassus atop the World Tree Teldrassil. Gilneas, Stormwind, the former Lordaeron can all claim greatness in one way or another. But Silvermoon, fair Silvermoon, might well simply be the most straightforwardly beautiful city on the face of Azeroth.
Silvermoon was carved out of the northern reaches of the Eastern Kingdoms thousands of years ago, following the Sundering of the ancient single continent of Kalimdor during the War of the Ancients. The exiled Quel'dorei (children of noble birth in ancient Darnassian) found themselves changed by the exile from their homeland and the Well of Eternity, growing slighter, paler, and suffering from the pangs of magical withdrawal. Their leader, Dath'remar Sunstrider, came up with a plan not entirely dissimilar from the one Illidan Stormrage hatched when faced with the loss of the original Well during the war. He would make a new one.
A place worthy of a city
First, however, Dath'remar would have to lead his people to a proper location for one. Their original landing spot, in the wilderness we call Tirisfal Glades today, proved unsuitable (some say due to malefic whispers from deep below the surface of the land; others, due to unquiet and disturbing dreams). The self-proclaimed High Elves soon moved further inland. They found a proper place for their new city, on a nexus of ley lines that would prove suitable for Dath'remar's plans. The land, of course, was held by others -- forest Trolls of the Amani tribe, who dominated most of the northern parts of the new continent. They were not using the ley line nexus, but they proved unwilling to allow the Elves to do so, and such began the Troll Wars.
Dath'remar would not be denied. The actual Sunwell itself was created on an island north of where the city of Silvermoon now lies. Using a vial of the waters of the original Well of Eternity and their own arcane power, the High Elves under Dath'remar ignited a font of power unlike anything that had gone before it, a completely artificial magical source, shaped by mortal hands and mortal wills. Unlike the original Well of Eternity, the Sunwell's power was shaped by the High Elves, and unlike the new Well created by Illidan, there was no magical tree and no pact with the dragon aspects subsuming the Sunwell's power. Using the magic of the Sunwell, the High Elves created Silvermoon and fortified it for generations.
Silvermoon weathered the Troll Wars and hosted the first human sorcerers ever trained as allies to the High Elves in their ongoing war with the trolls. The Convocation of Silvermoon, a group of High Elven lords, was tasked with protecting their people from the demons of the Twisting Nether and leading them into the future, while the kings of the Sunstrider line retained a degree of power as "first among equals" and potent mages in their own right. Even after some High Elven wizards had moved to Dalaran or joined the Council of Tirisfal to empower the Guardians that protected Azeroth from demon incursion, the Convocation continued its work. For 4,000 years following the end of the Troll Wars, while humanity spread across much of the continent, the High Elves were content with their great forest of Quel'thalas and their grand capital. Silvermoon became a masterwork combining the ancient art and architecture of their Quel'dorei ancestors (the Highborne cast out by the Night Elves), changed and developed to match the new land they found themselves in and the new source of power they'd made for themselves.
Persisting through the ages
Silvermoon continued on in this way for century after century. Countless attempts by the Amani to raid the city were turned aside. Magical threats were dealt with. Unlike other cities, which often required manual labor to construct, the existence of the Sunwell meant that Silvermoon could change and grow with every new generation (admittedly, for a race as long lived as the High Elves, that wasn't too many) and be fundamentally altered, redesigned, and reworked with pure thought by the magisters of the city.
Even Dalaran, possibly the only place in the Eastern Kingdoms that could boast nearly as many mages, had to make do with magic unaided by such a potent source of power. The potency of the Sunwell was proved during the Second War, when Horde forces allied with Zul'jin's Amani attempted to reach the city only to discover that their enslaved red dragons could not penetrate a ward of force erected by the Sunwell. Dath'remar's descendant Anasterian (possibly Dath'remar's son, although that's not stated for sure) presided over the city's defenses and his people's membership in the Alliance of Lordaeron that defeated Zul'jin and his Horde allies.
Following the Second War, Silvermoon returned to its splendid isolation. The Trolls were even less of a threat than they had been following their defeat during the Troll Wars. The Human who had held a debt from that time, Anduin Lothar, had discharged it, leaving the High Elves free to turn away from the affairs of the shorter-lived race once and for all. Anasterian's rule was poised to enter a golden age, his son Kael'thas off studying magic in Dalaran, his people content and safe, the forests of Quel'thalas protected by Sylvanas Windrunner in her sister Alleria's stead. It would seem nigh impossible for a foe to get past the elfgates, runestones, and the Sunwell's own defenses to menace glorious Silvermoon.
