A Guide to Middle-earth

Updated January 18, 2022 | Laura Hayes

Important locations in the history of Middle-earth

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The World

In writing his tales, Tolkien created an alternative mythic history for our own world. Here are the most important locations in the The Lord of the Rings and its backstory.


The world, created by Ilüvatar, the high god in Tolkien's stories. At first Arda was flat, encircled by a great sea. However, when Ilüvatar changed the shape of the world and destroyed the island of Númenor, the world was made into a sphere.

Aman (The Blessed Realm, The Undying Lands)

This continent west of Middle-earth is home to the Ainur or "Holy Ones" (demi-gods or angels), the high elves, and the spirits of the dead. When Ilüvatar destroyed Númenor Aman was removed from the world and thereafter only the ships of the elves could sail to it. Just east of Aman lies the elves' island of Tol Eressea.


The realm of mortals. The name "Middle-earth" is a translation of the Old English "Middangeard"—the world beneath heaven and above hell. Most of the events in Tolkien's work take place in the northwestern region of Middle-earth. The characters in The Lord of the Rings, with the exception of Saruman, have little knowledge of what lies to the south and east.



The North Kingdom of the Dunédain (descendants of the Númenoreans). Arnor was founded in the the Second Age, after the destruction of Númenor. Its first ruler was Elendil, who was high king of both Arnor and Gondor. The tenth king of Arnor, Earendur, split the realm between his three sons, so it later comprised Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur. Cardolan and Rhudaur became overtly allied with Angmar, the realm of the Witch-King in the Third Age.


The northwestern corner of Middle-earth throughout the Age of the Stars and the First Age of the Sun, Beleriand comprised several kingdoms including Hithlum, Doriath, and Nevrast. It was home to great Elven cities and saw the arrival of the first race of men—the Edain. The evil Morgoth lived in the north. Beleriand was destroyed and was lost beneath the sea during the defeat of Morgoth. Most of the events recorded in the The Silmarillion take place in Beleriand.

Cirith Ungol ("Pass of the Spider")

Cirith Ungol is a high pass through Mordor's mountainous western border. It is guarded by a watchtower manned by orcs and Shelob, an ancient evil. Gollum leads Frodo and Sam into Morder through Cirith Ungol.

Dead Marshes

The Dead Marshes is a vast swamp on the northern border of Mordor. During the Second Age it was the site of a great battle during the War of the Last Alliance. Three thousand years later it is haunted by the spirits of those who perished in battle. Gollum leads Frodo and Sam across the Dead Marshes en route to the Black Gate of Mordor.

Erebor ("The Lonely Mountain")

Thráin I founded a kingdom for the dwarves under Erebor after they lost Khazad-dûm. The kingdom was destroyed by the dragon Smaug but restored by Thorin II Oakenshield. The quest to retake Erebor is the focus of The Hobbit.

Eriador ("The Lone Lands")

The western lands of Middle-earth between the Misty Mountains and the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains once marked the eastern edge of Beleriand. It is sparsely populated, with the noteworthy exceptions of the Shire and Rivendell.

Fangorn Forest

The remnant of the primeval forest that once covered Eriador and much of Beleriand. It is home to the ancient race of ents. Fangorn borders Rohan. From his fortress at Isengard, Saruman's orcs tear down Fangorn's ancient trees and despoil the land.

Gladden Fields

Marshlands located where the Gladden River flows out of the Misty Mountains and into the great river Anduin. Isildur lost the One Ring here in the first years of the Third Age. Later the area was populated by the Stoor tribe of hobbits, two of which find the Ring.


The Southern counterpart to Arnor. Gondor was ruled by Elendil and his two sons until the War of the Last Alliance, when Elendil and Anarion were killed and Isildur became the high king of both kingdoms. The kingship lasted until the year 2050 of the Third Age, when the last king rode out to meet the challenge of the Witch-King of Angmar and was never seen again. After this stewards ruled until Aragorn took back the kingship of both Arnor and Gondor. Gondor had three main cities and several smaller ones. The main cities were Minas Anor (Minas Tirith), Minas Ithil (Minas Morgul), and Osgiliath.

The Grey Havens

The harbor of Círdan the Shipwright, an elven mariner, is found on the northwest coast of Middle-earth. From here the elves, as well as Gandalf and the ring-bearers, leave the realm of mortals for the Undying Lands.


An extremely defensible fortress in Rohan built by the Númenoreans ages before the War of the Ring takes place. Saruman took up residence there at the invitation of the king of Rohan. He fortified it further and built an army of orcs. From Orthanc, Isengard's 500-foot-tall tower of unbreakable stone, Saruman seeks the One Ring for himself.

