The Seven Structural
Wonders of Middle-earth
VII: The Argonath
IV: Minas Anor
Many are the great structures in Middle-earth,
some tall and majestic,
some dark and monstrous, some fair and captivating. Built by Elves,
Dwarves, Men and even Orcs, seven truly stand out not only as the great
structures of their age, kingdom and kind but were wondrous;
making those who beheld them, whether friend or foe or critic, consider
how they were built, who was so inspired to build them, the incredible
but wondrous labours to build them, who was so heartless as to destroy
them, and, for most, how could they have withstood the siege of time,
the malice of evil and corruption of change ? Here are the reasons why
the author has chosen these as
the Seven Structural Wonders of Middle-earth:
Wonder VII: Pillars of the Argonath
The Pillars of the Argonath are described as statues, yet these are
not just any stone carving but colossal and lofty grey stone statues
carved in the likeness of Isildur and Anarion, the sons of Elendil, on
the two sides of the river Anduin near the central part of
These statues are one of the
very, very few Third Age structures of magnificence. They were not
built by Isildur or Anarion or Elendil but by the regent
Minalcar, according to the ‘Appendix’ [Lord
of the Rings]. It
was built after Gondor prevailed over the Haradrim in TA 1248
as a token of Gondor’s supremacy not only in its military might but in
its architectural skills. But this statement in the Appendix ‘Of the
Rings of Power and the Third
Age' (ROPTA)“… but other works
marvelous and strong they
[Númenóreans] built in
their days of their power at the
Argonath and at Aglarond…” casts doubt whether it means the
the original Númenóreans or the power of the
Númenóreans settled in Gondor.
These monumental statues stand on
the sides of the great river Anduin, just before the entry of the great
river into the ravines of the Emyn Muil, guarding the way into Gondor.
They were carved upon a great pedestal and looked so regal and
intimidating that they were described as “threatening”, ”towers” and
Giants”. The heads were made such that they looked
to be “frowning” or “threatening” to travelers entering Gondor by
the river. The statues are described in the Lord of the Rings as: "…the
great pillars rose like towers to meet him [Frodo].Giants they seemed
to him, vast grey figures, silent but threatening. Then he saw that
they were indeed shaped and fashioned: the craft and power of old had
wrought upon them. And still they preserved through the suns and rains
of forgotten years the mighty likeness in which they had been hewn.
Upon great pedestals founded in the deep waters stood two kings of
stone: stilled with browed eyes and crannied brows they frowned upon
the north. The left hand of each was raised palm outwards in a gesture
of warning; in each right hand there was an axe; upon each head there
was a crumbling helm and crown. Great power and majesty they still
wore, the silent wardens of a long-gone kingdom.” And the
of the statues is described as ”…sheer
rose the dreadful cliffs to
unguessed heights on either side. Far off was the dim sky. The black
waters roared and echoed”.
The former description gives an
exact and formal description of these pillars cum statues and the
latter gives a description of the intimidating surroundings. The words
“sheer rose the dreadful cliffs to
unguessed heights” tells us that the statues' heights were
indeed great and we must assume that is indeed not
folly to think their heights as around 100m (333 ft). Then it is indeed
a wonder, for the process of construction itself is a marvel. For not
only is the Anduin one of the strongest rivers in Middle-earth,
the locality is very close to the rapids of Sarn Gebir, so the
transportation of the materials would have been very difficult. The
construction is also opposed on the two flanks: one the cliff and the
other, the river itself. It would have been a marvel to see the
construction overcoming the innumerable difficulties for such a task.
Also, considering that the hills and the infamous
‘brown lands’ surround it, it’s to be thought about how the materials
and food for the construction worker were provided. So it would have
taken them around three to eight years to build these glorious statues
with five as
the likely figure. Thus it was probably finished in TA 1255-1262.
But its purpose is very obvious, for it is surrounded by
the Entwash and Nindalf marshes and on its north-east and west sides
are nothing but the waste and desolate lands or the “brown-lands” plus
the rapids, Sarn Gebir, so it proves of little or no
defensive purpose other than as intimidation. But
impressive as they are, they were built for nothing but to display the
might and majesty of Gondor to both ally and enemy.
The survival of this wonder is
nothing short of a miracle, much less a wonder. Since, the survival of
any statue depends upon its height and foundation, it’s a wonder that
didn’t succumb to corrosion and gravity. With the river eating away the
banks, the foundation couldn’t have been strong. As mentioned, rains
and storms and tremors would have been the death of most statues
destroying their beauty and eroding their foundations. We are also to
remember that almost no renovation work must have been done on these
The thought that they could have survived for almost two-thousand years
is simply stunning. It might have been something to do with the
material that they were built with; but they are nothing less than
awe-inspiring, kingly and of course wondrous. In the words of Samwise
the Brave: “What a place!”
The Wonder in a nutshell:
Official Name: The Pillars of
Númenóreans of Gondor (Men)
Built in (or around): TA
Region: Far South-east of
Rhovanion, on the banks of Anduin, near Emyn Muil.
Destroyed in: N/A
Wonder VI: Isengard
Isengard is one of the classical Númenórean constructions
built by none other than Anarion and Isildur at the end of the Second
Age. It is also an example of the classical wonders of Middle-earth,
and of all the wonders of Middle-earth, only Minas Anor (Tirith) has
been fully treated in the Lord
of the Rings (LOTR). It’s a marvel in
its construction, a wonder in its materials and a sight to behold.
Isengard is a ring of rocks with a single gate at the south end, built
between the two mountains at the southern end of the Misty Mountains.
These rocks do not look like any construction of Men but the product of
time on the upheaval of the hills.
