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|Place from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium|
|Other names||Minas Ithil,
The Dead City,
The Tower of Sorcery
|Description||Fortified city of the Nazgûl,
Former eastern city of Gondor
|Location||Ithilien, on the edge of Mordor|
|Lifespan||Ca. S.A. 3320 – T.A. 3020|
|Lord||Witch-king of Angmar|
|Books||The Two Towers,
The Return of the King
Minas Morgul ([ˈminas ˈmorɡul]. Sindarin: Tower of Black Sorcery), also known by its earlier name of Minas Ithil (Sindarin: Tower of the Rising Moon), or in its full name Minas Ithil in the Morgul Vale, is a fictional fortified city in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.
In Tolkien's fictional elvish language, Sindarin, Minas Ithil means "Tower of the Moon" and Minas Morgul means "Tower of Black Sorcery." The word minas means "tower." The word ithil is a poetic name for the Moon from sil or thil meaning "shine with white or silver light." The word morgul means "black sorcery" or "black arts." The element mor means "black, dark" and gûl means "sorcery, magic" from the stem ngol- (Quenya cognate nólë) meaning "long study, lore, knowledge."
After the destruction of Númenor, the escapees landed in Middle-earth where they founded realms-in-exile. The sons of Elendil (Isildur and Anárion) landed in Gondor, and Isildur was assigned its eastern province of Ithilien. There he built the city of Minas Ithil on the south side of a pleasant valley in the mountains bordering Mordor. (At the same time Anárion built the twin city of Minas Anor further west across the Anduin. The brothers had their thrones side by side in Osgiliath, the first capital of Gondor.) Isildur planted a sapling of the White Tree Nimloth outside his home in Minas Ithil, and one of the seven palantíri was kept in the tower. The city's white marble walls, buildings, and tower were designed to catch and reflect the moonlight, and shone with a soft silver luminescence.
Sauron had survived Númenor's destruction, but his return to Mordor was not known until he attacked the exiles of Númenor. The Dark Lord's forces first struck and captured Minas Ithil in S.A. 3429. Though the White Tree was burned, Isildur and his family managed to escape down the Anduin with a seedling, seeking his father Elendil. The city was later retaken, and Elendil, Isildur, Anárion proceeded north to assault Mordor via the Morannon. In the meantime Isildur's younger sons Aratan and Ciryon were left to garrison Minas Ithil, in order to intercept Sauron if he attempted to escape from Mordor to the west.
When the Last Alliance defeated Sauron in S.A. 3441, Minas Ithil was restored as a city/fortress. Isildur elected not to replant the White Tree at Minas Ithil, instead he planted the seedling of the White Tree at Minas Anor in memory of his brother Anárion, who had been slain during the War. Then Isildur departed to take up the rule of his father's kingdom in Arnor. Minas Ithil and the rest of Gondor was now under the rule of Anárion's son Meneldil.
The Kingdom of Gondor prospered for many years in the early part of the Third Age, however Minas Ithil's importance declined somewhat, as the Kings of Gondor kept their thrones in Osgiliath, and as some of them begun to spend their summers in Minas Anor.
Minas Ithil suffered greatly as a result of the Great Plague in the year T.A. 1636. Its population and garrison were diminished, and the watch on Mordor inevitably became lax. In T.A. 1980 the Nazgûl returned to Mordor, after the army of their leader (the Witch-king of Angmar) had been defeated in the north of Middle-earth by a joint force of Elves, Dúnedain, and men of Gondor under the command of Prince Eärnur.
In preparation for Sauron's return to Mordor, the Ringwraiths laid siege to Minas Ithil in 2000, and they took the city for their dark master two years later. Minas Ithil was occupied by fell creatures and its walls were studded with menacing fortifications. (The palantír kept in the Tower was also captured, and later installed at Barad-dûr.) As a result, the city became a foul, evil place, and it came to be called Minas Morgul, "The Tower of Dark Sorcery" in Sindarin; the valley in which it stood likewise came to be known as Morgul Vale. In response, Minas Anor was likewise renamed Minas Tirith, "The Tower of Guard," to indicate Gondor's eternal vigilance against the threat of the Witch-king.
After Eärnur became King of Gondor in 2043, the Witch-king challenged him to single combat in order to finish a disputed duel between them at the Battle of Fornost years earlier. In 2050 Eärnur accepted a second challenge, rode with a contingent of knights to Minas Morgul and was never heard from again. Eärnur was believed to have died in torment in Minas Morgul. Because he had no heirs and was never declared officially dead, the line of the Stewards of Gondor ruled the kingdom in his stead until the return of an heir of Isildur, beginning with Eärnur's own Steward, Mardil. Terror and war were directed against Gondor from Minas Morgul until Ithilien was deserted.
Sauron returned secretly to Mordor in 2942, and in 2951 he declared himself openly and began to gather power again. Sauron claimed the Ithil-stone, and with it he was later able to ensnare Saruman (the White Wizard) and to deceive Denethor (the last ruling Steward of Gondor), who each had one of the other palantíri.
At the time of the War of the Ring, the Witch-king of Angmar and most of the Nazgûl dwelt in Minas Morgul; two or three other Nazgûl occupied Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. Numerous Orcs, including Gorbag, were also stationed in Minas Morgul and the Silent Watchers were ever-vigilant.
