An encyclopedia of Middle-earth and Numenor
Geography (see also the map below):
Minas Tirith was located in the region of Anorien in northern Gondor. The City was at the foot of Mount Mindolluin, the easternmost of the White Mountains, on the west bank of the Anduin across the river from Mordor. A rocky spur joined Mount Mindolluin to the Hill of Guard, upon which the City was built.
The City of Minas Tirith consisted of seven circular levels, each higher than the next. The top level was 700 feet above the ground. Each level was enclosed by a strong stone wall. The main wall on the first level - called the City Wall or Othram - was especially high and thick. It was considered unbreachable and its hard, smooth surface was similar to that of Orthanc. The City Wall was described as "dark" (RotK, p. 96) and thus it may not have been made of white stone like the other walls of the City were.
The Great Gate on the first level faced eastward, but the other gates were not aligned with it in order to make the capture of the City more difficult for an attacker. The gates on the second through sixth levels faced alternately southeast and northeast, while the gate of the seventh level faced eastward. Each gate had its own passwords. The main roadway zigzagged from gate to gate up to the seventh level. There were a number of other streets and lanes in each level as well.
On the front or eastern side of the Hill of Guard, a bastion of stone rose from behind the Great Gate up to the seventh level. This stone outcropping bisected the second through sixth levels, and arched tunnels were carved into it to allow the main roadway to pass through. A sloping tunnel was bored into the stone to reach the seventh gate. On the seventh level the top of the stone outcropping formed a battlement. At the far end of the battlement there was an opening in the wall and a stone seat where people could look down at the Great Gate and out over the Pelennor Fields.
There were many great houses and courts in Minas Tirith as well as towers from which bells chimed the hours of the day. In the treasuries and archives of the City were many books and scrolls containing ancient lore and wisdom.
On the first level of the City there was a wide courtyard beyond the Great Gate. The Old Guesthouse was also located on the first level in the Lampwrights' Street.
The Hallows were on the back or western side of the fifth level upon the rocky spur that joined the Hill of Guard to Mount Mindolluin. The rulers of Gondor were entombed there in the House of the Kings and the House of the Stewards in the Silent Street. The Hallows could only be reached by a winding road that led down from Fen Hollen - the Closed Door - on the sixth level.
The Houses of Healing were on the sixth level of Minas Tirith on the southeastern side. The gardens around the Houses of Healing were unique in the City. Also on the sixth level near the gate leading to the Citadel there were stables and the lodgings of errand riders.
The Citadel stood atop the seventh level of Minas Tirith. It was a strong, walled fortress where the ruler of Gondor had his court. Around the walls of the Citadel were seven towers and in the center was the Tower of Ecthelion, a white tower standing 300 feet tall. From the Tower Hall the Kings and later the Stewards ruled. The King's House was located behind the tower to the west. On the north side of the tower was the Great Hall of Feasts. In front of the tower to the east was the Court of the Fountain, paved with white stones. Beside the fountain in the courtyard stood the White Tree of Gondor.
Outside the walls of Minas Tirith were the rich farmlands of the Pelennor Fields where crops were grown and herds were kept. There were some homesteads in the Pelennor Fields, though most people lived in the City. An outer wall called the Rammas Echor enclosed the Pelennor Fields and the City, running from Mount Mindolluin to the banks of the Anduin and then back to the mountain. At its farthest point, in the northeast, the Rammas Echor was 12 miles from Minas Tirith. At its closest point, in the southeast, the wall was only 3 miles from the City.
Two main roads led to Minas Tirith. The South Road came to the city from the southern lands of Gondor. The Northway connected Minas Tirith to the Great West Road which went through Rohan and then joined the North-South Road to Eriador where the Kingdom of Arnor was located. Ships and boats came to Minas Tirith along the Anduin and docked at the Harlond below the southeastern part of the Rammas Echor. A bridge spanned the Anduin in Osgiliath, a city located on both sides of the river east of Minas Tirith.
When Gondor was founded in 3320 of the Second Age, Osgiliath was its chief city. Elendil's sons Isildur and Anarion ruled jointly from Osgiliath, but they also established their own strongholds on either side of the Anduin. Isildur built Minas Ithil - the Tower of the Moon - on the eastern side, and Anarion built Minas Anor - the Tower of the Sun - on the western side.
In 3429 of the Second Age, Sauron attacked Gondor. Minas Ithil was captured and Isildur went north seeking aid while Anarion defended Osgiliath and Minas Anor. Anarion's forces were able to drive Sauron back to Mordor until the Last Alliance of Men and Elves arrived. Anarion was slain during the War of the Last Alliance in 3440 and the war ended with Sauron's defeat the next year.