Isengard also consists of the tower, Orthanc, that stands at the center
of the rocks to which most of its wondrous attributes are more often
associated. Isengard is a fortress/tower built for the defense of the
Númenórean province of Calenardhon (later the kingdom of
Rohan) from the incursions from the north or the southwest, mostly
against the wild men of the dales.
Isengard is described as : “…a great
ring-wall of stone, like towering
cliffs, stood out from the shelter of the mountain-side, from which it
ran and then returned again... one who passed in and came at length out
of the echoing tunnel, beheld a plain, a great circle, somewhat
hollowed like a vast shallow bowl: a mile it measured from rim to rim.
Once it had been green and filled with avenues, and groves of fruitful
trees, watered by streams that flowed from the mountains to a lake. But
no green thing grew there in the latter days of Saruman. The roads were
paved with stone-flags dark and hard; and beside their borders instead
of trees there marched long lines of pillars, some of marble, some of
copper and of iron, joined by heavy chains.”
The above anecdote gives us a picture of Isengard. We can estimate the
height of the rocks to about 10m (33.33 ft) and their thickness to be
about 100m (333 ft). The circumference of the inner circle can be
clearly made out as 3.1415
The river Angren (or Isen) began at Methedras behind Isengard, which
also formed its northern wall. The other three sides were guarded by a
large wall, known as the Ring of Isengard, which was only breached by
the inflow of the river Angren at the north-east through a portcullis,
and the gate of Isengard at the south, at both shores of the river.
Isengard was a green and pleasant place, with many large trees and
grass fields, fed by the Isen (Angren).
Orthanc is a mini-wonder in itself. Orthanc was built out of a single
piece of stone by an unknown process and then hardened. No known weapon
could harm it. Orthanc rose up five-hundred feet above the plain of
and ended in four sharp peaks. Its only entrance was at the top of a
high stair, and above that was a small window. To imagine a tower some
five-hundred feet tall, made of some indestructible material that could
withstand the pounding of the Ents is just amazing. This also stood
not like a construction of mere men but the creation of the “earth in
the ancient torment of the hills.”
Orthanc’s description is: “...to the
centre all the roads ran between
their chains. There stood a tower of marvelous shape. It was fashioned
by the builders of old, who smoothed the Ring of Isengard, and yet it
seemed a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones
of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills. A peak and isle of
rock it was, black and gleaming hard: four mighty piers of many-sided
stone were welded into one, but near the summit they opened into gaping
horns, their pinnacles sharp as the points of spears, keen-edged as
knives. Between them was a narrow space, and there upon a floor of
polished stone, written with strange signs, a man might stand
five-hundred feet above the plain.”
This gives us a remarkably clear picture of the bone-like tower unlike
many other wonders. Orthanc standing at the ring’s center was black and
looked smooth and four mighty piers that opened up in the summit as
pinnacles, looking more like fangs, and between them was a terrace
on which symbols were carved and there the approximate height is
150m (500 ft).
After the death of Isildur, the warden of the Steward who kept the key
maintained Isengard. But later this too was abandoned; it was
locked up and the key taken to Minas Tirith. But later, after the
double invasion of Gondor, the keys were given to the White Council
Wizard Saruman in TA c.2765 who inhabited it till the end of the War of
the Ring. Near the end of the Third Age, he used it for his own as his
evil fortress to house his armies of Dunlendings, Orcs and Uruk-hai. In
the subsequent War of the Ring, when Isengard was emptied to attack
Helm’s Deep, the Ents along with two of the Periannath attacked
Isengard. They completely destroyed the ring of rocks but when they
moved on to find Saruman in the tower, they found that not even their
might could hurt the stone. Then Saruman was cast out and King
Aragorn returned and gave the keys to its new warden, Fangorn of the
One can only wonder at how this magnificent creation was constructed.
Plainly the rock itself is an incredible thing like the walls of Minas
Tirith. To imagine that they were made of a single piece is just
would be interesting for anyone to find out how it was prepared. It
must have been a very formidable fortress and perhaps that why it
survived for more than three-thousand years. Also it’s acutely fitting
that Orthanc’s name can be translated as “Cunning Mind” in
Rohirric and in Sindarin as “Mount Fang”.
The Wonder in a nutshell:
Official Name: Angrenost
Built by: Gondorian
Built in (or around): SA c.3320
Anarion and/or Isildur (Gondor)
Region: At the southernmost end
of the Misty Mountains.
Destroyed in: The Ring of
Isengard was destroyed by the Ents in TA 3019
but the tower Orthanc still stood at the end of the Third Age.
Wonder V: Barad-dûr
Dark as the night, terrible as the storm, fierce as the flame and
impregnable as the earth stood one of the Dark Lord’s greatest
creations, the Barad-dûr.
Of all the great things created by the Lord of the Rings, Sauron,
servant of Morgoth, Barad-dûr was the greatest, perhaps greater
the One Ring but built with the immeasurable labour of the Orcs.
Its construction was started in TA c.1000 and finished TA c.1600 as the
defence of Sauron against the forces of Númenór. It took
many years, for its construction and its foundation were built with the
power of the One Ring making its fate bound with the Ring. It has been
called many times as the tallest and the greatest tower in
Middle-earth; it was the greatest fortress ever built since the fall of
Angband, and much of Sauron's personal power went into it.
After the Battle of Dagorlad, Barad-dûr was besieged for seven
years during which a rock fall killed Anarion, Son of Elendil. The
sorties from Barad-dûr caused much loss to the Last Alliance for
the Barad-dûr was stronger than they could comprehend. But when
Sauron was vanquished, albeit for a time, the Barad-dûr was
leveled to the ground (~the heartless fiends~) but its foundation on
the mountain could not be shattered for it was made with the power of
the Ring, as aforementioned.
