Eisenhower InterstateDo you read Strange Maps? You should, if you’re at all a map geek. It’s a blog about curious cartography. It’s really exactly the kind of site blogs seem to promise, regular musings on a subject so specific or arcane that another medium couldn’t support regular publication. Thanks largely to Boing Boing, there’s been a running meme lately of subway map mashups, like this one of a hypothetical LA subway mapped to the London Tube or this anagram subway map of Toronto. They’re cute and clever but more than a little gimmicky. Strange Maps covers real cartographic oddities, both old and new, and some of them are real gems of visual communication. On the topic of subways, here’s a literal translation of the Stockholm subway map that’s just as curious as the invented ones of greater web fame. And one of my favorites from the site is this diagram of the Eisenhower Interstate System.

Middle EarthAnyhow, recently Strange Maps covered a UCLA geography professor’s attempt to map the geographic location of Middle Earth. Taking his charge from Tolkien’s suggestion that Middle Earth is a part of our own earth, but from a previous era, Prof. Peter Bird. In this map, The Shire is in southwest England, the Gray Havens in Ireland, Helm’s Deep near Basel, Edoras in Bavaria, and Mordor is (perhaps appropriately) in Transylvania.

Visually, the interesting thing about the map is how Bird overlaid Middle Earth atop present-day Europe. Bird doesn’t describe his method, which is too bad, but probably expected since this is a project borne of geekery more than scholarship. It does make me think of the one example of a certain formerly popular geography videogame that didn’t get made: Where in Middle Earth is Carmen San Diego. Too bad they didn’t get the license.

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published June 20, 2007


  1. the free dacian

    The map is very interesting, as a Romanian, I am little bit insulted, but considering other people have issues and like to mock other people history, I do not care. I was educated to respect other people.

    Technically speaking, I believe the map consider some geological assumptions:

    1. the today Greece area was sunk long time ago, looking at the today map it might be possible, some people speculate this area was Atlantida (since this is fantastic story, I can say anything)

    2. the sea level was way lower, probably a severe ice age, I can do this simulation very easy, I work with maps (hobby).

    3. north pole is not quite where is today, so this middle earth aria might be in warm zone

    4. the Black Sea, there are evidence that use to be a lake, before Bostorus Strait sunk and before ” pre Greece” sunk

    5 one thing do not make sense in this map is the mountain â??westâ? of Minas Mogul. They do not exist on the old continent, maybe Sauron sunk it 5 minutes before the story ended.

    Maybe this will be in the future…after the global warming?

  2. J. Minde

    I wouldn’t be too offended that Mordor is in present-day Romania. This idea of a Middle Earth/Europe overlay map is as old as LORD OF THE RINGS itself, and a total stretch, even according to Tolkien himself.

    The only place on Middle Earth that has an exact Earth counterpart is The Shire, which corresponds to the West Midlands Counties of England. That was Tolkien’s home ground. I’ve been there, and it LOOKS like The Shire. Nearby Warwick Castle is supposed to be the model for Tirion Upon Tuna in THE SILMARILLION. Other than that, I’ll quote the Good Professor who said, “Ever since I have gotten old enough I have distrusted Allegory in all its forms.” That would, I assume, include allegorical map overlays.

  3. Juha

    I think the idea of the geography of Tolkiens Middle Earth being heavily inspired by Europe is correct. But not in the exact way that the article above suggests. Rather, distances and locations have been moved and changed in Tolkiens world. I think Tolkien drew his map after ideas and attitudes rather than geography only. E.g. Minas Tirith is probably a Middle earth version of Rome and Minas Morgul is probably Jerusalem. I think it is more likely that Mordor is the Middle East rather than Romania as suggested above.

  4. axiskhan

    I agree with Juha, and i think Mordor was the new Ottoman empire capital,Constantinapolis.When Tolkien wrote his history he was in war against Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

  5. Hunni

    Ohh no! I live in Hungary which called Mordor in this map. If you came to Hungary or Transsylvania you see that this looks like elf’s forest not Mordor.

  6. Todd

    Im with J Minde above – Warwick Castle is supposed to be the model for Tirion Upon Tuna, whilst the UK was the island of Tol Eressa, the rest is in the scaling….most agree that Rhun was the far east…but that still leave a lot of options for Mordor from the Alps through the Carpathians to the Hindu Kush!

