Arda (Q. 'region, realm, world')
Arda is the name of the world among the Elves. The original meaning of the word was 'realm', referred as the realm of Manwe. Arda was sung by the Ainur and materialised with Ea by Ilśvatar, intended to be the dwelling palce of the Children, wholly tempered, flat, round and symmetrical. This however was marred by the malice of Melkor and the struggles between the Valar. Below Arda originally, there was a great expanse of rock. Above us, Elves understood various layers of airs: Menel, the region of the stars, Ilmen, the region of the Sun and Moon, and Wilya, the region of clouds and birds.
At the beginning, the Valar descented to Arda in order to shape it for the coming of the Children. Melkor claimed dominion over Arda, and Arda was forming while the Valar were fighting against him. When the Valar fulfilled the Vision as best as they could, Arda was flat, with land encircled by Ekkaia the Outer Sea. Ekkaia was encircled by the Walls of Night which were in turn encircled by Vaiya, the envelope. Around this time there was one Great Lake at the centre of Arda where they dwelt at first. There were no celestial bodies yet and the Valar created to the north and south the Two Lamps, Illuin and Ormal for the plants and animals to grow. To the North, Melkor had built Utumno his fortress which was dark and cold far from the light of Illuin, 'protected' by the Iron Mountains. This period, known as Spring of Arda lasted for 1550 Valian Years before Melkor assailed and broke the Lamps. The growth of nature stopped because of the absence of light, and this period was later known as Sleep of Yavanna.
Their falling caused a massive turbulence which changed once more the shape of Arda, and where they stood, two large lakes where formed, Helcar and Ringil, and mountain ranges around them. The growth of nature stopped and this period was called Sleep of Yavanna. The world was separated by various continents (it is not known if they existed before or formed later by the fall of the Lamps). The central was called Endor or Middle-earth, and at theboundaries of the Arda, beyond Belegaer the Great Ocean, there was Aman, while in the East there were the little known Lands of the Sun, separated from Endor by the Eastern Sea. Aman and Endor were joined in the north by the icy strait of Helcaraxe. In Aman the Valar founded their new dwelling, Valinor, and created the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion (after Illuin and Ormal) which gave light to Valinor while the rest of Arda remained dark. The Trees also provided measure of time during the Valian Years. Endor, full of shadows, was guarded by Orome. In order to welcome the awakening of the Elves, Varda spread the stars in Menel from the dews of Telperion. The Quendi or Elves awoke then, and were the only sentient beings in Arda, thus their name which means 'speakers'.
The Valar attacked Melkor in Utumno so as to protect the Elves, and this war, known as War of the Gods, changed the western shores of Endor and new islands and bays were created. The Elves established the first civilisations and realms on Arda, both Endor and Aman. As the Elves ruled and prospered on Arda, Melkor was released and later killed the Two Trees, so Arda fell once more in darkness, lit only by the stars. The Valar raised to Ilmen the last glowing fruits of the Trees, which became the Sun and Moon. About this time Men awoke in Hildorien and started to wander and prosper among the Elves. The rising of the Sun marked the start of the First Age of the Sun, the consuming of time, and also restored the growth of nature that stopped by the breaking of the Lamps.
The First Age ended with the devastating War of Wrath where Beleriand, the westernmost subcontinent of Middle-earth sank into the sea and Melkor was expelled in the Void. Geographical contact with Aman was cut. The island of Elenna (Nśmenor) arose between Aman and Middle-earth in Belegaer for the Men to dwell. Nśmenor prospered for some millenia, but it fell under the shadow and its people turned against the Valar. On their pride, in II 3319 they attempted to assail Valinor, and they were punished with the destruction of their island. Then Arda 'bent' (became spherical) as we know it, and Aman was removed from the world and new lands were formed in the ocean. However Aman was still reachable by the Elven ships that could sail above the curvity of the world.
During the Third and Fourth Ages, the Elves diminished as many left for the Undying Lands. Those who stayed in Middle-earth faded, giving place to the Dominion of Men, and Arda started to take the shape we know today. The Elves believed that the original design of Arda will be restored in the End.
Arda is the Quenya name of the World, with its atmosphere and the celestial objects. The term Ambar is roughly equivalent and it probably refers to Earth without the celestial objects. It was also called Kingdom of Earth/Arda/Manwe and Little Kingdom. In Nśmenor the world was called Kamāt, Daira or Aban. In Valarin it was Ažāraphelūn.
In Tolkien's later writings Arda changed its meaning to "Solar-system" - tbc...
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