Then after the return of Sauron to Mordor, the re-building of the
Barad-dûr commenced in 2951 and was fully rebuilt in some two or
three decades. The Dark Tower soon became a pseudonym for the power of
But then during the War of
the Ring, the Halfling by the name of Frodo Baggins and his servant
Samwise Gamgee journeyed alone and in great secrecy despite Sauron's
power and bought the One Ring to Orodruin and wrought there the One
Ring’s destruction and the downfall of Sauron, his empire and allies,
his Nazgûl and unfortunately the Barad-dûr itself.
interesting reference in the LOTR says that Isengard was fortified by
Saruman to rival that of Barad-dûr but: “"...
so what he made was naught, only a
little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of that vast
fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dur"”
for the dark tower of Barad-dûr was "wall upon wall,
battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of
iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant...Barad-dûr, Fortress of
Sauron". The same reference, as to Isengard, applied for Minas
With the height of Minas Tirith along with the White Tower given as
300m (1000 ft) and taken the fact that Barad-dûr, stands on the
edge of a mountain, we can safely estimate the height as between
750m-1500m (2500 ft-5000 ft) with 1000m (3333 ft) being the likely
Yet the dark tower showed remarkable similarities to Orthanc. Both
were towers of great might and of near indestructible material, both
were black and were situated at the end of a mountain range, both
served as the head-quarters of an evil Maia during the War of the Ring
and both had sharp pinnacles and had rocky surroundings. If a tower
besieged by the second greatest army ever assembled in Middle-earth
could stand for seven years cut off from the rest of the world and
defended itself only with the power of Sauron and the forces in itself,
If this is so, then it is indeed wondrous, but pitifully few references
have been given for this monstrous construction. Another description of
it is: “…rising black, blacker and
darker than the vast shades amid
which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower
of Barad-dûr...” .The words “topmost” hint that there are
multiple towers, one on top of the other. It is mostly described as
being dark and portentous and surrounded by shadow. So we can safely
say that this structure along with its immediate surrounding can hold
some 100,000 orcs.
Another incredible feature of this already wondrous tower is nothing
less than the Eye of Sauron: The Eye as described in LOTR as:“…Was
rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful
and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window
into nothing”. It was like a giant cat- like eye made out of
fire with a black pupil. It could see as far as Isengard or perhaps
Rivendell. That’s an amazing range of vision of almost 750-1000 miles.
Apparently it can see through walls and other sorts of objects as
mentioned in LOTR. It served the purpose of a watcher for Sauron. The
Eye of Sauron soon became the symbol of Sauron himself, so the servants
Sauron referred him not by name but saying the “Red Eye’ or the
‘Lidless eye’ or simply the ‘Eye’ would instill fear in all save the
most courageous of his foes.
An interesting theory must be considered. There is
no mention of the Eye of Sauron, not in the Silmarillion (SIL) nor in
ROPTA or in the Appendix before TA 2002. What is special about this
It was the year the Nazgul took Minas Ithil and the Palantir in it.
Then when Sauron returned to Mordor in TA 2492; then only the Eye of
Sauron is mentioned. The Eye has curiously the same powers as that of
the Palantir. It makes one wonder whether the eye of Sauron was
some enchantment put on the Palantir of Ithil such that it served as a
‘third eye’ to Sauron, suspended in flames between the pinnacles of
Barad-dûr, which he could access whenever he wished but was not,
in any sense, his real eye. Surely it’s a feasible theory that one must
Whatever the Eye may be, the Barad-dûr is a truly wondrous
structure if not miraculous. One can only imagine the horrific pains
the Orcs must have went through to build such a gargantuan tower, in a
land where building materials were scarce as water and food. As Isildur
said of the One Ring, “…of all the
works of Sauron, the only
fair”. I say of Barad-dûr that, “…of all the works
Sauron, the only majestic”. As one wise old man said “…. the dark
lord did terrible things. Terrible yes, but great”. [from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's
The Wonder in a nutshell:
Official Name: Barad-dûr
Built by: Orcs of Sauron
Built in (or around): SA c.1600
and rebuilt around c.2971
Region: In the land of Mordor.
Destroyed in: The Dark Tower
was first partially destroyed in SA 3441 and later rebuilt and
completely destroyed in TA 3019.
Wonder IV: Minas Anor
Minas Anor, more commonly known as Minas Tirith, is one of the most
astounding pieces of architecture built by Men if not the greatest
work of architecture by Men. Its name is translated as the “Tower of
the Setting Sun” and for the latter, it is translated as the “Tower of
the Guard”, but the word Citadel would have better suited it than
tower. It was built by the exiled Numenoreans at the very edge of
the White Mountains, at the very foot of Mount Mindolluin, in the vale
of the Anduin in the year SA 3320 by Anarion. It must have taken great
innovation, engineering, skill and determined builders
with excellent tools to build such an ambitious structure. It would
have been very interesting to meet to the impresario of the whole
describe the city, the city was mostly built with white material save
the walls which are black and impregnable. The city stands on the edge
of the mountain, Mindolluin. The city is comprised of seven levels or
circles, each with gates, which are not aligned to each other,
each level is smaller than the previous level or circle and each on top
of the other. They gain support from the west shelf of Mindolluin as
each level passes through it.
