Season 6 of Game of Thrones, my favourite fantasy-medieval drama, begins on April 24.
We could have been a group of minor visiting royals from Mereen, (‘a grand old city...choking of violence, corruption, and deceit’ according to GoT lore. Bangalore is choking with traffic...same thing).
Season 6 of Game of Thrones (GoT), everyone's favourite fantasy-medieval drama, begins on April 24. If you've got the GoT bug, what better place to go to this summer than the sunny yet creepy Mediterranean climes of King's Landing, the kingdom of the Lannisters (?) Dubrovnik, Croatia's Dalmatian city on the sparkling Adriatic Sea and one of the most mind-bogglingly beautiful tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. It's where many iconic scenes from the blood-thirsty TV series were shot.
Tourist walking down the city's main street
When I landed in Dubrovnik aka King’s Landing, I was excited to see that it wasn’t all CGI and the beautiful old city remains intact, with streets laid in marble and baroque buildings made of stone and roofs made of terracotta tiles. Believed to have been founded in the 7th century, the city is surrounded by an unbelievable wall 20 ft thick in places, spanning almost 2 kilometres. It’s a fitting location for the fictional King's Landing, needing little help in terms of special effects. Tom McCullagh, the show's Croatia art director, says Dubrovnik was "built for Game of Thrones" – and boy, he's right.
A view of the Rector’s Palace, Dubrovnik
You can do plenty of the regular touristy things but you can also take dedicated GoT tours, stopping at the places where iconic scenes from the show were filmed. There’s a even a GoT store in the old city, which is a bit khali and Old Mother Hubbard-like, except for DVDs of the series, some mugs, and other stuff. It’s all ridiculously expensive, though! A t-shirt costs over Rs 2,000 – as if it just fell off the bloody Iron Throne. The store’s got a replica of the Lannister’s Iron Throne – a bit hilarious-looking when placed in a shop and not in its original setting, but still great for Instagram.
Being fake visitors from Mereen we avoided all of this and decided to tackle the city ourselves, with some help from everyone’s bae: the Internet.
View of Onofrio's Large Fountain. Photo by Son of Groucho, Flickr
You’ll want to come in early to skip the throngs of tourists – the city when filled up is no fun. As any self-respecting fan, I recognised many of the familiar locations. As you enter the old city, you see a large 15th-century fountain built by Onofrio Giordano della Cava, who also designed the complex water supply of aqueducts. The fountain has at its centre a 16-sided structure topped with a cupola, each with a faucet coming out of a carved face. Dubrovnik is really too small to get lost in, but is a good landmark to meet later if you want some time off from your folks. Right by the fountain is Pile Gate, the main entrance to the city, which was where the Season 2 sequence was filmed when Prince Joffrey causes a riot on the way back from his sister Myrcella’s send-off to Dorne.
The Pile area extends from the town’s walls as a narrow strip of stone blocks into the sea, offering a stunning view of the Pile harbour. It’s where Myrcella sets off from, and where Petyr Baelish tries to convince Sansa Stark in Season 3 that she should take his help in escaping from King’s Landing, while they gaze into the gorgeous horizon. It even doubles up for Blackwater Bay, the site of the epic battle when Tyrion Lannister comes into his own as a warrior in Season 2.
Our tour guide, a tall and amiable middle-aged Croat who couldn’t care less about a TV show by random young people, was rather startlingly like a desi uncle. He was more interested in teasing me about my upcoming wedding after he heard my parents discussing it. He jokingly suggested that I have a destination wedding in Dubrovnik. If that were really possible, I know exactly where I’d hold it: Trsteno Arboretum, the unspeakably beautiful garden set up in 15th century, which forms the backdrop for those delicious scenes where Margaery Tyrell and her grandmother meet and stroll in the gardens. Two Oriental Plane trees – the arboretum’s pride – are over 500 years old, having survived wars and lootings. It also has the oldest Renaissance park in Croatia.
