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Game of Thrones in Spain

15th August 2018

Fans of Spain and the Paradors will know that, wherever you travel in this fabulous country, you are bound to come across an abundance of historic castles, palaces and enchanting medieval towns that look as though they’ve been plucked straight out of a fairy tale – and the film industry has taken notice. Spain has always been a popular filming location from the famous Peñiscola castle used in Charlton Heston’s El Cid to the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s filmed in Almeria and international filmmakers have understood that Spain’s well-preserved landscape is perfect for historical stories.

Over the past few years there has been a surge in popularity of filming in Spain, and there is no better example of this than the popular HBO TV series Game of Thrones which has used a number of locations throughout the country. The medieval fantasy epic is based on the best-selling ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ books of George R.R. Martin and tells the story of warring families fight for the throne of Westeros, taking inspiration from the War of the Roses. No expense has been spared on production and it films across a number of locations including Northern Ireland, Iceland, Croatia and Spain.

Season 7 of Game of Thrones, which aired in 2017, used many Spanish locations and we’ve put together a list of places that eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted over the seasons, and others that may surprise you.

“The Tower of Joy” filmed at the Castle of Zafra

The Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara was first featured in season 6, episode 3 as ‘The Tower of Joy”. The ‘tower’ first features in one of Bran Stark’s visions and was the scene of a bloody fight between his father, Ned Stark, and Targaryen soldiers imprisoning his aunt. Its striking profile and barren surroundings means that the castle’s appearance was virtually untouched in post-production and as such is easily recognisable.

The Castle of Zafra is a 12th century castle located in the north east of the province of Guadalajara, south west of the city of Zaragoza. Originally built by the Moors, over the centuries the castle remained virtually impenetrable and remained unconquered until the end of the 15th century. Today the castle is privately owned and, with explicit permission from the owners, you can visit to see the exteriors tall walls standing proudly on a large rock formation and the dungeon, but the interiors are strictly closed to the public. The castle is the only building for miles around so is a bit of a journey but, for any fans of the show or amateur photographers looking for a stunning setting, it’s worth a trip. 

Nearest Parador:  Teruel 

 

“Dragonstone" filmed at Gaztelugatxe Island & Itzurun Beach

One of the key locations of season 7, this islet played home to Dragonstone, an impressive castle located on an island which served as the original seat of House Targaryen and in later years used by the Baratheons. During the seventh season the castle is used as a base by Daenerys Targaryen and is visited by many main characters including Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Ser Davos Seaworth.

Gaztelugatxe is a Spanish island off the coast of Biscay in the Basque Country connected to the mainland by a dramatic zig-zag staircase on a stone bridge. This rugged island has an ancient church on top of the cliff. Previously it was home to many religious buildings, including a convent, but today you will find a church dedicated to John the Baptist at the top of the cliffs and the tradition after climbing the stairs up the cliffs is to ring the church’s bell three times and make a wish.

For the record, Game of Thrones isn’t the first time that the islet has been linked to violence and the supernatural. Sir Francis Drake looted the island and killed its sole dweller in the 16th century, and in the 17th century Spanish Inquisition used it to imprison during The Basque Witch Trials of the 17th century, one of Europe’s most vicious witch hunts.

Itzurun beach and its jagged rock formations provided the backdrop for the dragonglass caves where Jon Snow discovered the rare obsidian needed to make valuable weapons. Located between Bilbao and San Sebastian, the beach provides spectacular views across the Atlantic.

Nearest Parador: Hondarribia or Limpias

 

“Casterly Rock” – Castle of Trujillo

The Castle of Trujillo was used to portray Casterly Rock, the ancestral home of the Lannisters, the series’ main antagonists. In Season 7, a gruesome battle between the Unsullied and the Lannister armies plays out at this iconic castle.             

In addition to the castle, Game of Thrones used the pretty streets of this medieval town to shoot scenes of the Lannister troops preparing to storm the fortress of Highgarden.

The castle is one of the main attractions of Trujillo, sitting at the highest point of the town and has Arab origins dating back to the 9th century. It has only ever been used as a defensive building with no living areas or high towers.

Trujillo itself has a fascinating history which is closely linked to American colonisation as the birthplace several famous Conquistadors including Francisco Pizarro, who led the expedition that conquered the Inca Empire, and Francisco de Orellana who led the first known successful expedition along the entire length of the Amazon River. Hernán Cortes, who efforts led to the fall of the Aztec Empire, was born in nearby Medellín.

Today Trujillo is charming town with well-preserved medieval buildings and streets, and a beautiful square surrounded by cafes and restaurants.

Nearest Parador: Trujillo

 

“Highgarden” filmed at Castillo de Almodóvar del Río, Córdoba

The fourth episode of season seven introduced us to Highgarden, the ancestral house of the Tyrell House, the richest family in Westeros. Jaime Lannister and his troops conquer Highgarden in a scene which showcases this stunning Andalusian castle.

Situated on the banks of the Guadalquivir Rive only 16 miles west of Córdoba, the Castillo de Almodóvar del Río is open to the public and visitors can explore its towers and dungeons and admire an astonishing collection of weapons.

Located 14 miles west of Córdoba, the castle held an important defensive position and its foundations date back as far as Roman occupation. The castle as it stands today was built under Moorish rule and, even as Spain returned to Christian rule in the 13 century, continued to be used as a royal residence.

Its proximity to Córdoba means that you can take a day trip to the castle and then return to enjoy the pleasures of the lovely city including the astounding Cathedral-Mosque, the Roman Bridge and delicious tapas.

