Minas Tirith

Minas Tirith
This article is about the fictional city in the Third Age of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. For the First Age tower of the same name see Minas Tirith (First Age).
Minas Tirith (Tower of Guard)
Place from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium
Other names Minas Anor (Tower of the Setting Sun)
White City
City of Kings
Description Seat of the Kings of Gondor and later their Stewards
Location Gondor
Lifespan Built S.A. 3320
Founder Anárion
Lord Kings and Stewards of Gondor

Minas Tirith (play /ˈmɪnəs ˈtɪrɪθ/; Sindarin: /ˈminas ˈtiriθ/), originally named Minas Anor, is a fictional city and castle in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth writings. It became the heavily fortified capital of Gondor in the second half of the Third Age. It was originally built to guard the former capital, Osgiliath, from attack from the west, but became the capital when Osgiliath fell into ruin following the Kin-strife and the Great Plague. It is often referred to as the White City (though that name is not in the book triology) and the City of the Kings. The Rohirrim sometimes translated this into their own language as "the Mundburg". In the climax of The Lord of the Rings the city comes under a very large and determined attack by the allied forces of Mordor.



Tolkien described Minas Tirith as built on a hill, called the Hill of Guard, right against the face of Mount Mindolluin. The city looked eastward over the Pelennor Fields, which were used for farmland, toward Osgiliath, the former capital of Gondor that Minas Tirith replaced.

The name Minas Tirith means "The Tower of Guard" or "The Tower of Watch" in the Elvish language Sindarin.[1] It was originally named Minas Anor, "The Tower of the Sun", in connection with Minas Ithil, "The Tower of the Moon". Minas Ithil was later conquered by orcs from Mordor and was renamed Minas Morgul, "The Tower of Black Sorcery".

Minas Tirith was built on a hill with seven concentric tiers culminating in the Citadel at the summit. Each of the seven levels stood 100 ft (30 m) higher than the one below it, each surrounded by a white wall, with the exception of the wall of the First Circle, which was black. The outer face of this outer wall, the lowest, was made of black stone, the same material used in Orthanc; it was vulnerable only to earthquakes capable of rending the ground where it stood.[2]

Each wall held a gate, and each gate faced a different direction.

Great Gate

The Great Gate was the main gate on the first level of the City of Minas Tirith. It was in the City Wall — or Othram — facing eastward across the Pelennor Fields toward the Anduin.

In front of the Great Gate there was a large paved area called the Gateway. The roads to Minas Tirith met here, including the North-way that joined the Great West Road to Rohan, the South Road to the southern provinces of Gondor, and the road to Osgiliath.

The gates were built with siege in mind: constructed of iron, they were extremely difficult to break into. The Great Gate was made of iron and steel guarded by stone towers and bastions. The iron doors of the Gate rolled back to open. Passwords were required to enter the Great Gate and each of the six other gates of Minas Tirith. This gate had been assaulted and felled only once.

The Great Gate was destroyed during the War of the Ring. Sauron's forces under the command of the Witch-king of Angmar besieged the City on March 13. Before dawn on March 15, the battering ram Grond smashed the Great Gate three times while the Witch-king spoke words of power. "As if stricken by some blasting spell it burst asunder: there was a flash of searing lightning, and the doors tumbled in riven fragments to the ground."[3] The Witch-king rode through the Gate where Gandalf awaited him, but then the Rohirrim arrived and the Witch-king went to fight them in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where he was defeated.

A temporary barricade was erected in place of the Great Gate. After the war on May 1, Aragorn received the Crown of Gondor in front of the gate and then entered the City.

The Great Gate was rebuilt of mithril (the hardest of all metals in Tolkien's writing) and steel by Gimli and Dwarves of Erebor from the Lonely Mountain who had settled in the Glittering Caves.

Other gates

The gates of the Second Level through the Sixth Level were staggered at different positions of the wall. The Second Level gate faces south-east, that of the Third north-east, and so forth. This measure was designed to make capture of the already heavily fortified city even more difficult. Also, a spur of rock, the summit of which was level with the city's uppermost tier, jutted out from the hill in an easterly direction, dividing all but the first level into two parts. On the saddle between the city and Mindolluin was Rath Dínen (The Silent Street), where the tombs of the Kings of Gondor and their Stewards were built. It was reached by a door in the Sixth Level, which was almost always closed and hence called the "Closed Door". The Sixth Level also contained stables for riders, and the famed Houses of Healing.

The Seventh Gate led to the Citadel. It faced eastward in line with the Great Gate, which was 700 ft (213 m) below. The Seventh Gate could be reached through a sloping tunnel delved into the spur of rock that jutted out of the eastern face of the Hill of Guard. The keystone of the tunnel's archway was carved with the head of a crowned King. Guards of the Citadel manned the Seventh Gate.

Pelennor Fields

The Pelennor Fields were the townlands and fields of Minas Tirith. The name Pelennor means fenced land in Sindarin. It is pronounced with the emphasis on the penultimate syllable ("pe LEN nor").

