For J.R.R. Tolkien fans, the fantastic realms of Middle Earth and beyond have captivated minds for years. While the terrain of New Zealand defined the landscape of the films, it turns out that Tolkien based some of his fantasy locations on real places.
An old map found in a copy of The Lord of the Rings trilogy owned by the late illustrator Pauline Baynes reveals that Ravenna, Italy, was a huge inspiration behind the fantasy city of Minas Tirith. Annotated with Tolkien's hand, it provides a ton of information on the real places Tolkien had in mind when creating his masterpiece. Baynes actually worked alongside Tolkien to help develop the maps known to most readers of his classic tomes.
While this map is currently on display in Oxford, England, it is soon to be auctioned for a hefty price to a collector.
Why did Tolkien Choose Ravenna?
It has long been believed that Tolkien based his fantasy realms in the European landscape, but his clear reference to Ravenna in this map is one of the first concrete linkages to Tolkien's creative process.
The landscape of Ravenna clearly fits the European-influenced vistas of Tolkien, but it is also possible that he was inspired by the region's history. This land is ancient, and it has seen some of the world's oldest cultures come and go. At one point it was the capital of the Roman Empire, and it has seen battles with historic figures from Julius Caesar to the Byzantines.
Ravenna is home to eight objects that are included as UNESCO World Heritage sites; all created around the years 400-500 BC. This stunning collection of religious-themed mosaic work from the period is thought to be one of the best examples in the world. With its years as a seat of political and religious power, there are also a number of notable monuments in the city, including many historic churches.
Ravenna's Literary Past
Tolkien was a distinguished professor of literature at Oxford, so it goes without saying that he would likely be familiar with some of the literary history of Ravenna.
The great Italian poet Dante Alighieri is buried in one of Ravenna's old churches, and there are certainly interesting comparisons to be made between his Divine Comedy trilogy and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
English authors Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, and T.S. Eliot all referenced Ravenna in at least one of their works, with which Tolkien would undoubtedly have been familiar.
Today, Ravenna's incredible history and its gorgeous landscape continue to make it a top destination for travelers to Italy. While it is no longer a port city, it is still connected to the Adriatic by a canal, and it has many ancient cobblestone streets now filled with modern cafés and restaurants in addition to masterpieces of history.
Now, with the recent connection to Tolkien's masterpiece, visitors to Ravenna have even more ways to connect this ancient city with a long and storied religious, artistic, and literary past.
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