Isildur planted a seedling of the White Tree in Minas Anor in memory of his brother in the year 2 of the Third Age. Ostoher, the seventh King of Gondor, rebuilt and expanded Minas Anor starting in the year 420. Afterwards it became customary for the Kings of Gondor to dwell in Minas Anor in the summer months, though Osgiliath remained their primary seat.
Osgiliath was damaged during the civil war of the Kin-strife in 1437, and after the Great Plague of 1636 the city was partially deserted. In 1640, King Tarondor permanently relocated the King's court to Minas Anor and it became the chief city of Gondor. The White Tower was built in the Citadel of Minas Anor in 1900 by King Calimehtar and the palantir known as the Anor-stone was housed there.
In 2002, the Nazgul captured Minas Ithil and it was renamed Minas Morgul - the Tower of Black Sorcery. Afterwards, Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith - the Tower of Guard - because of the City's constant vigilance against the threat across the river. The Rammas Echor surrounding Minas Tirith and its outlying lands may have been built around this time as an added defense against attack.
In 2050, King Earnur went to Minas Morgul in response to a challenge from the Lord of the Nazgul and never returned. He left no heir, so from that time on the Stewards ruled Gondor in the absence of a King. The Stewards sat in a black chair at the foot of the royal dais in the Tower Hall of Minas Tirith. In place of the royal standard bearing the emblem of the White Tree and Seven Stars, a plain white banner flew from the top of the Tower.
The White Tower was rebuilt in 2698 by the Steward Ecthelion I and it came to be called the Tower of Ecthelion. In 2872, after the death of the Steward Belecthor II, the White Tree withered and died. It was left standing in the Court of the Fountain, for no seedling could be found.
By the end of the Third Age, the population of Minas Tirith had declined and the City began to fall into decay. But Minas Tirith remained the chief city of Gondor and it was on the frontline of defense against the threat of Mordor. Sauron had returned to Mordor in 2942 and in 2951 he declared himself openly and began to increase his strength and forces.
On March 13, 3019, Sauron's forces crossed the Anduin. The Rammas Echor was breached and the Pelennor Fields were overrun. The Enemy forces led by the Lord of the Nazgul laid siege to Minas Tirith. Catapults launched missiles over the City Wall that burst into flames and fires began to burn in the first level. The severed heads of fallen soldiers of Gondor were also catapulted over the wall. Soon the first level was deserted by all but a few defenders.
Just before dawn on March 15, the Great Gate of Minas Tirith was shattered by the huge battering ram called Grond. The Lord of the Nazgul rode through the gate and was confronted by Gandalf the White. Until that time, no enemy had ever entered the gates of the City. Then dawn came and horns sounded across the Pelennor Fields. The Riders of Rohan had come to the aid of Minas Tirith.
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields lasted from dawn until dusk. The Rohirrim and the Men of Gondor fought against the Enemy forces of Orcs and Men, including Easterlings and Haradrim mounted on Oliphaunts. During the battle, King Theoden of Rohan was slain and the Lord of the Nazgul was defeated by Eowyn and Merry Brandybuck. In the Hallows of Minas Tirith, Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, succumbed to despair and burned himself alive, nearly taking his son Faramir with him.
As the tide of the battle was turning against the defenders, Aragorn arrived with reinforcements in the ships of the Corsairs, and he unfurled the banner bearing the White Tree and Seven Stars of the Kings of Gondor. The Enemy forces were all slain or driven into the river, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was won.
Aragorn did not yet enter Minas Tirith as King, though he went to the Houses of Healing to tend to the wounded. On March 18, Aragorn led the Host of the West from Minas Tirith and they marched to the Black Gate of Mordor. There, on March 25, they engaged the Enemy forces in the Battle of the Morannon until the Ring was destroyed and the realm of Sauron fell. Watching from the walls of Minas Tirith, Eowyn and Faramir saw the Shadow depart and the people of the City sang for joy.
Aragorn came to the gates of Minas Tirith on May 1 and was crowned King. The banner of the Stewards was taken down from the Tower of Ecthelion and the standard of the King was raised in its place. On June 25, Aragorn found a sapling of the White Tree on Mount Mindolluin and it was planted in the Court of the Fountain and soon it blossomed with white flowers. Arwen came to Minas Tirith and she married Aragorn on Mid-year's Day.