The outermost wall, called the main wall, is one of the most amazing
features of the citadel. Stretching in a wide arc, it covered the front
of the city providing the main defence of the city. The main gate
of the city faced east to Minas Ithil and Mordor. Consider this
enlightening description of Minas Tirith by the grandmaster: “… for the
main wall of the city was of great height and marvelous thickness,
built before the power and craft of Númenor waned in exile, and
its outward face was like to the tower of Orthanc, hard and dark and
smooth, unconquerable by steel or fire". So this gives up the
Numoreans conjured up some technique to prepare a great black piece of
rock that was black, smooth and almost invulnerable.
Another description says that during the War of the
Ring, the city had “…less than half
the number of men who could have
dwelt there at ease”. So we can estimate the maximum population
can be accommodated in the city over long periods of time would be some
Each of the subsequent levels was some one-hundred feet above the
the first wall was the Great Gate made of Iron facing east. The next
gate in the second wall was turned forty-five degrees south, the third
degrees north from the first and so on. After the sixth gate up to the
Citadel there was a long lamp-lit slope to the seventh gate carved in
the rock of the Mountain. Finally it reached the High Court with
Merethond and the Place of the Fountain, where the White Tree once
flowered and from where the great river Anduin could be seen, before
the feet of the White Tower from whose pinnacle the white banner of the
Stewards floated a thousand feet above the plains. In the White
Tower was one of the Palantiri, placed in a hidden chamber just below
the roof. At the summit of the fifth wall was the shoulder of the hill
connecting it to the mountain mass of Mindolluin. The shoulder, hedged
with huge ramparts and totally walled, held the Hallows and here stood
the tombs of the ancient Kings and Stewards in Rath Dìnen. The
only entrance was from the guarded gate of Fen Hollin at the sixth
leading through a walled pathway down. Outside the Great Gate and the
first wall were the Pelennor Fields which again was surrounded by
Echor. From the Great Gate in Minas Tirith ran the Great West Road
through Forannon in Rammas Echor and the South Road to Pelargir. At the
sixth level were also the Houses of Healing and stables, for horses
were not permitted to the court.
Another feature of this wondrous structure was the White Tower. It was
built in TA 1900 by King Calimehtar in order to house the sacred
palantír (one of the seeing-stones). In 2698, the Tower was
renovated by Ecthelion I after whom it was subsequently named as the
Tower of Ecthelion.
The Tower of Ecthelion of Minas Tirith, also known as the White Tower
Gondor, was 90m (300 feet) tall. The proud white standard of the
Stewards of Gondor flew from its pinnacle. The Tower stood in the
center of the Citadel on the seventh level of the city. In front of the
Tower was the Place of the Fountain where the White Tree of Gondor
grew. In the Tower Hall was the throne of the King of Gondor upon a
dais, and at the foot the dais on the lowest step was a black chair
where the Steward of Gondor sat. There was a chamber high in the Tower
and above it in the summit there was a secret room where the
palantír of Minas Anor called the Anor-stone was kept.
This fair but by no means satisfactory description was given in LOTR:
“…for the Tower of Ecthelion,
standing high within the topmost wall,
shone out against the sky, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver,
tall and fair and shapely, and its pinnacle glittered as if it were
wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the
battlements in the morning breeze, and high and far he [Pippin] heard a
clear ringing as of silver trumpets.” .This gives a clear-cut
description of the Tower to the first-time observer.
So with the seven levels of the city providing some 700 feet height to
citadel and the White Tower perhaps 300 additional feet, it would not
exaggeration to say that a human in the secret chamber of the Palantir
would be about 1,000 feet about the battlefield of Pelennor. The
of the main circle can be estimated as 90-100 m (300-333.33 ft).
In all the seven levels of the city, there might be 3,000 houses
and around 100 municipal buildings. One can only imagine the mass of
an enormous construction; since its volume is a mystery, no accurate
weight can be deducted.
If Minas Anor is not the greatest wonder in all of Middle-earth, then
it surely is the one most steeped in history. For it was never
destroyed, save the main gate, but it too was soon replaced by gates of
mithril. For it was besieged just once in all the bloody history of
Gondor but never was it taken unlike poor Minas Ithil or Osgiliath. For
all its splendour and glory, it was not the capital city of Gondor till
TA 1640, till which time the holder of the coveted position was
Osgiliath, but this was largely due to fact that Osgiliath fell into
ruins during the Kin-strife and its renovation work was never
for it had not the defence of the river to safeguard it from the hordes
of the east. The twentieth-ninth King of Gondor, Calimehtar, build the
White Tower in Minas Anor to house the Palantiri.
Then the White Tower was rebuilt by Ecthelion I. When its twin tower,
Minas Ithil, fell again to the forces of Mordor, it was renamed by
Earnur as Minas Tirith. For years the Twin Towers contested with each
other with most of the time Osgiliath as the playing ground. Minas
Tirith, the site of the greatest siege of the
Third Age also witnessed in its outlying Pelennor Fields the
scene of the
greatest battle of the Third Age, a battle which partially decided the
fate of the free peoples of Middle-earth. The battle was fought between
around 100,000 Orcs, trolls, swarthy men and wargs against the
of Gondor along with the approximately 6,000 Riders of Rohan and about
10,000 reinforcements from Lebinnin. [These numbers are open
to debate]. Here witnessed the death of Lord of the Nazgul.
It was also the site of the Coronation of Aragorn Telcontar and
his marriage to the Elf-maiden Arwen and the ruling place of their son,
Eldarion. Here also came four of the great Halflings and indeed, two of
them died here and their bodies were laid beside the great King
(Aragorn, Son of Arathorn).
But its importance in history should not be
judged by these events alone nor should any underestimate the
importance of this mighty citadel. It is for us to remember Boromir’s
proud words in the Council of Elrond, calling Gondor the "bulwark of the West". The son of
Denethor is not
exaggerating albeit Gondor is not the only Kingdom keeping the
forces of Darkness at bay.