After Minas Ithil had fallen and been renamed Minas Morgul, the Pelennor Fields were surrounded by the great wall of Rammas Echor, to prevent an invasion. This wall was in ruins shortly before the War of the Ring, but was rebuilt in time on the orders of the Steward, Denethor II. The gate and accompanying watch-towers of Rammas Echor were known as the Causeway Forts and were the strongest section of the entire wall. In total the wall consisted of three main gates; north, east and south.

During the War of the Ring, the Pelennor Fields were the location of the largest battle of the Third Age, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, when Sauron's Orcs and evil Men overran the Rammas Echor by blasting through it and besieged the city. The siege was broken by the arrival of the Rohirrim though their King Théoden was slain in the battle. After the War of the Ring, the Rammas Echor was rebuilt by the Dwarves of Aglarond, led by Gimli the Dwarf.


The seventh wall contained the Citadel with the white Tower of Ecthelion, which was 300 ft (91 m) high, so that its pinnacle was one thousand feet above the plain. The Seeing Stone of Minas Anor rested in a secret chamber at the top of the Tower. In a court before the Tower grew the White Tree, the symbol of Gondor. The topmost level also contained lodgings for the Steward of Gondor, the King's House, Merethrond the Hall of Feasts, barracks for the Guard of the Citadel, and other buildings for guests and other workers.

The first level included an inn, the Old Guesthouse. The wide paved street it was on was called Lampwrights' Street (Rath Celerdain), which led to the gate.

Map #40 in Barbara Strachey's Journeys of Frodo is a plan of Minas Tirith. Pages 138&139 in Karen Wynn Fonstad's revised The Atlas of Middle-earth show a different plan of Minas Tirith. They are at variance with each other, as the only authoritative maps by Tolkien are just sketches.

In the book The Return of the King, the Guard of the Citadel, of whom Beregond was a member originally, was assigned to the highest circle of Minas Tirith and protected the hall of the king and the houses of the dead. Peregrin Took was eventually assigned to serve with the Guard.


Early history

Originally known as Minas Anor, the "Tower of the Sun", Minas Tirith was built in S.A. 3320 by Anárion, younger brother of Isildur and second son of Elendil, High King of Arnor. Ostoher rebuilt the city in T.A. 420 as a summer residence, and it became the capital of Gondor in T.A. 1640, when King Tarondor moved the King's House from Osgiliath following the Great Plague, which devastated the population of the much larger and populous old capital.

In T.A. 2002, the White City's companion city, Minas Ithil, Tower of the Moon (Moontower), on the borders of Mordor, was captured by the Nazgûl and renamed Minas Morgul, Tower of Black Sorcery (Dead City, accursed tower). Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, meaning "Tower of Guard", to indicate that since the fall of Minas Ithil, Minas Tirith assumed the role of guarding Gondor against Mordor's forces. For the next thousand years, the two cities were in a stalemate, with neither able to topple the other. With the rebuilding of the Dark Tower and the open return of Sauron, the forces of Mordor gathered their strength to topple Minas Tirith in the upcoming War of the Ring.

The War of the Ring

(T.A. 3018–3019), Minas Tirith is said to have had less than half of the population which could have dwelt there at ease. Many of the buildings had fallen into ruin and disrepair, a sad yet fitting picture of Gondor in those latter days.

Rammas Echor

In the latter part of the Third Age, Minas Tirith and its lands were surrounded by the Rammas Echor, a fortified wall encircling the Pelennor Fields and meeting up with Osgiliath, where the Causeway Forts were built on the west bank of the Anduin and garrisoned, though Osgiliath itself remained in ruins. This outwall was built by Ecthelion II but fell into disrepair after his death, only to be repaired in the year leading up to the War.

As told in The Return of the King, the Rammas proved an ineffective defence due to the overwhelming Orc legions of Mordor, who penetrated the wall and laid siege to the city before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. However this proved to the detriment of these legions when the forces of Rohan arrived; for, as noted by King Théoden, they could have held the Rammas against Rohan's attack.


Faramir and the garrison were unable to hold Osgiliath and the Causeway Forts against the overwhelming forces of Mordor and were driven back with heavy loss. Leading the rearguard against the onslaught, he was wounded and nearly slain but the cavalry charge of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and Gandalf saved him and the counter-attack allowed the rest of Gondor's soldiers to reach the safety of the city.

Minas Tirith was besieged by troops of Mordor, the Easterlings and the Haradrim, and the land fell under the darkness generated by Mordor. Significant damage was done to the first circle of the city but the Enemy was unable to break through the wall — except in one place. The gate of the city was broken by a combination of the battering ram Grond and the Witch-king's sorcery. However, the Witch-king was halted at the entrance by Gandalf.

During the siege the House of the Stewards in Rath Dìnen was destroyed by a fire lit by the Steward Denethor in suicidal despair at the illness of his son Faramir.[4]

The timely arrival of the Rohirrim led by King Théoden forced the armies of Mordor to face the newcomers instead of assaulting the city. The resulting Battle of the Pelennor Fields took place on March 15, 3019 in the fields surrounding the city. Despite heavy losses, Minas Tirith itself was not seriously threatened again and the battle was won by Gondor and its allies from Rohan and Gondor's fiefs.


