|Minas Tirith (Tower of Guard)|
|J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location|
|Type||Fortified city; capital of Gondor from T.A. 1640 onwards|
|Ruler||Kings and Stewards of Gondor|
|Notable locations||the Citadel, the Great Gate, the Pelennor Fields, Rath Dínen, the Tower of Ecthelion, the White Tree|
|Location||Gondor's province of Anórien|
|Lifespan||Built S.A. 3320|
Minas Tirith is a fictional city in J. R. R. Tolkien's Legendarium. It became the heavily fortified capital of the kingdom of Gondor in the second half of the Third Age. It had originally been built to guard the former capital, Osgiliath, from attack from the west, but became the capital when Osgiliath fell into ruin following the Kin-strife (a civil war) and the Great Plague.
In the climax of The Lord of the Rings the city comes under a very large and determined attack and siege by the forces of Mordor, culminating in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The episode brings many of the story's main characters together at Minas Tirith, notably: Denethor (the Lord of the City), his son Faramir, the Witch-king (the field-commander of Mordor's armies), Théoden (king of Gondor's ally Rohan), Éowyn, Éomer, and six members of the former Fellowship of the Ring (namely Gandalf, Pippin Took, Merry Brandybuck, and Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas).
- 1 Names
- 2 Description
- 3 Government
- 4 History
- 5 Concept and creation
- 6 Portrayal in adaptations
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The name Minas Tirith means "the Tower of Guard" (or "of Watch") in Sindarin, one of the Elvish languages constructed by Tolkien. Within the fiction, the city was originally called Minas Anor, "the Tower of the Sun", in connection with Minas Ithil, "the Tower of the Moon". [a] Minas Ithil was later conquered by Sauron's Nazgûl from Mordor and was renamed Minas Morgul, "the Tower of Black Sorcery", while Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, in constant watch of its now defiled twin city.
The city of Minas Tirith covered an entire hill, the Hill of Guard. This hill was a shoulder of Mindolluin, the mountain which towered behind the city and which was the easternmost peak of the White Mountains.
The city was built on seven levels, culminating in the Citadel at the summit. Each level was about 100 ft (30 m) higher than the one below it, and each surrounded by a high stone wall. These were all white, with the exception of the wall of the First Circle (the lowest level), which was black, built of the same material used for Orthanc. This outer wall was also the tallest, longest and strongest of the city's seven walls; it was vulnerable only to earthquakes capable of rending the ground where it stood.
Each wall held a gate, and each gate faced a different direction from the one in the next wall. The city's main street snaked up the eastern hill-face and through each of the gates.
The Citadel, located on the summit of the city, was the city's seventh and highest level, and was protected by the city's seventh and innermost wall. At an elevation 700 feet higher than the plain surrounding the city, it had a commanding view of the lower vales of Anduin.
The White Tower stood in the Citadel, and in the Court of the Fountain in front of the Tower grew the White Tree, the symbol of Gondor. The topmost level also contained lodgings for the Steward of Gondor, the King's House, Merethrond the Hall of Feasts, barracks for the Guard of the Citadel, and other buildings for important officials and guests.
The Guard of the Citadel, which consisted of several companies, was the elite force assigned to protect the highest level of Minas Tirith. Occasionally sections of the Guard could be deployed outside the city, such as in the Battle of the Morannon and the coronation of King Elessar. In the book The Return of the King, Beregond was originally a member of the Guard, and later Pippin Took was appointed to serve with the Guard.
The east of the Citadel was the flat top of the great pier of rock which jutted out from the eastern hill-face of Minas Tirith, in line with the Great Gate, which was 700 ft (213 m) below the Citadel. The entrance to the Citadel, the Seventh Gate of the city, was in this eastern part. The gate was a tunnel which ran up through the rock pier from the Sixth Circle, where the keystone of the tunnel's archway was carved with the head of a crowned King. Guards of the Citadel manned the Seventh Gate.
The White Tower, later also called the Tower of Ecthelion, was the most prominent building in Minas Tirith, and the seat of the rulers of Gondor: the Kings and the Stewards. The phrase "the White Tower" was also used as a metonym for the city and its rulers.