The doom of Silvermoon
Sadly, it was the awe-inspiring power of the Sunwell that doomed Silvermoon. After thousands of years of inviolate solitude, Silvermoon met its end in the hands of a traitor who should have been one of its staunchest defenders. Dar'Khan Drathir, one of the Convocation of Silvermoon, was dissatisfied with his lot as one of the effective rulers of his people. He did not feel respected, despite being one of the most powerful mages of his people in a position of near-total control over the day-to-day lives of every High Elf in Silvermoon. So when the traitor prince Arthas Menethil, fresh from his soul-destroying sojurn in Northrend, reached out to the dissatisfied mageling, he was all too happy to sell out his society, his grand city, and his appointed task in hopes of attaining sole control over the Sunwell rather than sharing it with the rest of the Convocation. Arthas fought his way through the elfgates, harried by Sylvanas and her followers, but the rangers were unaware that they had already lost.
Dar'Khan sabotaged the Sunwell's defenses by attacking unprepared members of the Convocation while Arthas marched his Undead host straight through Silvermoon, razing the center of the city and marching across a path of frost to the Sunwell itself. Dar'Khan had no inkling that Arthas cared nothing for his dreams and ambitions and thus was completely surprised when the death knight used the Sunwell's power to raise the necromancer Kel'thuzad as a lich, destroying the well in a corrupting blast. After killing his cat's paw, Arthas and Kel'thuzad departed the ravaged scene, leaving a Sunwell tainted by necromancy, wholly unsuited to being used by the living. A returning Kael'thas, come home to try and defend it only to find his father dead and his people in shambles, was forced to destroy the well due to lack of a sufficient means to cleanse it.
It cannot be said that Kael didn't try his best. Faced with a people doomed to die a slow death with the Sunwell left active or a slower death without it, he tried to make the best of the bad hand he was dealt, only to face betrayal from his "allies" and find himself forced to accept help from Lady Vashj and her Naga. This led Kael to Outland and Illidan's service. In his wake, the renamed Sin'dorei (children of the blood, so named for the blood of so many of their people shed during Arthas' invasion) waited for the aid he promised to send them. Those few who remained did their best to protect their people, like Lor'themar Theron (Kael'thas' appointed regent) and thus ended up involved in Dar'Khan's second bid to control the Sunwell's power. In the end, Dar'Khan failed, and the Human Anveena Teague was revealed to be all that remained of the untained power of the Sunwell itself, given human form by powerful magics. Yet the Sin'dorei still waited for that promised aid from their prince.
Grand Magister Rommath, one of Kael's servants who had fought alongside the prince when he renamed their people, had followed him from the dungeons of Dalaran to the blasted land of Hellfire, returned to the desperate people of Silvermoon with such aid. Along with the new teachings Kael'thas had received from Illidan that allowed Blood Elves to learn ways of drawing the needed magical power from other entities, and a cadre of magisters trained in such ways, Rommath also brought the chained Naaru known as M'uru.
Captured when Kael'thas and his forces stormed Tempest Keep, the Naaru vessel that had arrived in the Netherstorm, Magister Alastor Bloodsworn led the development of a means to draw the Light from M'uru. He eventually found a way to invest Lady Liadrin with that power, although it was not revealed until later that M'uru actually allowed it to occur and that the Blood Knights who followed Liadrin were not, as they thought, commanding the Light against its will but rather were being converted by it. The creation of the Blood Knights was an important part of the slow recreation of Silvermoon. The city stands today a mere half of its former self, still divided in twain by the scar of Arthas' Undead army and its passage.
In the past few years, Silvermoon has endured much. As it managed to recreate itself, its people found themselves members of the Horde, in part due to the intercession of their former Ranger General Sylvanas. Now Banshee Queen of the Forsaken, she served as intermediary between the Sin'dorei and Thrall, then-Warchief, and thanks to their own efforts in hunting down a now-Undead Dar'Khan and destroying him themselves they earned their place. Then Kael'thas' return as a servant of the Burning Legion shook the people and their idea of who they were, but Liadrin's revelation and M'uru's sacrifice returned the Sunwell to them.
Finally, through the return of Quel'delar and the destruction of Arthas, a measure of peace has been restored to these survivors of the Undead attack. Silvermoon has come full circle, a vision in autumnal grace, again blessed by the light of the sun. The city's future remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, though, and that is simply that Silvermoon remains one of the most beautiful cities Azeroth has ever seen.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.