It’s not often you see a group of people delight in impersonating a homeless blind girl beaten with a stick, or an amputee aristocrat leading an army against his incest bastard, but Girona brings it out in people. Specifically, Game of Thrones people. People like me.
And ever since HBO’s fantasy behemoth started filming in this medieval city in north-east Catalonia, my fellow Brothers of the Nightwatch have flocked to explore the real-life setting of series six and beyond. Now it was my turn.
I arrived in Girona with the landscapes of Westeros and Essos in mind – it’s possible to visit both within one day in Girona. However, you’ve got a couple of options how to spend that day: a) taking in the city at speed, whizzing between GoT settings on a segway tour, or b) learning about two millenia of history, culture, architecture and food via an in-depth nine-hour walking tour.
It was an easy choice.
However, there is sound logic behind exploring this city by segway. From the wealthy background of King’s Landing’s religious centre, to the grubby streets of Braavos, Girona’s eclectic Game of Thrones locations are spread throughout the hilly city. If you want to relive your favourite scenes without looking too out of breath then it’s worth trying out these easy-to-master machines. Plus, as you well know, segways are very cool.
Braving the streets of Braavos
Girona doubles as the Free City of Essos, home to Arya Stark during her difficult ‘girl with no name’ phase in season six. On the downside, she suffered temporary blindness and merciless beatings from the malicious Waif. But on the upside, this horrible plot gave me an excuse to roam the beautiful sprawling alleys of the city’s Medieval Quarter.
(I’m on the right, if you couldn’t tell)
And don’t be fooled by the darkened camera filter and gloomy extras in these scenes: Bisbe Cartaña, the street where Arya has fisticuffs with the Waif, is surrounded by the immaculate architecture of the Gothic side of Girona’s Saint Mary cathedral (I’d check out the front later).
See that massive building behind Arya? From her position I could see this…
And as the tour goes on, a pattern emerges: the more danger Arya is in, the more stunning the setting.
Take the steps in front of Sant Marti convent. This filming spot for the knife-wielding Waif’s pursuit of a severely wounded Arya is one of Girona’s hidden gems.
Although a lot quieter than in Arya’s day, rolling into this concealed alley felt like strolling straight into the 17th century (minus the segway).
The steps of Sant Marti
And then there are the Arab baths: setting of Arya’s chase to the death with the Waif. Another horrible moment for the Stark girl; a great experience for me.
These 12th century baths with their eight Romanesque columns offered the pristine medieval architecture that make Game of Thrones world seem so authentic. It’s just a shame Arya was too busy running for her life to really appreciate it.
A gander in King’s Landing
Yes, despite being based on the other side of the Narrow Sea, Girona is the setting of the capital of Westeros’ Seven Kingdoms. In particular, Girona’s cathedral is home to Great Sept of Baelor of season six. And it was easy to see why.
On arriving at the 11th century church I felt small, the segway a toy. The 91 steps – the very steps Ser Jaime Lannister galloped up to confront the Faith of the Seven – amass into a small mountain. And the colossal cathedral itself dominates the skyline of the old town, its colossal Baroque façade stretching skywards.
It’s truly massive – the building is home to the world’s largest Gothic nave. But it still wasn’t quite grandiose enough for Game of Thrones: a little bit of CGI magic was needed to make the building worthy of the High Sparrow.
Firstly, the biblical scenes on the front of the church were erased…
And the square beyond the steps was digitally demolished, replaced with a seaside view.
Also, you’re not going to believe this, but (spoilers ahoy!) quite a lot of GCI was used on the cathedral for this scene in the season six finale…
Yes, thanks to the meddling Cersei, it’s unlikely we’ll see the Sept reappear in later series, but we might well have another glimpse of Girona. The city’s architecture is painted with fine strokes of medieval and early modern culture, straddling the European history that influenced the GoT books and TV shows.
And even though many alleys in the city haven’t been directly caught on camera, exploring the city felt like taking a turn into urban Westeros and Essos – just without the horrible plot twists. And with a segway thrown in.
Game of Thrones season six is out on DVD, Blu-ray and as a digital download now