Cordoba’s Roman Bridge also has its own 15 minutes of fame in the TV series during scenes depicting Volantis.

Nearest Parador: Córdoba

 

“Dorne's Water Gardens & Sunspear” filmed at Real Alcázar de Sevilla

Sunspear is the seat of House Martell in Dorne, a large, Mediterranean-style peninsula in the southernmost part of Westeros. One of the key parts of the royal residence at Sunspear and where the characters hold many of their meetings is the Water Gardens and these scenes were filmed at the Real Alcázar de Sevilla.

The Real Alcázar of Seville is one of the most emblematic monuments of Seville and is the perfect setting for the Water Gardens.  The Alcázar first dates back to Moorish occupation, and despite destruction during the Christian reconquests, when it was rebuilt for Pedro I, the design featured many Moorish influences as evidenced by the abundance of Moorish arches and intricate detailing in the stone and as such is one of the finest examples of Mudéjar architecture to be found in Spain. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used as royal residences during their visits; however the lower levels and gardens are open to the public. The main building is broken up by a series of pretty patios and the gardens are expansive including mazes, ponds, fountains and peacocks.

Along with the Cathedral and the Archivo de Indias, the Real Alcázar makes up the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Seville.

Nearest Parador: Carmona

 

“Meereen's Fighting Pit” - filmed at the Plaza De Toros de Osuna

The Plaza de Toros de Osuna was used as the main Fighting Pit of Meereen, one of the Slaver Cities conquered by Daenerys Targaryen. In season 5, episode 3 the fighting pit was the scene of a brutal massacre involving freed slaves and their former masters.

Dating back to 1902 the bullring was only locally known prior to being featured on Game of Thrones and is not set up for tourism in the same way as some of the other entries on this list, however you can enjoy an interesting visit, and walk around the arena itself, exploring the bullring from a different point of view. You would only need a 15 minute visit to explore the arena and it's only open on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, so you need to time your visit.

Nearest Parador: Antequera

 

“Dragonpit” filmed in Roman ruins of Italica near Santiponce

Season 7 sees Daenerys Targaryen head to Westeros with her supporters in tow and one of the major events of the season is a meeting between the three warring houses of Targaryen, Lannister and Greyjoy as they unite against a common threat in the north. The meeting takes place in the Dragonpit, an arena which used to host Targaryen dragons, and is filmed in the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre of Itálica near the town of Santiponce in Andalucia.  

Itálica was one of the first Roman cities founded in Hispania (the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula) in 206 BC, and today the ruins of the amphitheatre, which exposes the former waiting cells below, are a popular attraction in the town. 

Some visual trickery was used to combine the Roman ruins of Itália with the ancient Reales Atarazanas dockyards of Seville, one of the best preserved medieval shipyards in the world.

Nearest Parador: Carmona

 

"Meereen" filmed in Peñíscola

Peñíscola is no stranger to camera crews as it famously featured in the aforementioned El Cid. Its fortified medieval streets and imposing Papa Luna castle lend themselves well as backdrops for historical tales.

In Game of Thrones, Peñíscola is transformed into the grand city of Meereen, one of the largest cities of Slaver’s Bay where Daenerys Targaryen spends much of her time preparing for her long-awaited return to Westeros.

Peñíscola is one of the main tourist centres of the province of Castellón. The city’s historic centre juts out into the ocean with its ancient city walls and castle surrounded by white-washed houses looking every inch a remnant of times gone by. The Castell de Papa Luna is one of Peñíscola’s most popular attractions and was built on the ruins of a Moorish citadel by the Knights of the Templar at the end of the 13th century. In the 15th century it was turned into a palace and papal library by Antipope Benedict XIII who was known as ‘Papa Luna’. The castle overlooks Peñíscola lengthy beach which is popular with locals and tourists alike.

Nearest Parador: Benicarló

 

"The Dothraki Sea" filmed at the Bardenas Reales Natural Park

Those not familiar with Game of Thrones may be a little confused as to how a sem-desert can serve as a sea, however fans of the show know the the Dothraki ‘Sea’ acutally refers to an expanse of difficult terrain covered in low grass which is inhabited by a fearsome, violent people known as the Dothraki. In the first seasons of the show, Daenerys Targaryen is married off to the leader of one of the Dothraki tribes and they spend much of their time traversing the land whilst pillaging any villages they find en route.

The Bardenas Reales Biosphere Reserve and Natural Park is located in the northern part of Spain in Navarra and is the perfect setting for the Dothraki Sea. The Bardenas can be considered as a no man's land as the semi-desert stretches across 105,000 acres. This park is recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve in which the erosion of the clay, gypsum stone and sandstone has sculpted a landscape of impressive shapes with an almost lunar appearance. Along with the makers of Game of Thrones, it has inspired producers and writers, and has been the scene of TV adverts, music videos and films.

Nearest Parador: Olite or Calahorra

 

Photo credits:

(Amphitheater oItálica, Santiponce, Seville, Spain) By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46580615

(Gaztelugatxe) By multisanti (Santiago Díaz) from Santiago de Compostela, España - Gaztelugatxe, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8807455

(Peniscola from the beach) By Grodin.tierce - 1984, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25554121

(Castillo de Zafra) By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55097994

(Castillo de Almodóvar del Río) By Rabe! - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17900151

(Bardenas) By Bruno Barral - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12031476 

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