On 20th 'June' 3018, the Witch-king rode forth to lead an assault on Osgiliath, and then he rode north with the other Nazgûl in search of the Hobbit who bore the One Ring.
City of the Nazgûl
Under the Ringwraiths Minas Ithil was perverted into a horribly corrupt version of its former beauty. Its gate was described to be a cavernous mouth. The topmost course of the tower revolved slowly, like a great leering head, and the marble walls of Minas Morgul shone not with reflected moonlight, but with a pale, frightening light of its own which Tolkien described as "a corpse-light" that "illuminated nothing". Where Minas Ithil was, in its day, likely a bustling, noisy city like Minas Tirith, Minas Morgul was as silent as the grave. The walls and tower of Minas Morgul had many windows, but they were all unlit and revealed nothing of the horrors within. The dark magic that permeated Morgul Vale was so great that it could drive men mad if they came too near the city. A white stone bridge ran across Morgul Vale to the city's gate on its northern wall, and at each end of the bridge were hideous statues of twisted men and animals. On either side of the Vale were fields of blighted flowers which gave off a rotten scent.
When Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee and Gollum passed by the city on their way to Cirith Ungol, the One Ring almost succeeded in compelling Frodo to run right to the city gates. As they climbed the stairs of Cirith Ungol soon afterward, Frodo, Sam and Gollum watched as a red flash erupted from Barad-dûr to signal the start of the assault on Minas Tirith. Immediately afterwards a similar flash of intense blue lightning was emitted from the tower of Minas Morgul as its garrison, led by the Witch-king of Angmar, marched out to lay siege to Minas Tirith.
The War of the Ring and the Fourth Age
During the War of the Ring, Minas Morgul continued to act as the base of operations for the Witch-king and was a major garrison and forward base for Sauron's forces. The army of orcs and trolls that attacked Osgiliath and besieged Minas Tirith came from Minas Morgul.
It seems that at some point the orcs of Minas Morgul became isolated from those of the greater force of Mordor, utilizing not the Eye of Sauron as an emblem, but a skeletal crescent moon. It is possible that there was a difference even in breeds of orc (as suggested in Peter Jackson's adaptation), but their leaders (Gorbag) shared time with other orcs from Mordor proper. The strain between them and the standard "Mordor orcs" at Cirith Ungol was critical in the quest to destroy the Ring of Power.
As the Army of the West made their way past Minas Morgul to their last stand at the Morannon, they destroyed the bridge leading to the Morgul Vale and set its fields aflame. Aragorn's forces met no opposition from the Tower as the city's entire garrison had been killed at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth had proposed to attack Mordor via Minas Morgul but others feared that the evil in the valley would drive the men of Gondor mad. Gandalf also reasoned that the Ring-bearer would go through Morgul to reach Mount Doom, thus it was preferable not to draw attention to Morgul by attacking it.
After the War of the Ring, when Aragorn was crowned as King Elessar, he made Faramir the Prince of Ithilien. Faramir made his abode in the Emyn Arnen, southeast of Minas Tirith, and ruled from there with his new bride, Éowyn. At his coronation, King Elessar also decreed that Minas Ithil in the Morgul Vale be utterly destroyed and cleansed, and no man would be allowed to live there for seven years, and maybe more, depending on the evil influence of the haunted city. It has not been made known whether Minas Ithil and Osgiliath were ever rebuilt, as the major population of Ithilien became based around Emyn Arnen.
Portrayal in adaptations
The city is featured in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, most prominently in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Nazgûl can be seen exiting from Minas Morgul as they ride towards the Shire to pursue the One Ring. The Staircase and Tower of Cirith Ungol, and Shelob's Lair were all designed by John Howe, with the Morgul road using forced perspective into a bluescreened miniature. Unlike Minas Tirith, official artwork of Minas Morgul is extremely rare and inconsistent, which gave Howe considerable liberty in designing the city for the film. Howe's design of Minas Morgul was inspired from the experience of having wisdom teeth pulled out: in the same way, the Orcs have put their twisted designs on to a former Gondorian city. Cirith Ungol was based on Tolkien's design, but when Richard Taylor felt it was "boring", it was redesigned with more tipping angles. The interior set, like Minas Tirith, was built as a few multiple levels that numerous camera takes would suggest composed a larger structure. The miniature was sprayed with phosphorescent paint and lit from below with black lights to create its unearthly glow.
- "Minas Ithil". Encyclopedia of Arda. Mark Fisher. 23 October 2004. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
- "Minas Morgul". Encyclopedia of Arda. Mark Fisher. 8 February 2004. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
- Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (2005). The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion. Houghton Mifflin. p. 233. ISBN 0-618-64267-6.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "Appendix", ISBN 0-395-25730-1
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Book IV Ch. 8, The Stairs of Cirith Ungol: "Two liveries Sam noticed, one marked by the Red Eye, the other by a Moon disfigured with a ghastly face of death", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
- Big-atures (Special Extended Edition documentary) (DVD). New Line Cinema. 2004.
- Russell, Gary (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Art of the Return of the King. Harpercollins. ISBN 0-00-713565-3.
- Designing and Building Middle-earth (Special Extended Edition documentary) (DVD). New Line Cinema. 2004.