Minas Anor fought not only the Orcs and Trolls of Mordor but the
Haradrim and the swarthy Men from Khand. For the conflict between them
and Gondor did not just begin in theWar of the Ring but from the year
490 and it still continues on into the Fourth Age. Otherwise these Men
would have swept up to Rhovanion and taken all of Rhovanion, save
Mirkwood and the regions held by Elves and in the west of the Misty
Mountains they would have taken up all the lands till the Baranduin.
Not only this, it would have sped up the return of Sauron and the Ring
would have been found by Sauron and all of Middle-earth would have been
captured and plunged into eternal darkness. Except for two things, the
river Anduin and the Citadel of Minas Tirith.
Minas Tirith served more as safe redoubt for the armies of Gondor and
helped to maintain most of the crossings of the river in the southern
part of the world. It was also ideally positioned to repel any attack
from the east and ward off any incursions from the south. All the more
the free peoples of the west must be thankful that Minas Tirith is
there to guard the crossings of the river and keep their enemies at bay.
After the passing of Master Elrond and the
beginning of the Fourth Age it is alleged that Minas Tirith was again
called Minas Anor as suggested by the poetic Eagle bringing the news of
Sauron’s defeat to Faramir and that it was continued to be called so
throughout the reign of Eldarion, son of Aragorn.
The Wonder in a nutshell:
Official Name: Minas Anor
Built by: Numenoreans in Exile
Built in (or around): SA c.3320
Region: Gondor, between Anduin
Destroyed in: N/A but damaged
in 3019 in the siege of Gondor.
Wonder III : Menegroth
Many tales are sung by people of Menegroth, Menegroth the fair and
Menegroth the great, Menegroth the thousand caves they call it. Many
tales are sung by people of Menegroth, Menegroth the fair and Menegroth
the great, Menegroth the thousand caves they call it. It is undoubtedly
the greatest construction of the Sindar and it is said to be: "…the
fairest dwelling of any king that has ever been east of the Sea."
it must be been a beautiful and wondrous monument indeed, for there are
others that would vie for that claim and would not be wholly ousted
from the coveted title. Not only for its beauty is Menegroth, the
Mighty, legendary: many a great and historic people of the First Age
had walked its many-pillared halls and some of them even lived there.
Menegroth is the only wonder to be built
before the Rising of the Moon, so it is all the more glorious for while
it prospered it had no stain of shadow for Morgoth, the Dark Lord, was
held captive in Valinor and Sauron and the other foul Maiar were all in
hiding. Menegroth was built by the leader of the Teleri, the tallest of
all elves, the only one of the Sindar to have seen the Two Trees in
their full bloom and among the greatest elves to have walked Arda, King
Thingol Greymantle of Doriath.
After Thingol woke from his trance in Nan Elmoth, Melian the Maia and
went to the forest of Doriath and decided against returning to Valinor.
There Melian counseled him to make a great stronghold, fearing the
return of evil and to serve as a redoubt for the Elves in case of
danger. During this time King Thingol entered into the friendship of
the Dwarves and there was a great traffic between the Elves and Dwarves
for jewels, steel and tools.
Thus Menegroth is also renowned for being the greatest work of the
combined efforts of Dwarves and Elves, though the Nauglamir with the
Silmaril of Beren would contest that claim. It was built many years
before the Rising of the Sun. Of its construction, this is said in the
Silmarillion: "… there wrought out the visions of Melian,
images of the
wonder and beauty of Valinor beyond the Sea. The pillars of Menegroth
were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough,
and leaf and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang
there as in the gardens of Lorien; and there were fountains of silver,
and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven
figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon
the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers.
And as the years passed Melian and her maidens filled the halls with
woven hangings wherein could be read the deeds of the Valar, and many
things that had befallen in Arda since its beginning, and shadows of
things that were yet to be."
One can only imagine the majesty and splendor of Menegroth the
hallowed. Built with intricate carvings and exquisite surroundings and
great amenities and picturesque environment. It must have been like
heaven on Earth or better, Valinor in Middle-earth, free from all evil
and defilement, bestowing the people in it with content and pleasure.
To describe its immediate environment, it was built: "…where the
Esgalduin flowed down, and parted Neldoreth from Region, there rose in
the midst of the forest a rocky hill, and the river ran at its feet.
There they made the gates of the hall of Thingol, and they built a
bridge of stone over the river, by which alone the gates could be
entered. Beyond the gates wide passages ran down to high halls and
chambers far below that were hewn into the living stone, so many and so
great that, that dwelling was named Menegroth, the Thousand Caves."
Thus Menegorth was the capital of Doriath and the base for the rule of
Thingol in Beleriand. Also Melian wove about an enchantment that served
as a barrier to the outside world, such that none could enter it
without the will of Thingol save those greater than Melian or those
driven by a great doom. This was called the Girdle of Melian and it
lasted as long as Melian was in Doriath and those caught in it were
trapped in the bewildering mazes of Doriath. Thus Menegroth was a
safe haven for the Elves, more than Gondolin in many ways. During the
first battle of Beleriand, it served as a rallying point for the armies
of the Sindar. But after the return of the Noldor, its military
significance was reduced.
And not only for
these should Menegroth be renowned. As aforementioned, many a great elf
and man walked its halls. Indeed Thingol Greymantle of Doriath and the
strongest and tallest of all the elves was its king and the only one of
the Sindar to have seen the light of the Two Trees, was its King.