The main doors of the tower faced east, onto the Court of the Fountain. Inside these doors was the Tower Hall, the great throne-room where the Kings (or Stewards) held court. Upper storeys included private apartments for the rulers. The Seeing-stone of Minas Anor rested in a secret chamber at the top of the Tower. A buttery of the Guards of the Citadel was located in the basement of the tower, accessed by a door and stair at the tower's north feet.
In the late Third Age, the White Tower stood in opposition to the Dark Tower of Sauron in Mordor. Tolkien's stories feature a number of other white towers, including the tower of Avallónë, the tower of Gondolin, the tower built for Elwing, and the eponymous towers of the Tower Hills.
The Great Gate was the main gate on the first level of the City of Minas Tirith. It was in the City Wall—or Othram—facing eastward across the Pelennor Fields toward the Anduin.
In front of the Great Gate there was a large paved area called the Gateway. The main roads to Minas Tirith met here: the North-way that became the Great West Road to Rohan; the South Road to the southern provinces of Gondor; and the road to Osgiliath, which lay to the north-east of Minas Tirith.
The Great Gate was very strong, constructed of iron and steel and guarded by stone towers and bastions. The iron doors of the Gate rolled back to open. Passwords were required to enter the Great Gate and each of the six other gates of Minas Tirith.
Not far inside the Great Gate, on the wide paved street called the Lampwrights' Street (Rath Celerdain), was the inn called the Old Guesthouse.
Destruction and renovation
The Great Gate was breached during the War of the Ring. Sauron's forces under the command of the Witch-king of Angmar besieged the City on 13th 'March' T.A. 3019. Before dawn on 15th 'March', the massive battering-ram Grond smashed into the Great Gate three times while the Witch-king spoke words of power. "As if stricken by some blasting spell it burst asunder: there was a flash of searing lightning, and the doors tumbled in riven fragments to the ground." The Witch-king rode through the Gate where Gandalf awaited him, but then the Rohirrim arrived and the Witch-king went to fight them in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where he was slain.
A temporary barricade was erected in place of the Great Gate. After the War, on 1st 'May', Aragorn received the Crown of Gondor in front of the gate and then entered the City.
Other gates and levels
The gates of the Second Level through the Sixth Level were staggered at different points of their walls. The Second Level gate faced south-east, that of the Third north-east, and so forth. This measure was designed to make capture of the already heavily fortified city even more difficult; it also enabled a gentler gradient for the city's main thoroughfare as it snaked up the hillside.
The two shoulders of the city's hill divided the second through to the fifth levels into two arc-shaped sectors, each almost a semicircle. The two sectors on each of these levels were connected by a tunnel through the eastern shoulder, a great pier of rock jutting out from the face of the hill. The city's main street passed through these tunnels.
The western (rear) shoulder of the city's hill was a saddle between the city and Mount Mindolluin. The saddle was occupied by the city's necropolis, called Rath Dínen (the Silent Street), where the tombs of the Kings of Gondor and their Stewards were built. It was reached by a door in the Sixth Level, which was almost always closed and hence called Fen Hollen (the Closed Door). The Sixth Level also contained stables for riders, and the famed Houses of Healing.
The Seventh Gate led to the Citadel. It faced eastward in line with the Great Gate, which was 700 ft (213 m) below. The Seventh Gate could be reached through a sloping tunnel delved into the pier of rock that jutted out of the eastern face of the Hill of Guard. The keystone of the tunnel's archway was carved with the head of a crowned King. Guards of the Citadel manned the Seventh Gate.
The Pelennor, also referred to as the Pelennor Fields, was the district that virtually surrounded Minas Tirith, and formed the city's "townlands": a fertile area of intensive agriculture. It was about 12 miles across, and fairly flat, although there were some hillocks. On its west stood the massive bulwark of Mount Mindolluin, and on its east ran the great river Anduin; "many rills" ran across the Pelennor from the highlands to the river. Minas Tirith stood inside its south-west corner.
The name Pelennor means fenced land in Sindarin. It is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable ("pe LEN nor").
