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Avoiding Game of Thrones Withdrawal In King’s Landing (Err…Dubrovnik)

Despite the fact that Dubrovnik was not actually used in season 1 of Game of Thrones–the King’s Landing that Ned Stark saw then was actually Malta–it’s still the most recognised location on the show. So, it’s no surprise that you can now take Game of Thrones walking tours around the medieval old town of this Croatian city.

The Jewel of the Adriatic

The Old Town of Dubrovnik rising out of the Adriatic Sea, as seen from Fort Lovrijenac.

The idea of spending the day walking in Tyrion Lannister’s footsteps around a city I’d already fallen in love with sounded like a great idea to me–especially since I’d had a great time on similar Lord of the Rings-themed tours in New Zealand. I wasn’t looking for anything that really seriously delved into the story. Rather, I wanted to see the city in a slightly different light to how I’d seen it previously in the company of people that I’d be guaranteed to have something to talk about with.

Luckily, only a few months before I arrived in this medieval Croatian city, Viator launched the first Game of Thrones themed tour in Croatia (you can now do a tour of Split, which is used as the backdrop for Meereen in Season 4, as well). I jumped on the chance and immediately booked for the morning after my weeklong cruise along the coast ended. Due to a series of events out of my control, I very nearly missed even being in Dubrovnik that morning, much less taking the tour…but I somehow managed to catch a late bus the night before so I could be ready, bright eyed and bushy tailed, for the tour to start in Pile Square the next morning.

Fort Lovrijenac

Fort Lovrijenac, as seen from underneath the Old Town’s walls.

As soon as I met the other people on the tour and our guide, Ana, I knew it was going to be a good day. Everyone had a strong knowledge of Game of Thrones but wasn’t as over the top as some LOTR fans I met in New Zealand (“WHY would you skip Edoras?! But now you can’t recreate the entire journey from Edoras to Helm’s Deep!”). Plus, Ana was a local who seemed very keen to share her knowledge of both her city and the filming, which had happened in August & September of the previous two years.

One of the great things about the tour was that it included admission to some of the top attractions in the city — something that really appealed to me, since I was down to my last kuna after my wallet was stolen earlier in the week. Had I not booked this tour, I would have missed both Fort Lovrijenac, which stands tall on a clifftop next to the Old Town, as well as walking on the Old Town’s walls themselves.

The Hallways of the Fort

The hallways of Fort Lovrijenac, the first filming location on our tour.

As Ana led us into the stone heart of Fort Lovrijenac, many of us could imagine the scenes that may have taken place there. Hallways with dark corners that weren’t quite touched by the beams of light streaming in from the courtyard begged a scene from Cersei or someone equally as conniving; sure enough, when Ana pulled out the screenshots from the second season, we could see Cersei walking through this exact spot while plotting with Littlefinger. I continued to have moments like that throughout the day, where I could almost place the scene and the people in it.

Even more interesting than this or Joffrey’s nameday scene with Dontos was the actual history of the fort. It was supposedly built in a mere three months back in the 11th century when the people of Dubrovnik heard a rumour that the Venetians were planning to build a fort overlooking their city. How they managed to built a fortress with 12m thick walls on top of a cliff 37m above the sea in that period of time, we’ll never know. Plus, it wasn’t like they planned it in a rush and then regretted not thinking about it later — after all, those 12m thick walls narrow down to just 60cm on the side that faces Dubrovnik, so if ever the commander in the fort turned against the city, it could be taken down easily by the city itself.

The Base of the Cliffs

Doors in the base of the cliffs, 37m below the top of Fort Lovrijenac’s walls.

I have to say, I wouldn’t have liked to have been standing near the Venetian commander when he sailed into sight with all of his materials for a fort…only to find that he’d been beaten to the punch. If he’d made it to the front gate, he probably wouldn’t have appreciated the quote inscribed above it either: “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur audo” (meaning ‘“freedom is not to be sold for all the gold of the world”).

The view from the top of the walls at Fort Lovrijenac was also the most impressive that I had in all of Dubrovnik. All around us, the blue of the Adriatic sparkled, and just across a small cove, the walls of the Old Town towered out of the sea. It really gave me a sense of scale for the city as a whole.

Pile Gate

Pile Gate, the entrance into Dubrovnik’s Old Town and the place where they filmed the riot scene in Season 2. You can see how busy it usually is.