Melian the Maia, teacher of the nightingales, was its queen. More
importantly, Luthien Tinuviel was born here and she also grew up here
and, in the field near Menegroth, Beren son of Barahir came upon
Galadriel, daugther of Finarfin, also lived there for a space and maybe
it was here that she met Celeborn and married him. This alone is enough
for the starting of a chain of pilgrims to Menegroth had it survived.
not only this, since many a great Man also saw the majesty of
and foremost Beren, son of Barahir. He it was that, with the aid of
Luthien and Huan the Hound and Finrod Felagund, wrested one of the
Silmarils for his very own fortress and later returned from the dead to
be with Tinuviel once again.
Next was Turin son of Turambar. Indeed here it was that he grew up, to
escape the evils in Dor-lomin but he departed, fearing persecution by
Thingol when suspicions of murdering one of the court elves fell upon
him. Though the charge was dropped and pardon was sought, Turambar
denied it and in his pride never returned to Menegroth. Then Hurin, son
of Hador and father of Turin came. But he came after long-imprisonment
with Morgoth and with him the Nauglamir, which indirectly caused the
Ruin of Doriath.
When the Nauglamir was given to Thingol, in the pride of his heart, he
desired it to be set with the Silmaril of Feanor and thus he
commissioned the dwarves to do so. When the work was competed in the
chamber, in which Thingol was alone among the dwarves, the beauty and
wonder of their work affected all and the dwarves demanded it of
Thingol, but in his rashness he bade them go with haughty words. This
incensed them and they slew him and his last sight was of the
Silmaril. The dwarves fled Menegorth but were mostly slain. After this
Melian left Menegroth for Valinor, and then the dwarves invaded
Menegroth and won the Silamril which they carried off but only to be
destroyed at the ford of Aros. The Silmaril was taken up by Luthien who
passed it down to Dior, who later became the second King of Menegroth.
But the sons of Feanor hearing of the Silamril invaded Menegroth and
was finally ruined . Here it was that Dior and Celegorm, Caranthir and
Curufin were slain, and the survivors with the Silmaril fled to the
This is the glory of the rise and fall of Menegroth, the Thousand Caves.
The Wonder in a nutshell:
Official Name: Menegroth
Built by: Sindar (Elves)
Built in (or around): SA c.3320
Thingol and Melian
Region: The middle of
Beleriand, on the banks of Esgalduin, in the forest of Region.
Destroyed in: First Age c.500.
Wonder II : Gondolin
Gondolin, the seven-named, and called Ondolindë (The Rock of the
Music of the Water), Gar Thurion (Secret Place), Gondobar (City of
Stone), Gondothlimbar (City of the Dwellers in Stone), Gwarestrin
(Tower of the Guard), Gondost (Stone Fortress) was one of the most
stunning piece of construction ever built by any race in Middle-earth.
Indeed the tale "The Fall of Gondolin" is one of the oldest stories
written about Middle-earth by Tolkien.
It was built after the Dagor Aglareb, i.e some 100 years after the
return of the Noldor, constructed by none other than Turgon, son of
Fingolfin, son of Finwe. It was built in the northern part of
Beleriand, surrounded by the Echoriath Crissaegrim (the Encircling
Mountains) where dwelt the Eagles of Manwe under Thorondor, friend of
Gondolin. The only entrance to the vale of Tumladen was the secret path
by the dry river. There in the midst of the vale surrounded by
mountains was a steep hill named Amon Gwareth and on it was the city of
Gondolin, built in imitation of Tirion upon Tuna. The idea or the
desire to build this secret stronghold was put to Turgon by none other
than the Vala Ulmo, Lord of the Waters.
Ulmo came to him and his cousin, Finrod, in a dream and alighted a
desire in them both to build a secret stronghold. This led to the
construction of Nargothrond by Finrod Felagund. Then Ulmo himself
appeared to him and thus led him by secret ways to Tumladen. Then
Turgon went back to Nevrast and pondered over the building of Gondolin.
Then when all was prepared he took his masons and Wright and wrought
Gondolin, of all the work of the Noldor in Middle-earth, the most fair
[My choice for the fairest dwelling of any king east of the sea].
When all was ready (about FA 105), he took with him to dwell in the
hidden city his entire people in Nevrast - almost a fourth of the
remaining Noldor - as well as nearly three-quarters of the northern
Sindar. He initially named the city Ondolindë, which is the
ancient Elven tongue (as Latin is today) of Quenya for "The Rock of the
Music of Water" after
the springs of Amon Gwareth. The name was later changed to its Sindarin
form. Yet only poetic descriptions of the city exist.
No accurate description of the city has been obtained but most likely
it conatined many levels with steep stairs and on the topmost level
stood the palace of the King and his fountain. The beauty of Gondolin
must have been astounding, for even Eol, father of Maeglin and hater of
the Noldor and their works, was amazed by its majesty and splendour.
After Eol's death, Maeglin came to dwell in Gondolin and thence he
dwelt in all but name as the Prince of Gondolin.
The hidden way of the dry river was not left unguarded but was
fortified with seven gates. The first gate was made of wood, the second
of stone, the third of bronze, the fourth of iron, the fifth of silver,
and the sixth of gold. On the fourth gate was a graven image of
Thorondor, Lord of the Eagles and ever the friend of the people of
Gondolin. It was due to his vigilance that Orcs and other foul things
never stumbled onto Gondolin till the very end. The seventh gate,
built the gate of Steel after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, witnessing the
might of Morgoth. Even though they were mighty and were the surest
defense of Gondolin they never served their intended purpose: to
withstand the might of Morgoth when he came.
