The Hidden Rock

Gondolin was the most beautiful, most renowned and longest to endure of all the Noldorin city-kingdoms founded in Middle-earth during the First Age. It was created by Turgon, son of Fingolfin, who wanted to prepare a last refuge against foretold disaster. However, he also wanted to dwell in a fair place, as much like Tirion as possible.

Fifty years after the first stone had been laid for Gondolin, Turgon and his people vanished into the mountains from Nevrast. From that day forth, few elves ever passed the outer doors until the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Gondolin became the “Hidden City”, its whereabouts not even known by its allies.

Gondolin was completed in the second century of the Exile of the Noldor and then a law was set down that any stranger who might find their way to the city was not to leave, and no-one but the people living there were to know its whereabouts. Within the mountain perimeter, all that was fair in elven culture was preserved, with reverence.

Gondolin was built in 52 years, starting in around year 64 of the First Age. During the whole construction, there was a constant guard presence so that no-one could discover its location. The location for the city was found by Turgon after being told by Ulmo to go searching for it, and it was the power of Ulmo in the Vale of Sirion that helped keep it secret.

Gondolin was situated on the sides and summit of Amon Gwareth – a steep and precipitous hill which originally rose up from the exact centre of a circular lake, Tumladen, in the Encircling Mountains in the north of Beleriand. However, over the ages, the lake dried up, drained through long-vanished channels, and all that remained was the vale and Amon Gwareth.

It was a white city, with high white walls and a tall white tower for the King. Turgon never ceased to add to the city’s strength and beauty, building high towers and mighty walls. However, the towers were slender pinnacles of grace and proportion, and the walls shone in the sunlight. In Turgon’s Halls were images of the Two Trees, so real that Telperion and Laurelin themselves seemed to stand in the Halls.

The way into Gondolin

There was only one entrance to Tumladen, winding through the Encircling Mountains, and that was long hidden. It was only rediscovered by Turgon – but even only then with Ulmo’s aid.

The road leading to the Gate of Gondolin was disguised as the Dry River, a rough way with stones littering the floor. Nearer the Gate, the hills towered up like sheer walls. There was then a great precipice, rising sheer and sudden from a steep slope upon which grew a tangled thicket of thorn-trees. The stony channel entered the thicket, and the branches formed a roof. At the foot of the cliffs there was an opening leading to a low tunnel. There lay the first Gate – the Gate of Wood. This was a wide arch with tall pillars on either side, hewn from the rock. Between the pillars hung a portcullis of crossed wooden bars, carved and studded with iron nails. It rose silently with a single touch. After the Gate was a great ravine, carved ages before when the Valar went to war. Between the walls was a ribbon of sky, where the stars could be seen even in the daytime. The path was lit with lamps giving off pale light and climbed steeply, sometimes using stairs, and sometimes winding slopes.

The second Gate was the Gate of Stone, approximately half a league from the first gate. It was placed in a great wall built across the ravine, with stout towers of stone at either flank of the gate. Above the road was a great archway containing a single huge block of dark and polished stone and a white lamp hung in the midst of the arch. The stone turned on an invisible pivot. After the gate was a courtyard containing many armed guards, and in the northern tower was a chamber.

The third Gate, set in an even higher and stronger wall, was the Gate of Bronze. This was a great twofold door hung with shields and plates of bronze, on which were wrought many figures and strange signs. Above the lintel were three square towers, roofed and clad with copper that stayed ever-bright, and which gleamed in the light of the red lamps ranged along the wall. After the gate was the worst part of the road, as the slope was at its steepest.

Looming over the road was then the Fourth Gate – the Gate of Writhen Iron. Its wall was high and black, and unlit. Four towers of iron stood upon it, and between the two inner towers was set an image of a great eagle wrought in iron. A light came through the traceries of the gate, which were wrought and hammered into the shapes of trees with writhing roots and woven branches laden with leaves and flowers. However, the wall was of great thickness, and it was composed of three grilles. Behind the Gate stood lines of Iron Guards, with black mantles, mail and long shields. Their faces were masked with visors bearing eagle’s beaks. Beyond this gate, the road ran almost level, having passed the crown of the Echoriath. The mountain towers then fell swiftly down towards the inner hills, and the ravine became less sheer. Beside the road was a sward of grass, with white flowers.