On May 1, 3019 King Elessar's coronation took place on the plain outside Minas Tirith, he then entered the city as King.

Minas Tirith is known to have stood firm well into the Fourth Age. Gimli the Dwarf and some of Durin's folk used mithril, a nigh-indestructible metal, to replace the gates that had been broken in the War of the Ring. The Dwarves also improved the layout of the city's streets. The elves planted trees in the city.

"In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and the glory of the years that were gone". Source: (The Return of the King: "The Steward and the King," p. 246)

It remained the chief city of Gondor, as it is not actually known whether Osgiliath was ever rebuilt. Minas Ithil, however, was destroyed by Elessar, King of Gondor, soon after the War of the Ring.

The eagle who brings the news of Sauron's defeat to Minas Tirith refers to the city as the Tower of Anor. The eagle might have been speaking poetically, but as Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age in The Silmarillion says, the city is referred to Minas Anor again after Sauron's overthrow.

Portrayal in adaptations

Gandalf approaching Minas Tirith in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by Peter Jackson.

Tolkien's description of the physical layout of the city of Minas Tirith itself is followed relatively faithfully in Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, (the city also has a cameo in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf goes there to discern the identity of Bilbo's ring, and it also can be seen in the distance for a few seconds when Faramir takes Frodo, Sam, and Gollum to Osgiliath in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) Jackson interpreting the top of the rock as flattened and paved. In the films Minas Tirith is the location for the coronation of Aragorn. However, as with most other landmarks in the film, the city is portrayed as relatively isolated, while the Rammas, the Pelennor, the River Anduin and Gondor's abundant populace are virtually not featured.

Portions of Minas Tirith were constructed as full-scale sets, and the whole city as a very large, highly detailed miniature or "bigature" by Weta Workshop. A remarkably detailed three-dimensional digital model, for CGI shots, along with the whole of its surrounding environment including the Pelennor Fields and Mindolluin (but not the Rammas Echor, which was visually omitted from the films, despite being mentioned in the dialogue, where Théoden gave the order to the Rohirrim beginning "After you pass the Wall..." quoted directly from the book.) was created by Weta Digital. The set was built on the foundations of the disassembled Helm's Deep set.

According to the non-canon New Line book The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare, in the films, the height of Minas Tirith from the bottom to the top of the Tower of Ecthelion, which individually is said to be 300 ft (91 m) tall is around 1,000 ft (305 m), same as the Eiffel Tower, and the diameter of the city almost three-quarters of a mile (3,960 ft/1,207 m). The book also suggests that the towering bastion of stone, shaped like the keel of a ship, which rose from behind the Great Gates on the first level to the citadel on the seventh, was seven hundred feet tall. However this height does not take into account the Tower of Ecthelion, which was situated on the seventh level. In the book, the Tower of Ecthelion was said to be fifty fathoms tall (Vi) meaning that in total the city is about 1000 feet tall. This height is further supported by the statement "[above the citadel] the banner of the Stewards floated a thousand feet above the plain" (Vi).

In The Atlas of Middle-earth, predating the New Line films by over a decade, Karen Wynn Fonstad estimates the diameter of the city to be much smaller - estimating 3,100 ft (945 m) for the First Circle of the City.

In the novel, the walls of Minas Tirith are virtually indestructible like the similar black surface of Orthanc, as they were built by the Dúnedain before their craft waned in exile, and Tolkien says only an earthquake or similar seismic convulsion could cause them significant damage.

Despite the description of Minas Tirith's outermost wall as a black, indestructible wall, Jackson depicted all of the walls as white, and many of them were easily destroyed.

In the films, the towers of Minas Tirith are equipped with trebuchets. However, this kind of siege engine is not specifically mentioned in the book. The book also mentions that the engines in the city had insufficient range to hinder the assembling of the enemy's catapults, while in the movie at least one catapult was destroyed by a direct hit. It is possible, however, that after assembly the catapults were moved forward, thus bringing them in range of the walls' defences.

According to the "Making Of" featurettes on the Extended Edition DVDs, the appearance and structure of the city was based upon Mont Saint-Michel, France.


Roger Ebert referred to the city in his review of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as a "spectacular achievement", and showcased the filmmakers ability to blend digital and real sets into one piece, and comparing it to the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz.[5] In Lord of the Rings: Conquest video game, players in the evil campaign can destroy the city.[6]


  1. ^ Noel, Ruth S. (1974). The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 170. ISBN 0-395-29129-1. 
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Siege of Gondor", ISBN 0-395-08256-0 
  3. ^ RotK, p. 102.
  4. ^ The Return of the King: "The Siege of Gondor," p. 99-100; "The Pyre of Denethor," passim
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (2003-12-17). "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King". Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20031217/REVIEWS/312170301/1023. Retrieved April 20, 2009. 
  6. ^ Irish Amabel Capati (2009-04-06). "The Lord of the Rings: Conquest". PC Magazine Middle and Near East. http://www.pcmag-mideast.com/productreview.aspx?_reviewID=1484&mode=1&pid=0. Retrieved April 20, 2009. [dead link]

External links

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