After Minas Ithil had fallen and been renamed Minas Morgul, the Pelennor Fields were enclosed by a great defensive wall: Rammas Echor. The wall had three main gates: north, north-east and south. The north-east gate and accompanying watch-towers were known as the Causeway Forts and were the strongest section of the entire wall. This wall was in disrepair shortly before the War of the Ring, but was rebuilt in time on the orders of the Steward, Denethor II.
During the War of the Ring, the Pelennor Fields were the location of the largest battle of the Third Age, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, when Uruk-hai overran the Rammas Echor by blasting through it and besieged the city. The siege was broken by the arrival of the Rohirrim, though their King Théoden was wounded in the battle. After the War of the Ring, the Rammas Echor was rebuilt by the Dwarves of Erebor, led by Gimli.
Map #40 in Barbara Strachey's Journeys of Frodo is a plan of Minas Tirith. Pages 138&139 in Karen Wynn Fonstad's revised The Atlas of Middle-earth show a different plan of the city. The only maps by Tolkien are sketches.
Other officials included the Warden of the Houses of Healing (in charge of the city's hospital) and the Warden of the Keys. The Warden of the Keys was in charge of the city's security, especially its gates, and the safe-keeping of its treasury, notably the Crown of Gondor. During a period in the War of the Ring, the Warden of the Keys (at that time Húrin the Tall) was placed in full command of the city, owing to the absence of the as-yet uncrowned King (Aragorn) and the convalescence of the Steward (Faramir).
In Tolkien's fiction, the city was originally known as Minas Anor, the "Tower of the Sun". It was founded in S.A. 3320 as a satellite of Osgiliath, the great capital of the nascent kingdom of Gondor, by Anárion. He and his brother Isildur were, jointly, the first rulers of Gondor, on behalf of the High King, their father Elendil, who lived in his other kingdom, Arnor.
Minas Anor was of increasing importance from T.A. 420, when Ostoher rebuilt the city as a summer residence for himself and his successors as the Kings of Gondor.
Capital of Gondor
Minas Anor became the capital of Gondor in T.A. 1640, when King Tarondor moved the King's House from Osgiliath following the Great Plague, which had devastated the population of the much larger and populous old capital.
In T.A. 2002, Minas Anor's sister-city, Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Moon, on the borders of Mordor, was captured by the Nazgûl and renamed Minas Morgul, the Tower of Black Sorcery. Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, meaning "the Tower of Guard", to indicate that since the fall of Minas Ithil, Minas Tirith assumed the role of guarding Gondor against Mordor's forces. For the next thousand years, the two cities were in a stalemate, with neither able to topple the other. With the rebuilding of the Dark Tower and the open return of Sauron, the forces of Mordor gathered their strength to topple Minas Tirith in the upcoming War of the Ring.
The War of the Ring
During the War of the Ring (T.A. 3018–3019), Minas Tirith is said to have had less than half of the population which could have dwelt there at ease. Many of the buildings had fallen into ruin and disrepair, a sad yet fitting picture of Gondor in those latter days.
In the latter part of the Third Age, Minas Tirith and its lands were surrounded by the Rammas Echor, a fortified wall encircling the Pelennor Fields and meeting up with Osgiliath, where the Causeway Forts were built on the west bank of the Anduin and garrisoned.
As told in The Return of the King, the Rammas proved an ineffective defence due to the lack of sufficient Gondorian manpower as well as the overwhelming Orc legions of Mordor. After a defence lasting less than a day, the orcs blasted breaches in the wall and laid siege to the city before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. However, this proved to the detriment of the orcs when the forces of Rohan arrived; for, as noted by King Théoden, they could have held the Rammas against Rohan's attack.
Faramir and his garrison were unable to hold Osgiliath and the Causeway Forts against the overwhelming forces of Mordor, and were driven back towards Minas Tirith with heavy loss. Leading the rearguard against the onslaught, Faramir was wounded and nearly slain, but the cavalry charge of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and Gandalf saved him, and the counter-attack allowed the rest of Gondor's soldiers to reach the safety of the city.
Minas Tirith was now besieged by a vast army from Mordor, including Easterlings and Haradrim, and the land fell under the darkness generated by Mordor. Significant damage was done to the first circle of the city but the enemy was unable to break through its great wall—except in one place. The gate of the city was broken by a combination of the massive battering-ram Grond and the Witch-king's sorcery; but Gandalf halted the Witch-king at the entrance.
