Thursday, November 21, 2013

Illustrative Atlas of Middle Earth - Preview

This post is a glimpse of a non-theme park project.  In an attempt to reconcile the Middle Earth as seen in the Peter Jackson films with the world described by Tolkien in the books (and the one in my mind), I am preparing a series of illustrative maps of what I envision that world to look like from above.

To demonstrate what I mean, here is an in-progress (hence the small, preview size) city map for Minas Tirith:

The city was brilliantly realized in the films via the genius of Alan Lee and all the artists and model-makers that had a hand in creating it.  I particularly like the heavy, rounded Romanesque style of architecture developed for the individual components, such as towers and gatehouses.  The key features and dimensions of the upper levels (e.g. the Great Hall, White Tower, the Circle of the Fountain, Houses of Healing and Silent Street) are based on what was seen in the films:

But my vision of Minas Tirith is over five times the area of the city seen in the film.  Most of this expansion is in the two lower levels.  Unlike any drawing of Minas Tirith I've come across, I wanted the city to be more asymmetrical as it moved away from the Court of the Fountain (not perfect circles on the lower levels).  This may not be canon, but I think it looks better and feels more real.  

Gondor is a vast, complex and ancient civilization comprising numerous fiefdoms, and its capitol city needs to be vast and complex to match it, even moreso than seen in the films.  When viewed on foot from a distance, these far larger lower levels reduce the highly-vertical, ‘wedding-cake’ look of the film-city and give it a broader, layered, more epic presence.

In my version, the First Level accommodates a large military district (Gondor has been in a perpetual state of war, with the Front being nearby) and a majority of the economic zones, with various squares/forums where markets are set up for trade.  My city plan has hundreds of individual stone buildings (maybe more than 1,000), from small storehouses to expansive academies, barracks, libraries, boarding houses, religious buildings, theaters, brothels, baths, grand houses of the nobility and all manner of merchant/craftsmen buildings.  There are reservoirs within the walls supplying drinking water from the mountains.  

The Great Gate opens onto a huge plaza/forum where companies of the standing army (a lot of Roman influence here) could assemble before marching out or returning. The various trade fairs could take place here as well as their designated districts.  The city is still a defensive stronghold, so it has a single main gate, with a wide road (lined by a grand allee of ancient trees) leading to the Causeway Forts of the Rammas and, beyond, to the garrison at Osgiliath.
 A great ancient or medieval capitol could be home to hundreds of thousands of citizens - and would spill and sprawl well beyond the fortified walls.  I thought about doing that here, but ended up not for a number of reasons.  One being that as the city is in a posture of war, maybe they want to keep the areas adjacent to the walls clear of things that could be used as cover by attacking forces.  Another being that originally, Minas Tirith (Arnor) served as secondary city – a fortress - of the nearby, larger capitol of Gondor, Osgiliath.  When Osgiliath was lost, the capitol was then moved to Minas Tirith.  Also, the plans I’m drawing take place around the times of the books/films, so the population of Minas Tirith and Anorien is in decline.  I imagine this city plan could hold 10,000-20,000 permanent residents (including barracked standing armies) as drawn, and up to 100,000 if higher-density row housing continued to be developed in the First Level.  (Pelargir, the great, sprawling, populous, port city of Gondor may be the focal point of a future map).   

The Second and Third Levels would hold middle class housing, more skilled artisans (e.g., silver and goldsmiths) and their guild halls, with the priest class and noble families being in the higher levels. The Sixth Level has the Houses of Healing, the Hall of Records and access to Rath Dinen (tombs).  The Seventh (King’s) Level would have the Great Hall and Tower of Ecthelion (same scale as film), a significantly expanded Great Lawn for ceremonies of state (e.g. crownings), the Royal Apartments, the Tower Guard Keep, etc..

Outside the walls are even bigger changes from the films.  PJ’s Pelennor was a flat, featureless, scrub-plain.  His was a blank canvas on which to orchestrate massive battle scenes while keeping it understandable for the viewer:

My version of the Pelennor is closer to Tolkien’s: rich, fertile “townlands” rolling down from Mindoluin to the Anduin, with many estates, homesteads, farms, vineyards, etc..  I imagine something akin to the countryside surrounding London or Florence centuries ago.  While Minas Tirith is the focus of this map, you can see a landed gentry Estate and some other buildings outside the City Walls (and a road that turns south to The Harlond), along with farms, hedgerows, woodlots, and orchards.  


I think that’s enough write-up for what is just a preview image.  If I finish and release a higher-res version of this city map, there will be a lot labels for features of significance.  Let me know if there is continued interest in this.

The next map I’m working on shows the Pelennor in its actual-scale entirety, including this city, the Anduin, Rammas Echor and ruins of Osgiliath.   A third plan underway has a closer, more detailed view of the Causeway Forts, the Rammas Echor, and will include samples of the small hamlets that exist within the Pelennor; and focuses on The Harlond, which I envision to be a fairly-large port town with many buildings, a permanent population, enough quays to accommodate dozens of large ships – something very different from what was seen in the films.  Further down the road will be a new vision of Minas Morgul (the evil twin to Minas Tirith), and a larger, more populous Edoras.  Suggestions or requests are welcome.


Jack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David L said...

I think this is incredible! You may not have a very large audience for this initially, but post a link to it on the or something, and interest will likely rise. I look forward to more plans!

Anonymous said...


First of all: Love your work.
Second, can you please make a full map of SDL. We now have the leaked map and most of the attraction line-up. We all think you are the best person to crack the case of Shanghai Disneyland! :)

SWW said...

^Thanks, David.

Anon, I've been very tempted to do a 5th plan for SDL based on the leaked official plan. I'm hoping a clearer version will leak (or be released) first. My previous version (based on the massing model) isn't too far off from the leaked plan.

Anonymous said...

one minor detail: i cannot make out the road which climbs all 7 levels, by switching back and forth as it climbs. maybe my old eyesight is failing me, but it was definitely described as such in the narrative.apart from this, well done and a good reimagining of the city. also, don't forget drainage for the sewerage.

SWW said...

The switchback road and the seven gates are essential parts of the City and are part of this drawing... in this small version it is a bit difficult to spy, though(especially on the higher, smaller levels).

If The Great Gate (1st Level) is at the 3 o'clock position, follow the center road in a semicircle to the southern 6.5 o'clock position to find the ramp and very large 2nd Gate. Then the circle back to the 12 oclock position to find the 3rd Gate, etc. The gate layout is based on the book & film.

Good suggestion about sewage... will keep those in mind when I go back to edit this.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done. Hope you don't mind if I offer some unsolicited suggestions.

You may want to rethink the presence of religious buildings and brothels. Neither would have been present in Minas Tirith.

There was no "priest class" as religion was not practiced by the Men of the West in Middle-earth (i.e., after the ruin of Númenor) in contrast to the idolatry of the Men of Darkness.

As for brothels, these are thematically inappropriate, regardless of whether one might find their inclusion "realistic". Even in their declining state, the Men of Gondor were still more noble and less debased than analogous Primary-world cultures. That's part of the fantasy.

One final thought and it's a niggling point but you might like to consider Constantinople rather than Rome as cultural reference. See the paper '"Byzantium, New Rome!": Goths, Langobards, and Byzantium in The Lord of the Rings' by Miryam Librán Moreno. Tolkien himself referred to it as "the Byzantine City of Minas Tirith".

SWW said...

All excellent points and the insight is much appreciated! Clearly you know your Tolkien. When/if I get around to doing a more detailed, labeled version of this city map, I will make corrections based on your suggestions.