Khazad-dûm / Moria

Khazad-dûm lies deep in the center of the Misty Mountains and was the stronghold of Durin, eldest of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves. After the destruction of Beleriand many dwarves emigrated to Khazad-dûm, making it the greatest of dwarven cities. The dwarves of Khazad-dûm found enthusiastic trading partners and fellow craftspeople in the elven smiths of Eregion, and they shared the longest peaceful relationship between the two races. Khazad-dûm was also the only place where the rare metal mithril could be found, but in mining mithril, the dwarves accidentally freed the balrog. The dwarves fled Khazad-dûm and hence forth it was known as Moria, the "Black Chasm."

Lórian / Lóthlorien ("Land of blossoms dreaming", "Land of the Valley of Singing Gold", "Land of Gold")

A fair kingdom of wood elves, named for its golden-leaved, silver-barked Mallorn trees. Lórian lies just to the East of the Misty Moutains beyond the Gates of Moria. In the Third Age Galadriel and her husband Celeborn came to Lórian and lent it some of the grace of the ancient elven kingdoms. Galadriel used Nenya, one of the elven Rings of Power forged in the Second Age, to cast a spell of protection around Lórian that made it invisible to Sauron and his minions.

Minas Ithil / Minas Morgul ("Tower of the Rising Moon" / "Tower of Black Sorcery")

Minas Ithil was the twin city to Minas Anor and the city of Isildur. Built to keep watch on the neighboring land of Mordor, it was taken by the Nazgûl in the Third Age and renamed Minas Morgul, the "Tower of Black Sorcery."

Minas Tirith ("Tower of the Setting Sun")

Originally Minas Anor, the capital of Gondor was renamed Minas Tirith after the fall of Minas Ithil. It was named after the elven stronghold of Minas Tirith, which stood against the forces of Sauron in Beleriand some 5,000 years prior.

Mirkwood / Greenwood, Dol Goldur

In the Third Age the ancient forest of Greenwood grew dark and choked with ivy and became the dreaded Mirkwood. As related in The Hobbit, it was here that Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves encountered the giant spiders. In the southwest corner of Mirkwood stands the fortress of Dol Goldur, Sauron's hiding place and the source of the forest's blight.

Misty Mountains

A great mountain chain that runs through the northwest of Middle-earth for a thousand miles. In the Third Age, a growing population of orcs made the Misty Mountains extremely dangerous.

Mordor ("The Black Land")

Mordor is the realm of Sauron. Mordor lies in the southeastern corner of the known lands of Middle-earth, and is a barren and blasted plain, surrounded by rocky mountains and foul swamps. It is home to the armies and slaves of its master, and some long-forgotten evils. Sauron's fortress in Mordor is the tower of Barad-dûr.

Mount Doom / Orodruin

Sauron chose to dwell in Mordor to exploit the "mountain of fire." From the fire of Mount Doom Sauron forged the One Ring. So powerful was his sorcery that only the fire that forged it could destroy the Ring.


The island of Númenor was given to the Edain, or "First Men", at the end of the First Age of the Sun as recognition of their valor in the war agaisnt Morgoth. Númenor was nearer to Aman than to Middle-earth. However, the men of Númenor were not permitted to sail to either Tol Eressea or the Undying Lands. Instead they became great sailors and explorers of Middle-earth. The Island of Númenor was in the form of a star with five arms. Near the end of the Second Age of the Sun Númenor was destroyed by the folly of its people. Nine ships of Númenoreans escaped to found the Realms in Exile: Arnor and Gondor.

Rivendell / Imladris

Imladris, known to men as Rivendell, is Elrond Halfelven's refuge in the western reaches of the Misty Mountains. Bilbo Baggins visits during the Quest of Erebor (2941), and later takes up residence there. In 3018 Frodo Baggins reaches Rivendell with the One Ring and the council of Elrond creates the Fellowship of the Ring.


Originally a province of Gondor, these rolling grasslands were granted to Eorl of the Northmen in 2510 in recognition of the military aid Eorl had given Gondor at great risk to himself and his men. The people of Rohan are famous horsemen and their horses, including Gandalf's great steed Shadowfax, are legendary. Important sites include the great fortress of Helm's Deep and the capital, Edoras.

The Shire

Located in the northwest of Middle-earth, the Shire is a loosely organized territory in which most of Middle-earth's hobbits live. It is a bucolic, agricultural land that has seen little of the evil growing to the east. The Baggins family home of Bag End is in Hobbiton, a large town in the western farthing, or district, of the Shire.






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