The timely arrival of the Rohirrim led by their king Théoden forced the armies of Mordor to face the newcomers instead of assaulting the city. The resulting Battle of the Pelennor Fields took place on 15 'March' 3019 in the fields surrounding the city. Despite heavy losses, Minas Tirith itself was not seriously threatened again, and the battle was won by Gondor and its allies from Rohan and Gondor's fiefs.
Minas Tirith is known to have stood firm well into the Fourth Age. Gimli the Dwarf and some of Durin's folk used mithril, a nigh-indestructible metal, to replace the gates that had been broken in the War of the Ring. The Dwarves also improved the layout of the city's streets, and the Elves planted trees in the city.
"In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and the glory of the years that were gone".
The eagle who brings the news of Sauron's defeat to Minas Tirith refers to the city as the Tower of Anor. The eagle might have been speaking poetically, but as Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age in The Silmarillion says, the city is referred to Minas Anor again after Sauron's overthrow.
Concept and creation
Portrayal in adaptations
Tolkien's description of the physical layout of the city of Minas Tirith itself is followed relatively faithfully in Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, (the city also has a cameo in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf goes there to discern the identity of Bilbo's ring, and it also can be seen in the distance for a few seconds when Faramir takes Frodo, Sam, and Gollum to Osgiliath in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) Jackson's version interprets the top of the rock as flattened and paved, and also the location for the coronation of Aragorn. As with most other landmarks in the film, the city is portrayed as relatively isolated (the Rammas and Gondor's abundant populace are virtually not featured); the absence of these features is mentioned on the original DVD commentary.
Portions of Minas Tirith were constructed as full-scale sets, and the whole city as a very large, highly detailed miniature or "bigature" by Weta Workshop. Weta Digital, a division of Weta Workshop, created a remarkably detailed three-dimensional digital model for CGI shots, along with the whole of its surrounding environment including the Pelennor Fields and Mindolluin (but not the Rammas Echor, which was visually omitted from the films despite being mentioned in the dialogue, where Théoden gave the order to the Rohirrim beginning "After you pass the Wall..." quoted directly from the book). The set was built on the foundations of the disassembled Helm's Deep set.
Canonically, in total the city is about 1,000 ft (305 m) tall—"[above the citadel] the banner of the Stewards floated a thousand feet above the plain" (Vi). The towering bastion of stone, shaped like the keel of a ship, which rose from behind the Great Gates on the first level to the citadel on the seventh, was 700 ft (213 m) tall, and the Tower of Ecthelion was 300 ft (91 m) tall (Vi).
According to the non-canonical New Line book The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare, the height of Minas Tirith to the top of the Tower of Ecthelion, is about 1,000 ft (305 m), and the city is almost 0.75 mi (1,207 m) across. In The Atlas of Middle-earth, predating the New Line films by over a decade, Karen Wynn Fonstad estimates the diameter of the city to be somewhat smaller—3,100 ft (945 m) for the First Circle of the City.
In "The Complete Tolkien Companion" Minas Tirith is described in the same way, but is depicted without the rock jutting from the citadel.
In the novel, the outermost walls of Minas Tirith were black and virtually indestructible, like the similar black surface of Orthanc, as they were built by the Dúnedain before their craft waned in exile. Tolkien says only an earthquake or similar seismic convulsion could cause them significant damage. Jackson depicted all of the walls as white, and many of them were easily destroyed.
In the films, the towers of Minas Tirith are equipped with trebuchets. However, this superior kind of siege engine is not specifically mentioned in the book.
According to the "Making Of" featurettes on the Extended Edition DVDs, the appearance and structure of the city was based upon Mont Saint-Michel, France.
Roger Ebert referred to the city in his review of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as a "spectacular achievement", and showcased the filmmakers' ability to blend digital and real sets into one piece, and comparing it to the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz.
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin, no. 292 (12 December 1966), p. 376; ISBN 0-04-826005-3
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- The Return of the King: "The Siege of Gondor," p. 99-100; "The Pyre of Denethor," passim
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