The Seven Structural Wonders of Middle-earth

by Barahir-(V)
December 27, 2006

Papers > Objects > Places

VII: The Argonath
 VI: Isengard
  V: Barad-dûr
 IV: Minas Anor
 III: Menegroth
  II: Gondolin
   I: Khazad-dûm

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 Middle-earth.
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 power of 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 location 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 it 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 colossuses.

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 Argonath
Built by: Númenóreans of Gondor (Men)
Built in (or around): TA 1255-1262
Principal constructor(s): Minalcar(Gondor)
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 miles.
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 Isengard, 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: “ 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 Ents.

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 amazing. It 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 Númenóreans (Men)
Built in (or around): SA c.3320
Principal constructor(s): 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 even than 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 Sauron.
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.
An 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 Tirith. 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 figure.

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, that’s extraordinary.
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 volcanic 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 of 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 year? 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 consider.

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 of 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 Stone].

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
Principal constructor(s): Sauron (Mordor)
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 construction.

To 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 fact that 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 that can be accommodated in the city over long periods of time would be some 75,000-100,000.

Each of the subsequent levels was some one-hundred feet above the other. In 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 forty-five 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 level leading through a walled pathway down. Outside the Great Gate and the first wall were the Pelennor Fields which again was surrounded by Rammas 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 of 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 be 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 diameter 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 such 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 completed, 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 defenders 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 Easterlings, 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 TA 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
Principal constructor(s): Anarion (Gondor)
Region: Gondor, between Anduin and Mindolluin.
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." Then 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 he 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 her.

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. But not only this, since many a great Man also saw the majesty of Menegroth: First 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 then it was finally ruined . Here it was that Dior and Celegorm, Caranthir and Curufin were slain, and the survivors with the Silmaril fled to the Havens.

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
Principal constructor(s): Thingol and Melian (Doriath)                            
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, Maeglin 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 Maeglin.                    

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 the 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 the 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 Elves in Middle-earth.

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 many 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 the hill 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 wonder, for 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
Principal constructor(s): Turgon (Nevrast and Gondolin)                            
Region: In the north of Beleriand, to east of Sirion in the middle of the Echoriath.
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 Khazad-dûm :

" 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 tall,
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 history 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 First 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 First Age.

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 the 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 also 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 its 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 again.

After the end of the Invasion of Eriador, Khazad-dûm had a long peace of around five-thousand years during which its might, splendor and wealth 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 coveted it.

Thus they 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 Khazad-dûm.

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 Mazarbûl.

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:

Official Name:  Khazad-dûm
Built by: The descendants of Durin (Dwarves)
Built in (or around): FA c.100-500
Principal constructor(s): Durin                            
Region: In the middle of the Misty Mountains, under the mountains of Celebdil, Caradhras and Fanuidhol.
Destroyed in: N/A


Lord of the Rings
books by J.R.R. Tolkien
LotR Appendix ‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age'
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.