The Fifth Gate was the Gate of Silver. Its wall was white marble, and was low and broad. Its parapet was a trellis of silver between five great globes of marble, and on it stood many archers robed in white. The gate was shaped as three parts of a circle, and was wrought of silver and pearl in the likeness of the Moon. Above the Gate, on the mid-most globe, stood an image of Telperion, wrought of silver and malachite, with flowers made of the great pearls of Balar. Beyond the Gate was a wide court paved with green and white marble, and there stood more archers clad in silver mail and white-crested helms. A long white road ran to the Sixth Gate, and along this road the grass sward widened, and the white flowers had opened, showing centres of gold.

The Sixth Gate was the Golden Gate, the last of the ancient gates of Turgon that were wrought before the Nirnaeth. It was like the Gate of Silver, but the wall was built of yellow marble, and the globes and parapet were of red gold. There were six globes, and in the midst there was a golden pyramid upon which was set an image of Laurelin. Her flowers were wrought of topaz in long clusters upon chains of gold. The Gate itself was adorned with many-rayed discs of gold set amid devices of garnet and topaz and yellow diamonds. In the court beyond the Gate were 300 archers with long bows. Their mail was gilded and tall golden plumes rose from their helmets. Their round shields were as red as flame.

The Seventh Gate, named the Great, was the Gate of Steel that was only created when Maeglin returned from the Nirnaeth. It lay across the wide entrance to the Orfalch Echor. There was no wall, but on either side were two high, round towers, many-windowed, and tapering in seven storeys to turrets of bright steel. Between the towers stood a mighty fence of steel that could not rust, and between the pillars were seven cross-bars of steel. In each space were seven times seven rods of upright steel, with heads like the blades of spears. Above the mid-most pillar was raised a mighty image of the king-helm of Turgon, set with diamonds. The Gate was opened by striking on a bar, which made the fence ring like a harp, giving forth clear notes that ran from tower to tower. Then riders would issue from the towers, and from the north tower one rider came forth on a white horse – the Warden of the Great Gate.

Beyond the Gates was a meadow looking out over the valley below, with Gondolin amidst the snow.

The Houses of the Gondolindrim

The “Book of Lost Tales 2” contains a description of the 11 Houses of the Gondolindrim, known only in canon through Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower and Galdor of the Tree. The different Houses were:

House of the Fountain Silver and diamonds were their delight, and their swords were long, bright and pale. They went into battle to the music of flutes. Their leader was Ecthelion, who had the fairest voice and was most skilled in music of all the Gondolindrim.

House of the Golden Flower This House bore a rayed sun on their shields. Their lord was Glorfindel, who bore a mantle rich with threads of gold.

House of the Hammer of Wrath From this House came many of the best smiths and craftsmen, and they revered Aulë above all the other Valar. In the early days, many of them had been recruited from those Noldor who escaped from Morgoth’s mines, and the hate of the House for all his works and creatures was great. Their sign was the Stricken Anvil, and a hammer that “smiteth sparks about it” was set on their shields. Red gold and black iron was their delight. They fought with great maces, and their shields were heavy. Their leader was Rog, second only in valour to Galdor.

House of the Harp A harp of silver was blazoned on a field of black on their armour. Their heavy and squat leader Salgant was craven, and fawned upon Maeglin. He alone wore a harp of gold on his armour.

House of the Heavenly Arch A large folk of uncounted wealth, which was reflected in their dress and weaponry. They were arrayed in a glory of colours, and their arms were set with jewels that flamed in the sun. Their shields were coloured as the blue of heaven, with the bosses a jewel built of seven gems – rubies, amethysts, sapphires, emeralds, chrysophase, topaz and amber. Opals of huge size were set in their helms. Their chief was Eglamoth, and he wore a blue mantle on which stars were embroidered in crystal. He was the only one of the Noldor to bear a bent sword, but he preferred the bow, and his House were known as archers.

House of the King / King’s House Their colours were white, gold and red, and their emblems were the moon, the sun and the scarlet heart (representing the heart of Fingon torn out by Orcs at the Nirnaeth).

House of the Mole Their round caps of steel were covered with moleskin, they wore black armour with no emblem, and they fought with two-headed axes. They were led by Maeglin.

