Suburb Designs Its Neighborhood around J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth

I'll meet you at the corner of Saruman and Aragorn

Suburb Designs Its Neighborhood around J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth

Want to move to Middle-Earth? It'll cost you. You need well over half a million euros to afford a house at Gimli, Legolas or Celeborn. But the one at Palantir will only set you back only €320,000, and the houses on Tolkien Avenue start from as little as €240,000 (1).


No, Middle-Earth has not joined the eurozone. It's rather the other way round: a small part of the Netherlands has styled itself after J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional world, the backdrop for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Welcome to Geldrop, an unassuming suburb of Eindhoven that has nonetheless given the Netherlands a prime minister and Andy Warhol a pop art model (2).

The town also created the world's densest Tolkien-themed street grid: an estate covering about a quarter of a square mile, containing about 50 streets, avenues and paths carrying names taken from Tolkien's various epics.

The area was built up in the late 20th century in Genoenhuis, a district of Geldrop bordered by the E34 motorway in the south and the Eindhoven to Weert railway in the east. On the map, part of the estate looks ring-shaped – which gave one town planner the idea to link the area to Tolkien.

Themed street names are not uncommon, usually for districts planned and developed from scratch. Some examples: 

  • The Sherwood Forest neighbourhood of Memphis, Tennessee has a Robin Hood Lane, a Friar Tuck Road and a Little John Road.
  • Most streets in Gander, Newfoundland are named after pilots, to celebrate the town's aviation history (Yeager and Earhart Streets, Lindbergh Road and McCurdy Drive, to name a few).
  • To remember that Chapelford, a suburb of Warrington in England, was built over an airfield used by the U.S. Air Force in the Second World War, the streets are named after American localities (Oklahoma Boulevard, Pasadena Avenue, Ventura Drive).
  • The Dutch planned city of Almere consists almost entirely of themed sections, with streets named after actors, days of the week, musical instruments, rock stars and fruit varieties, among other categories. 
  • Indeed, the practice is particularly popular in the Netherlands, and the positioning of the themed street names in Geldrop exhibits a degree of consideration that goes beyond merely plonking down some random names on a map.

    The main road through the area is called Laan van Tolkien, or Tolkien Avenue (3). North of that lane are roads named after the men of Gondor: Faramir and Boromir, Denethor and Aragorn. South of those streets and south of the cemetery, but still north of Tolkien Avenue are a number of streets named after men and women from Rohan: Theoden, Eomer, Eowyn. 

    A bit further south are roads reminiscent of Elvish persons and places: Galadriel, Arwen, Legolas, Celeborn, Nimrodel, Amroth and Lorien. Geldrop seems particularly keen on the dwarves who appear in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They are almost all here – and so are some of their forebears, many (but not all) in the southwest: Gimli, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Ori, Fíli, Kíli, Farin, Thorin and Durin. 

    Of course, the great wizard Gandalf cannot fail to make an appearance, nor Frodo. Other hobbits represented on the map are Pippin (both as Pepijn and Peregrijn), Merry (Merijn in Dutch), and Sam Gewissies (Gamgee). Other street names include Erebor, referring to the Lonely Mountain; Palantir, the name of the 'seeing stones'; Yavanna, a goddess from the Silmarillion; and Bombadil, after Tom Bombadil, a mysterious fellow and possibly the oldest creature in Middle-Earth. 

    In the northeast of 'Little Middle-Earth' are names referring to Numenor, a continent west of Middle-Earth: Cirion, Anarion, Elendil, Valandil, Elros, Silmarien. Even smaller paths have not escaped the attention of the tolkienophile town planner: there is the Groene Weg (Greenway), the Zilverlei (Silverlode) and the Haradpad (Harad Road), for instance. 

    The place names in Little Middle-Earth follow the general rule that negative names are to be avoided (although not an absolute rule, see #744). Plenty of good guys here – in fact, all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring get a mention – but just one bad dude makes an appearance on the map: Saruman, the wizard who goes over to the Dark Side. No street named after Sauron, the Evil Lord himself, no Orc Way, no Mordor Road, not even a Gollum Close. But also, strangely: the central character from Tolkien's oeuvre is conspicuous by his absence – no Bilbo. 

    Geldrop has the largest collection of Tolkien-themed street names in the world, but not the only one. There is a smaller grouping in Chelmsford, England. It includes Gandalf’s Ride, Hobbiton Hill, Arwen Grove, Thorin’s Gate, Celeborn Street, Goldberry Mead, Gimli Watch, Treebeard Copse, The Withywindle, Butterbur Chase, Lorien Gardens, Gladden Fields and Meriadoc Drive.

    There are more Tolkien-inspired street names sprinkled throughout the world, in smaller concentrations.

  • In California, there is Rivendell Lane in Davis and Bilbo Drive in San Jose.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina has a Legolas Lane, and so does Wright City, Missouri (off Samwise Street, next to Aragorn Lane, not far from Bombadil Boulevard).
  • In Severn, Maryland there is a Baggins Road, Aragorn Court, Strider Court and, yes, a Gollum Road. 
  • Other places go even further, and have given street names to the shadowland where Mount Doom is located: there is one Mordor Lane in Frisco, Texas and another one in Hanover, Maryland; and Mordor Drive in Lorton, Virginia...
  • ... and even to the Evil One who resides there. By the looks of it, though, nobody has yet dared build a house on Sauron Road NW in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. 
  • --

    Many thanks to Andrew Porter, who pointed to a recent article in the Guardian about Geldrop's fantasy district. Map from Bing Maps. Street sign picture from this page at Tolkien Brasil (which has many more). Warhol image here at eindhovenfotos.nl.

    Strange Maps #823

    Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

    (1) See houses and prices here at Dutch real-estate page funda.nl.

    (2) Dries van Agt (1977-'82) and Apollonia van Ravenstein (b.1952, pictured), respectively. Other famous Geldropians: the writer A.F.Th. van der Heijden; Viktor Horsting, half of the Viktor & Rolf fashion brand; and model Lara Stone, the now ex-wife of British comedian and celebrity David Walliams.

    (3) As noted by the Tolkien Library, plenty of places and things have been named after the author himself, including a crater on Mercury, a small asteroid between Jupiter and Mars, a giant tree on Vancouver Island, a Dutch schooner (available for cruises and events), a Street in Orlando and a Lane in Jacksonville, a bar in Zagreb and a restaurant in Birmingham. Reports of a Bistro Tolkien in Bruges, owned by the same proprietors who run The Hobbit bar across the street, are false (or at least outdated). The bar opposite is now called The Habit.

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    These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

    Nero's Torches. A group of early Christian martyrs about to be burned alive during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.

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    • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
    • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
    • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

    We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

    While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

    1. Caligula

    Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

    While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

    Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

    Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

    He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

    Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

    He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

    In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

    2. Nero

    Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

    He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

    He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

    He died by suicide.

    Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

    3. Commodus

    Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

    Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

    The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

    4. Elagabalus

    Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

    His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

    He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

    5. Vitellius

    Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

    Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

    He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

    Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

    6. Caracalla

    Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

    He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

    Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

    One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

    Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

    7. Tiberius

    As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

    He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

    "Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

    Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

    There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

    After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

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