If there is any one place in Middle-earth that I could visit, it would be Minas Tirith, Minas Anor of old.
Tolkien’s description of it is very impressive. Could there be a real-world place like this today?
Now after Gandalf had ridden for some time the light of day grew in the sky, and Pippin roused himself and looked up. To his left lay a sea of mist, rising to a bleak shadow in the East; but to his right great mountains reared their heads, ranging from the West to a steep and sudden end, as if in the making of the land the River had burst through a great barrier, carving out a mighty valley to be a land of battle and debate in times to come. And there where the White Mountains of Ered Nimrais came to an end he saw, as Gandalf had promised, the dark mass of Mount Mindolluin, the deep purple shadows of its high glens, and its tall face whitening in the rising day. And upon its outstretched knee was the Guarded City, with its seven walls of stone so strong and old that it seemed to have been not builded but carven by giants out of the bones of the earth.
Even as Pippin gazed in wonder the walls passed from looming grey to white, blushing faintly in the dawn; and suddenly the sun climbed over the eastern shadow and sent forth a shaft that smote the face of the City. Then Pippin cried aloud, 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 glimmered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze….
For the fashion of Minas Tirith was such that it was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each wall was a gate. But the gates were not set in a line; the Great Gate in the City Wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards; so that the paved way that climbed towards the Citadel turned first this way and then that across the face of the hill. And each time it passed the line of the Great Gate it went through an arched tunnel, piercing a vast pier of rock whose huge out-thrust bulk divided in two all the circles of the city save the first. For partly in the primeval shaping of the hill, partly by the mighty craft and labour of old, there stood up from the rear of the wide court behind the Gate a towering bastion of stone, its edge sharp as a ship-keel facing east. Up it rose, even to the level of the topmost circle, and there was crowned by a battlement; so that those in the Citadel might, like mariners in a mountainous ship, look from its peak sheer down upon the Gate seven hundred feet below. The entrance to the Citadel also looked eastward, but was delved in the heart of the rock; thence a long lamp-lit slope ran up to the seventh gate. Thus men reached at last the High Court, and the Place of the Fountain before the feet of the White Tower: tall and shapely, fifty fathoms from its base to the pinnacle, where the banner of the Stewards floated a thousand feet above the plain.
The essence of Minas Tirith
If you visit the link at the vertiginous picture of the city’s walls up above, you’ll read in someone’s comment (emphasis added) that “vertical is the word” with Minas Tirith.
That’s the truth, but what else can we look for in the real world that conveys a sense of the great city of Gondor?
People, certainly, as well as walls. Defense was as important in Gondor as it is in our own world.
But there should also be something special worth guarding. In Minas Tirith, that was Middle-earth’s elite – the descendants of Númenor, or Westernesse – and the King.
Something related that we need to look for is symbolism. The City of the Sun/City of Guard, after all, represented a proud heritage and future hope for the free peoples of the West of Middle-earth, as well as strength and watchfulness in the present.
Finally, our real-world “Minas Tirith” also needs to have a special balance between man and nature – that elusive sense of something built “partly in the primeval shaping of the hill, partly by the mighty craft and labour of old.”
I have found five such places, and beginning today, would like to submit them, one each week, for your consideration.
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Categories: Tolkien Tuesday