House of the Pillar Marshalled by Penlod, tallest of the Noldor, along with the House of the Tower of Snow.

House of the Swallow – This House bore a fan of feathers on their helm, and were arrayed in white, dark blue, purple and black. They showed an arrowhead on their shields, and were known as archers. Their lord was Duilin.

House of the Tower of Snow Marshalled by Penlod, tallest of the Noldor, along with the House of the Pillar.

House of the Tree A great House who wore raiment of green. Their lord Galdor was held to be the most valiant of the Gondolindrim save Turgon alone. They fought with iron-studded club or with slings.

Along with the 11 main Houses, the bodyguard of Tuor was accounted a twelfth House.

House of the Wing (Tuor’s men) Tuor’s bodyguard wore wings like swans or gulls on their head, and the emblem of the White Wing was on their shield.

Eöl, Aredhel, and Maeglin

After 200 years of living in Gondolin, Aredhel wearied of the city, and asked leave from Turgon to allow her to explore Middle-earth. Turgon eventually yielded, allowing Aredhel to visit their brother Fingon.

When she reached the Sirion, she bade her companions to return to Gondolin as she had decided not to go to Fingon, but instead to seek out her old friend, Celegorm, the son of Fëanor. To reach Celegorm and Curufin’s realm, she had to pass through the evil region of Nan Dungortheb where she became separated from her companions. She travelled on alone to Himlad. When she arrived, Celegorm was not there, but his people made her welcome, and she wandered through his land for a year. Eventually, she grew tired of waiting, left Himlad, and then unknowingly became enmeshed in the snares of Eöl and Nan Elmoth. For the history of her life with Eöl, and her subsequent return to Gondolin with Maeglin, please refer to this.

While most people could easily create a case for Eöl being the cause of Maeglin’s problems, Shippey (1992) made an interesting suggestion about Aredhel having a significant effect on Maeglin’s life:

“one could simply put the blame on Aredhel. She left Gondolin pridefully, against advice, and turned away from her wiser brothers to her more evil attraction of Fëanorian fieriness.” (Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, Visions and Revisions)

After Aredhel and Eöl’s deaths, Maeglin stayed in Gondolin, and became great among the Gondolindrim. He rose high in the favour of Turgon, and made steel from the iron in the Echoriath, designing stronger and keener weapons for the city.

“for if he would learn eagerly and swiftly all that he might, he had much also to teach.

Wise in counsel was Maeglin and wary, and yet hardy and valiant at need.” (Silmarillion, Of Maeglin)

But the Doom of the Noldor was still in place, and Maeglin’s life had hidden anguish.

“From his first days in Gondolin he [Maeglin] had borne a grief, ever worsening, that robbed him of all joy; he loved the beauty of Idril and desired her, without hope. The Eldar wedded not with kin so near, nor ever before had any desired to do so. And however that might be, Idril loved Maeglin not at all; and knowing his thought of her she loved him the less. For it seemed to her a thing strange and crooked in him, as indeed the Eldar ever since have deemed it; an evil fruit of the Kinslaying, whereby the shadow of the curse of Mandos fell upon the last hope of the Noldor. But as the years passed still Maeglin watched Idril, and waited, and his love turned to darkness in his heart. And he sought the more to have his will in other matters, shirking no toil or burden, if he might thereby have power.

Thus it was in Gondolin; and amid all the bliss of that realm, while its glory lasted, a dark seed of evil was sown.”

Gondolin became very much a Hidden City. There was little traffic in and out of the realm, and the Gondolindrim interfered little in the affairs of Beleriand. Even through the Siege of Angband, Turgon and his people remained shut away in Gondolin.

The first people he welcomed into his kingdom after the hostilities were Húrin and Huor. Turgon came to look upon the sons of Galdor with love, and wanted to keep them with him in Gondolin. However, after a year, he let them leave on their promise not to divulge the Hidden City’s secrets. And this promise they kept, though Galdor and many others guessed at where they had been for the last year. Eventually rumours of a Hidden City spread to the ears of Morgoth.

At the end of the Siege, Turgon would not suffer any of his people to leave the city for war, but he did finally try to help the rest of the Noldor by sending secret companies of the Gondolindrim to the Mouths of Sirion and to the Isle of Balar. There they built ships, and set out for the West to ask forgiveness and aid from the Valar. But none of the ships ever reached Valinor, and only few returned from their adventures.