Princess Margaery Tyrell's gorgeous blue dress. Photo courtesy www.cosplayisland.co.uk
What I didn’t tell the guide was that I already knew what I’d wear if I could manage a Dubrovnik shaadi: a choli and lehenga, a la Margaery Tyrell’s lovely pale blue dress with the midriff cut out. Everything about her clothes – the fabric, the texture, the colours, the embroidery – could make the cover of Indian Brides Summer Edition.
But I do know that any attempt to transport all the various wings, branches and offshoots of my family to another country for a wedding will result in frosty relations, not unlike those between the Seven Kingdoms. Seven Kingdoms, by the way, also happens to be the name of the best drink at my favourite bar in Bangalore, Monkey Bar. For now, I guess I’ll just contain myself by paying tribute to the kingdoms with the seven different kinds of alcohol in its giant GoT-scale mug.
Minceta Tower, photo by Matt Harvey, Flickr
Several scenes from the show take advantage of the city's stunning architecture, which allows for those famous dungeons-and-dragons moments. Minceta Tower, which serves as the location for the House of the Undying that Danaerys Targaryen enters in search of her dragons in Season 2, is a gorgeous 14th-century circular fort with an enormous Gothic head. Its sloping inner stone walls needing no alteration for the fantastical scenes. Walking around its sloping walls, despite the bright sunshine, I was terrified I’d hear creepy whispering and begin to see visions. It’s also the tallest and most imposing tower in Dubrovnik, and it’s easy to see how it could be transformed in the show into the mysterious and terrifying home of the Warlocks of Qarth.
Apart from the Indian restaurant in town called, what else, Incredible India, there’s another new Indian connection to Dubrovnik: Bollywood. I remember a conversation with our tour guide about how few Indians we spotted among the tourists in Croatia. “That’ll change when they shoot some Indian movies here,” he had said at the time.
A scene from the Shah Rukh Khan film 'Fan' being shot along Dubrovnik Harbour. Photo courtesy, teamsrkonline.blogspot.in
Well, it’s just happened. Whaddya know – I recognised the same streets I had walked down in Shah Rukh Khan’s just-released Fan. A portion of the film was shot in Dubrovnik, when Khan’s character arrives to perform at a filthy rich Indian wedding. A long fight scene ensues with him chasing his fan, an impersonator, all over the old city. In the film, they tear along the city walls, smash up a café along the main harbour, chase across the city’s tiled roofs (I winced every time they smashed those gorgeous terracotta tiles in the film by jumping on them), and run all through the streets. The sequence ends with the impersonator jumping off what looks like Bokar fortress, situated along the wall, into the deep blue sea beneath.
Not so far off from Game of Thrones? Photo by Tony Bowden, Flickr
One of the city’s other attractions in St. Dominika's street and Weapons Square, which form the backdrop to Queen Cersei Lannister's controversial ‘Walk of Shame’ through King's Landing. (It’s also where a crazy Shah Rukh Khan attempts to chase down his crazier fan). If you flinched and hid your head in your hands while Queen Cersei was shorn of her hair and forced to walk naked through the streets while a violent crowd yelled abuse at her and flung food and mud and shit (filmmakers, if you’re listening, no one deserves that, seriously!), you’d be surpised to see the actual passage on an ordinary day. All-male acapella groups busk amidst the street’s lovely acoustics, accordion players keep passers-by entertained and friendly women sell traditional Croatian lace, but the street never seems crowded. Perhaps neither tourists nor the city’s denizens who’ve watched the series can now bear to stick around for long any more. A good way to shake off the gloom that the street now seems to carry is to go for a walk along the top of the city’s walls, which can take a good 45 minutes with a view so wonderful it will leave you short of breath.
Whether you're the type to go on a walking 'Game of Thrones' tour of Dubrovnik (and maybe now, a Fan tour of Dubrovnik) or simply take in the Renaissance stone buildings that seem to teeter on the edge of an impossibly blue sea, you're all set for an epic trip.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Nidhi Bansal
Cover Photo Credit: Ivan Ivankovic, Flickr