  7. Cosmin

    As Hunni said , Transilvania looks like an elf paradise , with great forests , high and green montins , if you want to see Rivendell , come to see transilvania !

    I am from there , and as about UK it reali looks like comitat , I was there to !

  8. tolkien-reader

    If you had really read Tolkiens books you wouldn’t pay attention to those silly theories, about Middle Earth representing Europe, Mordor representing Germany or being located in Transilvania and so on…

    The Shire may look like a part of England and Tolkien ‘translated’ the language of Rohan to Anglo-Saxon and made the Hobbit-language a dialect of the Rohirric language but that only tells us that Tolkien was (as everyone of us would be) slightly affected by his own life and experiences when writing the Lord of the Rings.

    Tolkien wanted to create a mythology that -could- be like a ‘real’ mythology – I think he never said that Middle Earth was ancient Europe.

  9. greyback996

    mordor should not be in hungary and transylvania. in the first book bormir said: “by the blood of our people, are your lands kept safe”. thats what hungary did against turkey, so hungary should be gondor and turkey should be mordor.

  10. Caner

    I agree with that idea Mordor is Turkey as a Turk since I am very familiar with the book and movie. Sam try to save his friend under a crescent in mordor, characters implies dozens of times that is west-east issue, mordor on map very similar to Turkey, Rohan cavalry charge is the same as what happened in Ottoman siege of Vienna and lots of other things. Also writer himself was in ww1 and lost 3 friends, believing every British propaganda told to British soldiers(they were claiming we eat human flesh) furthermore after long allied bombardment some coasts of Turkey were exactly like Mordor(in real not so different from rest of continental Europe). It seems like he really believed that they were there to save western world from evil Turks. I respect the guy for his work, but in mind he is no different from Anders Behring Breivik the Oslo bomber or the Crusaders who were saving Constantinople by plundering it while it was still Christian. Scapegoat Turks are always there to blame

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  12. NeMutluTürkümDiyene

    You are saying Mordor is Turkey,because you are

    fearing from Turks.Turks are the most powerful nation in the world.

  13. george

    I think in this book most fearfull and powerfull enemy of the free people of middle earth is

    Capitalism In 2 towers Saruman is leaving green and dealing with metal and stone elves are completely nature lover

  14. Haleft

    I know this topic is kinda old but id want to contribute anyways. On a reply to Tolkien-reader, yeah somewhere is told that ME is ancient Europe.

    On the book “Tolkien: the illustrated encyclopedia” by David Day there are maps of the geographical evolution from 1st to 4th ages. In the 3rd age Osgiliath was Istanbul, and the Black Sea the river Anduin. Mordor is not Turkey, Turkey is still part of Gondor (the gap between Osgiliath and Mordor). Caspian Sea is the Sea of Rhun (Rhun being Russia) and Gondor is composed by all countries between Turkey and Germany. Then Rohan is Germany, France Eregion and Nederlands is Imladris. The shire is UK ofc.

  15. Arijirija

    Well, FWLIW, I did read a book back in the eighties – I’ve forgotten its name, silly me! – where the authors argued that Tolkien was highly influenced by his Catholic faith, and set Middle Earth in Asia Minor – modern day Turkey – and the Levant from Syria down to Gaza – the Holy Land.

    I’m also reading a book called Eden in the East, that aims to prove that flood legends, sunken continent legends, and the like, originated in Sundaland, on the South East Asian continental shelf, before the last Dryas Event. If so, Numenor would then be Sundaland, and the Dunedain, bringers of culture to Middle Earth, modern-day Indonesians and Malaysians and Filipinos and Melanesians and Micronesians and Polynesians …

  16. TransientState

    This map, while interesting, is not entirely accurate according to Tolkien’s own drawings. Angband, the An’Fauglith, Hithlum, and Dorthonian were all further west than is represented. The Ered Luin (Blue Mountains), whose remnants are the far east of the Shire, where the Grey Havens lay, ran the entire length of middle-earth from north to south, much in the same way the Misty Mountains do. Beleriand of old was on the other side of Ered Luin, not northwest in such close proximity, before it was flooded and lost beneath the waves after the fall of Numenor.

  17. Andrea

    It is quite representative, although Minas Tirith should be situated more in the south.

    Ithilien = Italy…