The only outside Sinda to
have seen Gondolin is Luthien Tinuviel, daughter of Thingol, king of
Doriath. She saw it while flying from Angband to Doriath on Thorondor
and it is described: "as a white
light starting from a green jewel, the
radiance of Gondolin the fair where Turgon dwelt."
Before the Bragollach, the Hador brothers, Hurin and Hador, were
brought ot Gondolin by the guidance of Ulmo and the Eagles of Manwe.
There they dwelt for a space, learning of the mind and the policies of
the Noldor. Then when they yearned for their home, they were given the
permission to leave Gondolin by night. But Turgon was loth to give his
permission and they left Gondolin only on an oath to Maeglin, stating
that they would never reveal the secret location of Gondolin or what
they heard or saw there. This oath they kept till their death and even
under the torture of Morgoth.
But Tuor, son of Huor, who was the first man to come upon the sea, also
reached Gondolin under the guidance of Ulmo, led by Voronwe, mariner of
Gondolin. They thence came by many perils and dangers to the gates of
Gondolin. Then he delivered the message of Ulmo to Tugon but it went
unheeded. Then the heart of Idril Celebrindal was turned to him and his
likewise and at around the five-hundredth year of the First Age, they
married and Earendil, the Mariner was born of them. But by this union
did Tuor earn the greater part of the hate of
Gondolin is steeped in history as much as Menegroth. For here also many
a great elf and man walked. Hador and Hurin dwelt here for a space.
Turgon, son of Fingolfin, was its King and Idril Celebrindal, one of
fairest of the Noldor, dwelt beside him. Maeglin also dwelt there. Here
also came Tuor, son of Huor, and it was here that he married Idril and
here was born Earendil. Here also fell many Balrogs and Dragons during
Fall of Gondolin, before which none of these creatures were ever slain.
Gondolin would have survived longer but for the treachery of
Maeglin. Maeglin one day, while delving into the mountains of the
Echoriath for the precious gems and metals, went to the other side and
thus was captured by the servants of Morgoth who were searching for
Gondolin. Though Maeglin was no weakling, he gave in to the questioning
of Morgoth. This was helped by the promise of Morgoth to let him take
Gondolin and Idril Celebrindal, the daugther of Turgon, for whom he
long lusted. Thus he went back to Gondolin and waited for the assault
of Morgoth and the invasion of Gondolin.
The armies of Morgoth
invaded from the North during the time of the festival and thus caught
the people unawares. There many valiant deeds were done and indeed the
battle of Ecthelion and Gothmog and the fall of Glorfindel and Turgon
are two of the renowned tales of valour in Middle-earth. Here Maeglin
was slain by Tuor when he tried to take Idril and to kill the baby
Earendil. When the city was taken and many were slain, including the
king, Idril and Tuor led a part of the people by the Eagles' Cleft and
went south to settle in the region of Arvinien, the last refuge of
Yet Gondolin might have been the greatest work of the Noldor, next only
to the Silmarils and the city of Tirion upon Tuna. The bird's eye view
of Gondolin might have been picturesque and the sight of the city from
the plain might be amazing but information on the actual city is
lacking. One small description of Gondolin is that it was:"...ever
bright and gleamed as fire in the rays of the red lamps ranged like
torches along the wall.". To feed the city there must have been
agricultural fields around the hill along with lush pastures.
Most probably it had an outer wall and there were many
buildings, the city rising higher and higher till it reached the top of
where was the palace and fountain of the king. It probably took some
twenty to forty years to build it in secret and this in itself is a
so great a construction to be built so quickly and secretly is an
achievement indeed. Turgon's people were skilled in many ways, and they
adorned the gates and the city with images of the Two Trees of Valinor,
Telperion and Laurelin, and of many flowers and creatures. Gondolin
must have been a shining, glittering jewel in many ways, adorned with
gold, silver, and pearls.
The ruin of Morgoth might have razed all of Middle-earth
sooner but for the strength of Gondolin and its valiant people.
The Wonder in a nutshell:
Official Name: Gondolin
Built by: Noldor (Elves)
Built in (or around): FA c.100
Turgon (Nevrast and
Region: In the north of
Beleriand, to east of Sirion in the middle of
Destroyed in: First Age c.510.
Wonder I : Khazad-dûm
The greatest, grandest, mightiest, the most splendid, the most
majestic, the largest, the most magnificent and most famous of all the
work of the dwarves and perhaps of any race in Middle-earth is
Khazad-dûm, the mansion of the Dwarves (according to me at least).
Though it is not more beautiful than Menegroth, Gondolin or even Minas
Tirith, in terms of size and magnificence it outstrips them all. Of
all the seven wonders, it is the best described in the Lord of the
Rings save Minas Tirith. This poem is said about
The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone,
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.
The world was fair, the mountains
In Elder Days before the fall
Of mighty Kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin's Day.
A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shown forever far and bright."
Very little information is given about the foundation, design and
of Khazad-dûm. But the words "No
stain yet on the Moon was seen",
"In Elder Days before the fall of
mighty Kings in Nargothrond And
Gondolin", put it beyond doubt that it was founded during the
Age. Its founder was Durin the Deathless, the eldest of all the races
of the Dwarves who awoke near Gundabad and wandered throughout the
world. When he came to the wells of the Silverlode, he looked into the
Mirrormere, where he was spell-bound by the beauty of the pond. Then he
decided to explore the caves of Celebdil, Fanuidhol and Caradhras and
named all the caves.