The Fall of Gondolin

After the defeat of Nargothrond, Morgoth turned his attention to Gondolin. There was only one problem for him – the Dark Lord still did not know the location of the Hidden City.

His first clue came when Húrin desired to once more go to Gondolin, and he journeyed to the Echoriath where he hoped that the eagles would find him. Indeed Thorondor saw him and took word to Turgon that Húrin was outside. Initially Turgon refused him entry, but by the time he changed his mind, Húrin had gone. From this, Morgoth reasoned that Gondolin must be somewhere in the Echoriath, though he could not get any spy into the area because of the eagles.

The actual Fall of Gondolin came about some time later, and it started with the discovery of the Halls of Vinyamar by Tuor, son of Huor and Rían. There he found the armour that Turgon had left there on the command of Ulmo many years before. Ulmo then appeared to Tuor, telling him to seek out Gondolin, and the Vala also gave him a great cloak to hide him in shadow from the eyes of his enemies. While in Vinyamar, Tuor also came across Voronwë, son of Aranwë of Gondolin, who had sailed in Turgon’s fleet to the West. After hearing of Ulmo’s words, the Noldo agreed to guide Tuor to Gondolin.

When Tuor and Voronwë reached Gondolin, they were taken to Turgon where Tuor gave Ulmo’s message to the King. The Vala’s words gave warning that the Curse of Mandos was hastening to its fulfilment, when all the works of the Noldor would perish; and bade Turgon depart and travel down the Sirion to the Sea. Turgon then remembered the words Ulmo spoke to him those many years ago, saying that the hope of the Noldor would lie in the West and come from the Sea. But Turgon was proud of the beauty of his City, and he still trusted in its secret strength – even though Ulmo had said otherwise. Furthermore, after the Nirnaeth, the Gondolindrim decided that they would never again mix in the woes of elves and men, nor return through the world to the West. Maeglin forever spoke out against Tuor, and eventually Turgon rejected the words of Ulmo.

The city was then shut tight against all – even refugees fleeing from the ire of Morgoth. From then on, tidings of the outside world came to the city came only by eagle.

“Turgon shut his ear to word of the woes without, and vowed to march never at the side of any son of Fëanor; and his people he forbade ever to pass the leaguer of the hills.” (Silmarillion, Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin)

Tuor and Idril

Tuor and Idril, the daughter of Turgon, fell in love and were married. Idril was wise and far-seeing, and she realised that the happiness and light of Gondolin would not last, and she created a secret way that led down from the city out to the plains, north of Amon Gwareth.

The next year, Eärendil Half-elven was born to Idril.

“Of surpassing beauty was Eärendil, for a light was in his face as the light of heaven, and he had the beauty and the wisdom of the Eldar and the strength and hardihood of the Men of old; and the Sea spoke ever in his ear and heart, even as with Tuor his father.” (Silmarillion, Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin)

“Now this babe was of greatest beauty; his skin of a shining white and his eyes of a blue surpassing that of the sky in southern lands – bluer than the sapphires of the raiment of Manwë; and the envy of Meglin was deep at his birth, but the joy of Turgon and all the people very great indeed.” (Book of Lost Tales II, The Fall of Gondolin)

The treachery of Maeglin

Maeglin loved mining and quarrying after metals, and he was the master and leader of the Elves who worked in the mountains distant from the city. Often he went beyond the boundaries of Gondolin in direct opposition to Turgon’s wishes. It came to pass that Maeglin was taken prisoner by Orcs, and brought to Angband. There he purchased his life and freedom by revealing to Morgoth the location of Gondolin, under the threat of great and terrible torture. Morgoth then promised Maeglin both the lordship of Gondolin, and the hand of Idril for his wife. He was then sent back to Gondolin, lest anyone suspect his betrayal, and so that Maeglin could help the invasion, when it came.

Many people put the blame for the Fall of Gondolin squarely onto Maeglin’s shoulders, and indeed it was he that precipitated the battle. But one must not forget what had led him to his destiny – including having Eöl for a father, loving Idril hopelessly, and having the Doom of the Noldor hanging squarely over his head.

