Orthanc ~ The Black Tower of Saruman

“This was Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, the name of which had (by design or chance) a twofold meaning;
for in the Elvish speech Orthanc signifies Mount Fang, but in the language of the Mark of old the Cunning Mind.”

Lay Your Staff HERE to Return to Mordor Main Page.


TolkienCanon3Orthanc was a tower built by the Númenóreans after their exile to Middle-earth. It sat in the center of a natural vale and was surrounded by a great rock wall that was partly natural and partly fashioned by the men of Gondor. Nan Curunír lay within a fold of the hills, that came down from the tail end of the Misty Mountains.

The keys to Orthanc were eventually given to Saruman the White, who was considered chief among the Istari. For many long years the wizard made of Isengard his home and during his time there he had not been idle. Within the tower of Orthanc resided one of the lost Seeing Stones of Númenor. It was discovered by Saruman, who used it to see far and eventually his eye was drawn to Mordor. It was not long, before the wizard was ensnared by the brooding Shadow within Barad-dûr.

In the latter years of the Third Age of Middle-earth, the wizards vale was much changed. Once it had been a green garden with groves of trees and fruitful orchards, but Saruman was vying to become a Power in Middle-earth and so turned this fair place into a fortress preparing for war.

Orthanc1Beneath the mountain’s arm within the Wizards Vale through years uncounted had stood that ancient place that men called Isengard. Partly it was shaped in the making of the mountains, but mighty works of Men of the Westernesse had wrought there of old; and Saruman had dwelt there long and had not been idle.
This was it’s fashion, while Saruman was at his height, accounted by many  the chief of Wizards. A great ring-wall of stone, like towering cliffs, stood out from the shelter of the mountain-side, from which it ran and then returned again. One entrance only was there made in it, a great arch delved in the southern wall. Here through the black rock a long tunnel had been hewn, closed at either end with  mighty doors of iron. The were so wrought and poised upon their huge hinges, posts of steel driven into the living stone, that when unbarred they could be moved with a light thrust of the arms, noiselessly. One who passed in and came at length out of the echoing tunnel, beheld a plain, a great circle, somewhat hollowed like a vast shallow bowl: a mile it measured from rim to rim. Once it had been green and filled with avenues, and groves of fruitful trees, watered by streams that flowed from the mountains to a lake. But no green thing grew there in the latter days of Saruman. The roads were paved with stone-flags dark and hard; and beside their borders instead of trees there marched long lines of pillars, some of marble, some of copper and of iron, joined by heavy chains.

From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the chapter ‘The Road to Isengard’


Many houses there were, chambers, halls, and passages, cut and tunneled back into the walls upon their inner side, so that all the  open circle was overlooked by countless windows and dark doors. Thousands could dwell there. workers, servants, slaves and warriors with great store of of arms, wolves were fed and stabled in deep dens beneath. The plain too, was bored and delved. Shafts were driven deep into the ground; their upper ends were covered by low mounds and domes of stone, so that in the moonlight the Ring of Isengard looked like a graveyard of unquiet dead. For the ground trembled. The shafts ran down by many slopes and spiral stairs to caverns far under; there Saruman had treasuries, store-houses, armories, smithies and great furnaces. Iron wheels revolved there endlessly, and hammers thudded. At night plumes of vapour steamed from the vents, lit from beneath with red light or blue, or venomous green.
To the centre all the roads ran between their chains.  There stood a tower of marvelous shape. It was fashioned by the builders of old, who smoothed the Ring of Isengard, and yet it seemed a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills. A peak and isle of rock it was, black and gleaming hard: four mighty piers of many-sided stone were welded into one, but near the summit they opened into gaping horns, their pinnacles sharp as the points of spears, keen-edged as knives. Between them was a narrow space, and there upon a floor of polished stone, written with strange signs, a man might stand five hundred feet above the plain. This was Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, the name of which had (by design or chance) a twofold meaning; for in the Elvish speech Orthanc signifies Mount Fang, but in the langue of the Mark of old the Cunning Mind.

From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the chapter ‘The Road to Isengard’


A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars, but Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived-for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.
This was the stronghold of Saruman as fame reported it; for within living memory the men of Rohan had not passed its gates, save perhaps a few, such as Wormtongue, who came in secret and told no man what he saw.

From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the chapter ‘The Road to Isengard’


Orthanc as it looked in the last days of the Third Age of Middle-earth.



Artwork on this page has been modified from its original form to enhance the layout of this site.
Lay your staff on the images to discover more about the artists.

 Posted by at 9:57 am