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I am aware that Peter Jackson used Mont Saint-Michel as the inspiration of Minas Tirith, within the Return of the King movie.

If there any evidence that Tolkien used the same place as inspiration for Minas Tirith within the Return of the King novel?

Mont Saint Michel

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    Perhaps, but I think the inspiration was Constantinople.
    – Mrc4t987
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 15:06
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    Without being able to list any sources for it, I actually think that (The Fall of) Gondolin was one major source of inspiration. Both cities have 7 gates (which in turn can be found in various mythology), both serve as the final "beacon of light facing a horde of enemies", both battles have climatic duels at the end of the battle (Gothmog vs Ecthelion, Eowyn vs The Witchking), in both battles the ruler of the city dies (Turgon, Denethor). As for what inspired Gondolin... Shangri-La?
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 16:35
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    Another source claims Tolkien was inspired by Ravenna: theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/23/…
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 16:40
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    @Amarth - The actual quote from the map that article is referencing is "Hobitton is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford. The green vertical lie is marked at distances of 100 miles (2cm to map scale). So you can roughly judge the climate and Fauna/Flora etc. Minas Tirith is about a latitude of Ravenna (but is 900 miles east of Hobbiton, more near Belgrade)." Not that it is Ravenna (or Ravenna like), merely that they share a rough latitude - i.sstatic.net/WBTZb.png.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 18:59
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    @Valorum I'm talking about old Constantinople, not nowadays Istanbul.
    – Mrc4t987
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 20:19

1 Answer 1

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There is no evidence that Tolkien was inspired by Mont Saint-Michel

It's hard to prove a negative, but there simply isn't any evidence of Tolkien ever referring to Mont Saint-Michel and there isn't any strong reason to assume that he would have been thinking about it in the 1940s when creating Minas Tirith.

John Garth's recent book The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien is currently the best source for actually linking possible inspirations to things that have some evidence in the form of things Tolkien has said or written or can be shown to have known about at the time.

Garth points out that Minas Tirith is described in the text in the same way that Roman architecture is described in Old English poetry (which was Tolkien's main field of study.)

... a sign of the Anglo-Saxons' amazement at the scale and workmanship of the Roman roads and other edifices that they found in Britain after the imperial withdrawal. ... Old English poetry describes such inexplicably huge edifices as the eald enta geweorc, 'the old work of giants'. Both the Riders of Rohan and the hobbies share this same perspective when considering what the Númenórean founders of Arnor and southern Gondor built at the height of their power long ago. The fortress of Helm's Deep seems to them to have been built 'with the hands of giants', and Minas Tirith appears 'carven by giants'.
The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien - "Ancient Imprints - The Old Work of Giants" - page 142

And upon its out-thrust 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.
The Lord of the Rings - Book V, Chapter 1 - "Minas Tirith"

Garth also points out that Minas Tirith is possibly inspired by Campanella's Civitas Solis and by a castle in Dante's Divine Comedy, both works that Garth says Tolkien would have had reason to be familiar with.

The mark of Rome on Minas Tirith, Gondor's citadel, is hard to miss, with its imperial history, southern location, seaward influence and massive stoneworks... The city, formerly Minas Anor ('Tower of the Sun') has been compared with the Civitas Solis ('City of the Sun') described in a 1602 work by the Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella. Each is built on a hill and has seven concentric walls that make it almost invulnerable. Campanella writes, 'he who wishes to capture that city must, as it were, storm it seven times.'

Minas Tirith is closer still to the noble castle in Limbo in Dante's Divine Comedy, with seven walls and seven gates. The virtuous pagans who have won fame honourably during their lives spend their afterlives here. They include Homer, Ovid and other poets; heroes such as Aeneas; statesmen such as Julius Caesar; and philosophers including Aristotle, Socrates and Plato. Tolkien certainly knew his Dante.

[endnote: Minas Tirith's structure was conceived in an outline apparently from 1944 (War of the Ring 260-1) and fleshed our in prose in 1946. Tolkien joined the Oxford Dante Society in 1945. In the Inklings, he had long been among Dante experts - Charles Williams (who had published The Figure of Beatrice in 1943), C.S. Lewis and Colin Hardie. Lewis, with his philosophical expertise and planecological interests, doubtless knew Campanella's Civiras Solis, with its seven circles denoting the seven planets of medieval cosmology.]
The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien - "Watch and Ward - From Gondolin to Gondor" - page 151-2 and endnote on page 197

Further corroborating the idea that Minas Tirith has an Roman origin, Tolkien has at times compared the location of Minas Tirith (i.e. latitude, climate, flora, fauna) with the Italian cities of Florence and Ravenna.

The action of the story takes place in the North-west of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. But this is not a purely 'Nordic' area in any sense. If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be at about the latitude of Oxford, then Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence. The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about the latitude of ancient Troy.
Tolkien's 1967 commentary on the draft of an interview with him he was sent, Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien #294

enter image description here Hobbiton is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford. The green vertical line is marked at distances of 100 miles (2cms to map scale). So you can roughly judge the climate and Fauna/Flora etc. Minas Tirith is about a latitude of Ravenna (but is 900 miles east of Hobbiton, more near Belgrade). Bottom of the map (1400 miles) is about a latitude of Jerusalem. Umbar & City of Corsairs –about that of Cypress.
Tolkien's c.1969 annotations to a map of Middle-earth for his illustrator, Maker of Middle-earth p.382-3

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  • When looking for inspiration to LotR, one should start with Tolkien's own earlier works. The seven gates reference was first made by Tolkien in the Fall of Gondolin, written long before he wrote LotR (and perhaps in turn inspired by Dante). As for the Sun/Moon reference, it is also used in Silmarillion: the Two Trees Laurelin and Telperion, from which Valar created the sun and moon. Therefore I would say that some of your sources are questionable, since they speculate about inspiration for LotR without even considering the various drafts to Silmarillion that already existed.
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 19:44
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    @Amarth - The section in Garth's book that I quoted from, "From Gondolin to Gondor", discusses Gondolin as well.
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 19:58
  • (Btw the seven gates (of hell) predates Dante by some 3000 years or so, originating from the Babylonian myth of the descent of Ishtar to the underworld.)
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 20:03
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    @Amarth - Garth's point is that Tolkien was actively discussing Dante at the time that he was first writing about Minas Tirith (a lot of Garth's current research is about connecting things Tolkien wrote to what Tolkien was doing at the time he wrote them). Can you do that with Ishtar?
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 20:08
  • Oh I'm sure it's far more likely that Tolkien was inspired by Dante than the Babylonians. However, The Fall of Gondolin, was written way earlier in 1917 and it features seven gates, so I'm not sure how the timeline adds up.
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 20:15

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