“his motivation is multiple: fear, but also jealousy of Tuor the mortal, imperfect loyalty to a grandfather who killed his father, the ambitious desire for Idril which seems a last reflection of the Sindar desire to get their lands back from their supplanters. Húrin, Maeglin, Aredhel, Eöl, Curufin, Turgon: all interact to create the fall of Gondolin.” (Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, Visions and Revisions)

The Fall of Gondolin

The account of the battle given in the Silmarillion was extremely short – simply a paragraph or two for one of the only town-based battles in Middle-earth history. However, a detailed account of the battle was given in the Book of Lost Tales 2.

When Eärendil was seven years old, Morgoth unleashed his Balrogs, Orcs, dragons and wolves on the city. They came onto the city on a night of festival, when all the people of Gondolin were upon the walls to await the rising sun. Because of this, the enemy were not stayed until they were beneath the very walls of the city.

The army of Morgoth burst into the city through the northern gate. To meet the vanguard of Orcs came the Houses of the Hammer of Wrath and the Tree, and the archers of the Swallow and the Arch rained arrows down on the invaders. But by weight of their greater numbers, the Orcs slowly forced their way into the city.

At around the same time, Tuor and his men won through to his dwelling place to find that Maeglin had reached there first. Maeglin had intended that Tuor was to be delayed by Salgant in the King’s Halls, but Salgant had become terrified, and he rode home and lay quaking on his bed. Tuor thus managed to get to his home before Maeglin could steal Idril away. Around his door were men of the House of the Mole, but Tuor and his men fought through in time to save Eärendil and Idril. Tuor cast Maeglin out over the battlements. His body hit Amon Gwareth three times in an obvious parallel with the death of his father before falling into the flames of the battle.

Tuor then left Idril in the care of Voronwë, and he hastened to the northern gate with his men. When he arrived, the battle at the Gate was fierce, and Duilin of the Swallow was shot by a fiery bolt from a Balrog as he even was shooting towards the enemy.

“Then the Balrogs continued to shoot darts of fire and flaming arrows like small snakes into the sky, and these fell upon the roofs and gardens of Gondolin till all the trees were scorched, and the flowers and grass burned up, and the whiteness of those walls and colonnades was blackened and seared.” (Book of Lost Tales 2, The Fall of Gondolin)

Rog then led the House of the Hammer of Wrath out to fight the Balrogs – the elves charging in a fury of wrath, sparks flying from their eyes. The number of Balrogs killed that day was told of in song from thence forth. Gothmog then sent a small force of Balrogs to slay the Hammer of Wrath, and kept the greater number back to assail the gates. Rog and his men chased the Balrogs down onto the plain of Tumladen, until they were at last hemmed in by a force of Orcs and Balrogs, when a dragon was let loose on them. It was told that each man of the Hammer of Wrath took seven lives for his own.

When the defenders of Gondolin saw the destruction of the Hammer of Wrath, they retreated further back into the city. There Penlod died in a lane, and about him many men of the Pillar and the Tower of Snow.

By that time, Morgoth’s forces held the Gate and a great part of the walls on either side, where they had killed many of the Swallow and the Rainbow. They also had won through nearly to the centre of the city, to the Place of the Well that adjoined the Square of the Palace. Then Morgoth’s commanders stopped for further counsel. They decided that they would bring forward dragons and Balrogs, but as messengers were sent back with these instructions, Ecthelion and the men of the Fountain, which until then had been held in reserve, came forward to battle. These men slew countless Orcs, and then Tuor and the House of the Wing came to stand alongside Ecthelion, and between them they harried the Orcs almost back to the Gate. But then a dragon came forth, carrying Balrogs upon it. To counter this new threat, Tuor rallied all those he could find of the Arch and the Swallow, and Ecthelion stood to the right with the men of the Fountain.

Ecthelion then slew three Balrogs, and Tuor five, before the Gondolindrim were outnumbered and were forced to fall back. Tuor had to bear Ecthelion from the battle, as his arm had been injured by a Balrog’s whip. With that retreat, the armies of Morgoth once again flooded into the city, and they came to hold half the city. The elves they slew, or took captive.