The Great Gate was replaced by Gimli and the Dwarves of the Glittering Caves. Gimli also offered the services of the Dwarves in improving the stonework and the layout of the City's streets, while Legolas said that the Elves would plant gardens and trees in Minas Tirith. The population of the City increased and the people prospered under the reign of Aragorn, King Elessar.
In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and the glory of the years that were gone.
The Return of the King: "The Steward and the King," p. 246
Note that building locations on the 1st through 6th levels are approximate. Building locations in the Citadel are based on the description in The History of Middle-earth, vol. IX, Sauron Defeated: "Many Partings," p. 67
Foundation of the realm of Gondor. Anarion establishes the stronghold of Minas Anor around this time.
Sauron captures Minas Ithil and Anarion defends Osgiliath and Minas Anor.
The War of the Last Alliance begins.
Anarion is killed in battle.
Sauron is defeated and Isildur takes the One Ring.
Isildur plants the White Tree in Minas Anor in memory of his brother Anarion.
King Ostoher rebuilds and expands Minas Anor. The Kings of Gondor begin to dwell in Minas Anor during the summer months.
Osgiliath is damaged in the civil war of the Kin-strife.
Many people in Gondor perish during the Great Plague. The White Tree dies.
King Tarondor permanently relocates the royal court to Minas Anor and plants a seedling of the White Tree there.
King Calimehtar builds the White Tower in Minas Anor to house the palantir.
Minas Ithil is captured by the Nazgul and is renamed Minas Morgul.
King Earnur changes the name of Minas Anor to Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard, because of the City's vigilance against Minas Morgul.
King Earnur is lost in Minas Morgul and the Stewards begin to rule Gondor in the absence of a King.
The White Tower is rebuilt by the Steward Ecthelion I.
The White Tree withers and dies and no seedling can be found.
Sauron returns in secret to Mordor.
Sauron declares himself openly and begins to increase his power.
March 9: Gandalf and Pippin arrive in Minas Tirith.
March 13: The Rammas Echor is breached and the Pelennor Fields are overrun. The siege of Minas Tirith begins.
March 15: The Great Gate of Minas Tirith is broken. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields begins. Aragorn arrives bearing the standard of the Kings of Gondor and the battle is won.
March 18: The Host of the West leaves Minas Tirith.
March 25: The Ring is destroyed and the realm of Sauron ends.
May 1: Aragorn is crowned before the gates of Minas Tirith and enters the City as King.
June 25: Aragorn finds a sapling of the White Tree.
Mid-year's Eve: Arwen arrives
in Minas Tirith.
Mid-year's Day: Wedding of Aragorn and Arwen.
Often called simply the City. Also called the City of Gondor.
The City was originally called Minas Anor meaning "Tower of the Sun" from minas meaning "tower" and anor meaning "sun." It was also called the Tower of the Sun and the Tower of the Setting Sun in the Common Speech.
Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith meaning "Tower of Guard." The word tirith is derived from tir meaning "watch, watch over." The new name indicated that the City was on guard against the Nazgul in Minas Morgul and the growing threat of Mordor. It was also called the Tower of Guard and the Guarded City in the Common Speech.
It is possible that the name Minas Anor was used once again after the downfall of Sauron. (See for example The Silmarillion, p. 304)
The Rohirrim called it Mundburg from the Old English mundbeorg meaning "protecting hill." The Woses called it the Stone-city.
The Fellowship of the Ring: "The Council of Elrond," p. 257-58, 265; "The Breaking of the Fellowship," p. 417
The Two Towers: "The Palantir," p. 203; "The Window on the West," p. 278-80, 286-87
The Return of the King: "Minas Tirith," passim; "The Siege of Gondor," passim; "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," passim; "The Pyre of Denethor," passim; "The Houses of Healing," passim; "The Last Debate," p. 148-49; "The Black Gate Opens," p. 159-60; "The Field of Cormallen," p. 235; "The Steward and the King," passim; "Many Partings," p. 252-53
Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: "The Numenorean Kings," p. 317; "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion," passim; "The Stewards," passim; "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen," 343-44; "Durin's Folk" p. 360
Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings: "The Tale of Years," p. 365, 366-70, 374-76
The Silmarillion:"Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," p. 291-92, 294-97, 304; "Appendix - Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names," entries for minas and tir
The History of Middle-earth, vol. V, The Lost Road and Other Writings: "The Etymologies," entries for ANAR, MINI and TIR
The History of Middle-earth, vol. VIII, The War of the Ring: "Minas Tirith," p. 288 (Othram)
The History of Middle-earth, vol. IX, Sauron Defeated: "Many Partings," p. 67
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