On our way to our next stop on the tour, we walked in the footsteps of every visitor that enters the old town through the city gates. It was in this highly-trafficked area that the riot scene in Season 2 was filmed (the scene where peasants throw poo at Joffrey). Because it was literally blocking the old town from any pedestrian traffic in or out, they had to be very quick about this scene — and the extras (mainly residents of Dubrovnik) did not disappoint, putting enough vehemence into their taunts of Joffrey and strength into their poo throws that they got the scene done in one take. How awesome would it have been to be an extra in that scene?

Ana With a Scene from GoT

Ana proving that a location was used in GoT by showing us a screenshot from the show.

The next stop transported us from King’s Landing across the Narrow Sea to Qarth, where Daenerys spent much of Season 2 (some might say she spent too long there, but that’s another matter). Many of the Qarth scenes were either filmed in Dubrovnik or on Lokrum, a small island just off the coast of the Old Town. Located not far from where a ferry can take you across to Lokrum is the Rector’s Palace, which was the backdrop to a minor scene where Daenerys climbs the stairs after meeting with the Spice King. This building, which has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries, is now a history museum, of which we only saw a very small part.

The Rector's Palace

The stairs that Daenerys used in the Rector’s Palace.

Our final stop on the tour wasn’t so much a stop as a circuit, and it’s one that no trip to Dubrovnik is complete without. As we climbed up onto the walls via the entrance at St John’s Fortress, the city appeared below us as a red sea of roofs. Interestingly enough though, those roofs aren’t all the same shade of red. Some are a shade very similar to brick, while others have a much brighter orange shade. Curious, I asked Ana why, and found out that sadly, the few brick-coloured roofs were the only ones not destroyed during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991. Suddenly they seemed way too few and far between.

On the Walls of Dubrovnik

The view as we slowly climbed above the roofs of the city.

This sea of roofs also features as the aerial view of King’s Landing — but one shot would take an unimaginable amount of editing. You don’t realise quite how much evidence of modernity there is on a roof until you start counting the number of TV aerials that would have to be edited out, especially because even one anachronism would cause hordes of fans to angrily descend on the show creators!

I would have been happy standing on the walls for hours, looking at every little detail of the alleyways and historical buildings below, but there were two things stopping me: the fact that the tour had to go on and the sheer heat of the day. On a day where the temperature soared to 35ºC, standing on stone walls with nowhere to hide made it seem all the more hot. Luckily, Minčeta Tower, which stands at the northwest corner of the city walls, provided some much-needed shade to hide out in for a few minutes!

Peeking Out at Dubrovnik

Peeking out over Dubrovnik from inside Minčeta Tower.

One of the biggest surprises on the tour (for me at least) was to find out that Daenerys’ scene at the House of the Undying, where she walks in a circle around its base while being chased by Sir Jorah before suddenly disappearing and reappearing inside, was actually filmed on the walls of Dubrovnik. The tower she was walking around? Minčeta Tower. The woods around the tower? Completely photoshopped onto the blue sky, which was all we could see for the massive walls rising all around us.

The House of the Undying

The House of the Undying, aka the base of Minčeta Tower.

All too soon, Ana had to leave us, letting us walk the southern half of the walls on our own time. Her insider knowledge was invaluable and made the tour thoroughly entertaining, and I loved the fact that she helped to weave the actual history of the city in with the story of Game of Thrones to the point that even non-fans would have been kept interested. What a great introduction to both the historical and the fantastical side of Dubrovnik!

If you went to Dubrovnik, would a Game of Thrones tour be at the top of your to-do list?

Dubrovnik From the Walls

Gorgeous Dubrovnik (with Lokrum beyond) as seen from between Minčeta Tower and Stradun.

Game of Thrones tours are offered daily through Viator and cost €57.50. Your ticket includes admission to Fort Lovrijenac (usually 30kn/€3.95 or included in a city wall ticket), the Rector’s Palace (usually 40kn/€5.33) and the city walls (usually 90kn/€11.85). You can stay on the walls for as long as you want after the tour, but you can’t exit and re-enter, no matter how tempting the water fountain just inside the Pile Gate seems.

PS. Ana, I owe you so much for the generosity you showed me after the tour in ensuring that I had enough money to eat (after I had run out of pretty much every other option of accessing my own money). It was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me on my travels.

 

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