Tuor fell back to the Square of the Folkwell, and there found Galdor and his few remaining men guarding the Arch of Inwë (= Ingwë), the western entry to the square. Galdor then proved the salvation of Tuor, for the man stumbled, while still carrying Ecthelion, and the Orcs would have taken them if it was not for Galdor coming to their rescue. The remaining Gondolindrim – remnants of the Wing, the Tree, the Fountain, the Swallow and the Arch, decided to fall back to the Square of the King, which was considered more defensible.

Tuor’s force was then reinforced by Glorfindel and the last of the men of the Golden Flower and the Harp. The House of the Golden Flower had fought a battle in the Great Market and were on their way to join in the conflict at the Gate when a force of Orcs and Balrogs came upon them. They fought bitterly for hours until a fire-drake overwhelmed them, and Glorfindel and the remaining of his men retreated. As they retreated, they were reinforced by the Harp, whom Turgon had sent to aid them.

Eglamoth and the remains of the Arch and the Swallow joined Tuor and Ecthelion in the Square. Then Morgoth re-assembled his forces, and sent seven dragons to find the Square of the King, along with their attendant orcs and Balrogs. When they reached the Square, Tuor was beaten down by Gothmog, but Ecthelion, grey of face, and with his shield-arm hanging limp at his side, stood over Tuor as he fell, and battled with the Balrog, both eventually plunging to their deaths within the Fountain.

The men of the Royal House then came out to join the battle, and two score Balrogs were slain. They even hemmed in a fire-drake and forced him into the fountain to his death. The death of the fire-drake in the fountain caused all the water within to boil up, and it filled the square with burning steam and blinding fogs, and many of the Gondolindrim were killed there.

There was one last rally of the elves, starting under the images of Glingal and Belthil. But Turgon had lost hope, and cast down his crown. While he allowed Tuor to lead his people out of the city using Idril’s escape route, he refused to leave. The folk of his House then also refused to leave, and gathered around the base of the King’s Tower.

After the Gondolindrim left, Morgoth’s army continued on into the King’s Square. The dragons crushed the base of the Tower, which collapsed in a pile of flame and fire. Thus fell Turgon, King of Gondolin.

The flight of the Gondolindrim

Tuor and Idril then led as many Gondolindrim as they could gather out through the secret way. On the way out of the city, Glorfindel held the rear, and many of the House of the Golden Flower fell. The Book of Lost Tales 2 also mentions a Legolas Greenleaf of the House of the Tree in that flight.

When the refugees reached Cirith Thoronath, they were set upon by Orcs and a Balrog. Glorfindel then fought the Balrog, and both fell to ruin in the abyss. Eagles then flew down to aid the refugees, and drove the Orcs back so that all were slain or cast into the deeps. Thus words of the escape of Tuor did not come immediately to Morgoth’s ears. At that time, around 800 elves were in the group of refugees.

Thorondor bore up Glorfindel’s body out of the abyss, and he was buried in a mound of stones beside the pass. A green turf came to lie there, and yellow flowers bloomed upon it.

Eventually the refugees came to Nan-tathren, the Land of Willows, and there they rested for a while. They made a feast in memory of Gondolin, and the Elves that had died there, and for Glorfindel the beloved. The Gondolindrim then departed from the Land of Willows, and made their way down to the Mouths of Sirion, and joined their people to the company of Elwing. There, an Elven-folk was established from the remnants of Doriath and Gondolin, and from Balar the mariners of Círdan came among them. When word came to Balar that Turgon was slain, Gil-galad was named High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth.

When Tuor grew old and weary, he fashioned a ship called Eärrámë, and he and Idril set sail into the sunset and the West.

Canonicity of the BoLT story

The Silmarillion covers the Fall of Gondolin in a simple few paragraphs, and the only detailed account known is the one in the Book of Lost Tales 2. It is striking to note that the few details mentioned in the Silmarillion are identical to those in BoLT (e.g. Maeglin’s body hitting Amon Gwareth three times before falling into the flames), and Christopher Tolkien, in his commentary on the BoLT story suggests that most changes between the two versions are simply as a result of compression rather than any significant change in the course of events.

The one main difference, of course, is the number of Balrogs in the battle – a change which does not affect the story of the Noldor in any way. Tolkien’s early concept of Balrogs had them as demons of powers, capable of pain and fear, and less terrible and more destructible than their later counterparts. The Balrogs of the Silmarillion were another matter all together.

References: The Silmarillion, Book of Lost Tales II