In honour of the release of Dome Karukoski's new film Tolkien, Wanderous Affair's editor-in-chief, Emily Fata, put together a list of five places she's encountered around the world that are reminiscent of Middle-earth.
Just one of millions of people captivated by the immersive fantastical imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien, it's unsurprising that I am excited for the upcoming North American release of the film 'Tolkien' on May 10th. Although I love Peter Jackson's cinematic rendition of The Lord of the Rings series, there is something so satisfying (with any novel-turned-movie) in reading the original text; in doing so, one builds the characters and settings with their mind's eye, thus allowing them to be, in part, a contributor to the story.
As I recently began re-reading The Hobbit for the second time, I found myself replacing the New Zealand locations from Jackson's films with images of places I have visited myself... places that had reminded me, during my travels, of Middle-Earth.
Though none of these places served as actual filming locations for any of the films, they certainly gave me a sense of being immersed in Tolkien's world, while I was exploring them first-hand.
Fortress of Suomenlinna (Helsinki, Finland)
During a trip to Helsinki in January, I was informed that house-like structures on the island likely served as inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien's Hobbiton as he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While writing the novels, Tolkien was studying Finland in detail, heavily basing the Quenya (High-elven) language off of Finnish.
Historically however, these fort-like structures were used to store artillery, specifically gunpowder, to protect them from moisture and enemy fire. The chimneys were added for the comfort of patrolling soldiers, who wished to temporarily duck away from the cold outside and enjoy the warmth of a small fire, within a sheltered space.
Wąwóz Korzeniowy Dół (Kazimierz Dolny, Poland)
Eliciting thoughts of the Woodland Realm (or 'Mirkwood'), Wąwóz Korzeniowy Dół is a truly magnificent feat of nature. It is accessible by hiking and biking trails, and is just one of a handful of various gorges close to the city centre; the remarkable pathway of sorts was formed by water erosion over hundreds of years, creating a winding walkway through the middle of the forest.
Now, travellers can immerse themselves in this Tolkien-esque landscape by taking in the protruding roots, lush vegetation, and warm sunlight filtering through the canopy of leaves stretched overhead.
Banff National Park (Banff, Canada)
One of my favourite places on this big, beautiful planet of ours, Banff National Park is one of the dreamiest locations that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Aside from their magical waterfalls, dense forests, and expansive mountain range, their true sense of ethereal beauty lies in the sparkling turquoise lakes.
As if striving to reflect the awe-inspiring beauty of the children of Lúthien themselves, these tranquil waters appear as if they belong in the realm of Lothlórien. However, though "magic" would certainly be a believable source of this phenomenon, the colour derives from a more natural source.
These breathtaking bodies of water are the result of silt or rock flour feeding into the lake off of nearby glaciers' melt water. "The silt is created when rocks underneath the surface of the ice are grinding from the movement of the glacier. The rock flour is very light and stays suspended in the lake water for a long time. The sunlight that reflects off this rock flour is what gives the lakes their spectacular turquoise blue or green colour" (quoted from the website Banff and Beyond).
Wieliczka Salt Mine (Wieliczka, Poland)
Another location in beautiful Poland, this UNESCO-registered destination is visited by over a million tourists every year. It also happens to be one of my favourite attractions in the country. For years I had heard about this magical underground "town" made entirely of salt, and was completely captivated by the stories my (Polish) friend and her family told me about it. This magnificent location began excavation in the thirteenth century and continued to produce table salt continuously until 2007; in fact, it was one of the world's oldest operating salt mines. While exploring the depths of the mines, you can view original miner routes, authentic mining equipment, various chapels carved entirely from salt, and astoundingly massive sculptures.
Descending into the depths of Wieliczka (pronounced "vyeh-leech-ka") down the Danilowicz Shaft was both thrilling and terrifying, each step downward becoming increasingly ominous. The majority of our excursion was visually breathtaking, extremely interesting, and quite salty (yes, in flavour! When you go, make sure to lick the wall at some point on your walk. You'll also notice that you can taste it on your lips simply by breathing in the dry, salty air).
There were however, some segments of the tour where the environment became intriguingly eerie. In fact, in some spots, I wouldn't have been surprised if a glowering orc or troll waltzed right onto the pathway! Adding to the shroud of mystery in this historical excavation was the auditory accompaniments.
Though the lighting was terrible when I shot this video from my phone, you can hear a short two second clip of the sounds being played in one section of the salt mines. Eerily Mordor-like, indeed!
Carpathian Mountains (Czech Republic and Slovakia)
My first true exposure to such magnificently towering mountains, I had the absolute pleasure of driving through the Carpathian Mountain range at the age of seventeen, when travelling to Budapest, Hungary from Prague, Czech Republic.
Though not located anywhere near the original filming locations for Edoras (Mount Sunday in New Zealand), the Carpathian Mountains strongly reminded me of it; all that was missing were the Rohan people! The rich shades of green, sparkling lakes sprinkled throughout the region, crisp mountain air, and natural tranquility are exactly as I envision the Edoras of Tolkien's imagination to have been.
As I mentioned before, none of these places actually served as filming locations for Peter Jackon's Lord of the Rings films, but they nonetheless offered me a sense of being immersed in Tolkien's fantastical world while I visited them. For anyone passionate about his literary works, the cinematic accompaniments, or even those who are intrigued by the world's most fascinating locations, these are must-sees during your travels.
And with that, I leave you with one of my favourite poems, taken from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:
"All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king."
— J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)