Then he gathered
to him all the dwarves of his house and made them build the halls under
the mountains. There they laboured harder and delved deeper and wrought
the greatest construction that Middle-earth has ever seen, has seen or
will be seen. Khazad-dûm is described as a mansion, a great
house of the dwarves extending through three mountains. Of all the
wonders it is the only one to last through all four ages of
Middle-earth. This itself is a miracle. For the dwarves of
Khazad-dûm were ever the foes of Sauron. The main wealth of
Khazad-dûm came from trade of gold, silver and iron with the
eastern dwarves. Khazad-dûm consisted of a series of
connected levels of buildings having multiple rooms or chambers.
Khazad-dûm was the largest and probably the most populous of any
city in Middle-earth and certainly the richest after the end of the
Another wondrous feature of this great construction is the Endless
Stair, that springs from the very foundation of the mountains and rises
spiralling aroung Mt. Celebdil rising even to its peak. The
length of the spiralling stair may be estimated as some five miles. At
crown of the stairs there stood a tower known as Durin's Tower, which
is mostly covered by clouds. Near the base of the stair there was a
huge yet ancient lake that was the dwelling places of many ancient
creatures, as described in the Lord of the Rings as:"...nameless
creatures" "...even Sauron
knows them not, for they are older than
he" by Gandalf. The Endless Stair was destroyed near the end of
the Third Age during the Battle of the Balrog of Moria, for in the deep
hid a Balrog of Morgoth that had fled after the end of the First Age to
the Misty Mountains.
One unforgettable part of this wonder lies just outside it, the
Mirrormere or Kheled-zarâm, a small yet beautiful pool of water
from the springs of Celebdil whose reflections were a sight to behold,
though having no magical attributes. It was probably the inspiration
for Durin to found Khazad-dûm. It is one of the most revered
places of the Dwarves.
There were doors to Khazad-dûm, one west-gate and an east-gate.
Initially only the west-gate was constructed, and the east-gate was
built only during the Second Age. After the death of Durin VI, the west
gate was left wide open and was never shut till the start of the Second
Age, mainly to improve the traffic of goods to the Noldor in the west.
Narvi of Khazad-dûm made the east door and Celebrimbor, son of
Curufin, drew the signs on the door. The door could only be found when
looked for and it could only be opened by the password, Mellon, the
Sindarin Elvish word for "Friend".
After the end of the First Age and the ruin of the Dwarf cities of
Nogrod and Belegost, the population and the wealth of Khazad-dûm
increased again. Then the most precious metal of all, mithril, was
discovered in Khazad-dûm and it brought great wealth to Moria as
the remanant of the Noldor under Galadriel and Celeborn settled to the
east of Khazad-dûm, hearing about the discovery of mithril. From
then on till the middle of the Third Age, it was the most populous city
of Middle-earth with the population of roughly two-hundred thousand at
peak. Then the great friendship of the Dwarves and Elves began with
each learning and profiting from each other. When Sauron, disguised as
Annatar, came to Eregion they denied him the right to enter. Then
when the great rings were crafted and the One was forged, the Dwarves
remained shut behind the gates of Moria during the invasion of Eriador
and after the invasion and the destruction of Eregion, they endured a
long siege. Only in the beginning of the 18th Century of the
Second Age when the armies of Sauron dispelled, did trade continue
After the end of the Invasion of Eriador, Khazad-dûm had a long
peace of around five-thousand years during which its might, splendor
grew. But even the wealth of Khazad-dûm might
have withered away at the beginning of the Second Age if not for the
discovery of mithril, for even though iron and gold were an integral
part of the traffic of the Dwarves, there must have been other places
which had lush quantities of them. Mithril a wondrous material,
stronger than steel, yet very light and giving a silvery light, was
held above all other metals by Men, Elves and Dwarves. Even Sauron
dug deep and dangerously for it and in 1980 of the Third Age, they
unleashed the Balrog. The efforts of the Dwarves to oust it were in
vain, for they did not understand it. That year the King of
Khazad-dûm was slain and in the next year his son, Nain I, as the
Dwarves fled in terror, leaving behind all the wealth of
Thus it came to be known as Moria, the Black Pit. When Sauron was
strong enough he sent many of the Orcs and other creatures in his
command to occupy Moria, perhaps with the permission of the Balrog. But
the chief purpose of Sauron was to block all the passes into the east.
Near the year 3000, the dwarves of Erebor sent a party to colonize
Khazad-dûm, led by Balin, son of Fundin. But the dwarves were
killed one by one, and Balin was laid to rest in the Chamber of
Gollum, second of the five bearers of the One, wandered into
Khazad-dûm and found that he could not get out. Later at the end
of the Third Age the Fellowship of the Ring sought a way through the
Misty Mountains and then were waylaid by the Orcs and hardly escaping
from the Balrog through the prowess of Mithrandir. After the end of the
Third Age, most of the Orcs left Moria or were driven off. Then later
in the Fourth Age when the Dwarves were strong again, they removed to
Moria under Durin VII. As the light again entered it the hammers of
Durin rang once again in Khazad-dûm...
The Wonder in a nutshell:
Built by: The descendants of
Built in (or around): FA
Region: In the middle of the
Misty Mountains, under the mountains of Celebdil, Caradhras and
Destroyed in: N/A
Lord of the Rings books by J.R.R. Tolkien
LotR Appendix ‘Of the
Rings of Power and the Third
Silmarillion by J.R.R.
Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien
Lord of the Rings
movies by Peter Jackson for some estimates of size by viewing.
The height of Minas Tirith is given in the LotR chapter "Minas Tirith"
as are most of the quotations there.
In Isengard, the distance from
Orthanc to the ring of rocks is given in the book as one mile. Assuming
Isengard's rock to be a perfect circle, we can find the circumference
of the circle. Also it is given in the book that the height from the
pinnacle is 5,000 feet.