The HBO hit show Game of Thrones, based on the epic fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, captivates audiences with its tales of lust, war and political intrigue.
Most of the show is set in the mystical realm of Westeros, an island continent resembling medieval Britain, while Daenerys goes it on her own in Essos, a continent east of Westeros that has a very distinct Turkish/North African flair.
Because the show is set in another, more magical world, it requires some seriously fantastical filming locations. With season four of the series upon us, let’s take a look at a few of the real-world places that the show’s producers deemed impressive enough to sub for Westeros, Essos and that scary place Beyond the Wall.
In the show's first season, the historic Mediterranean island of Malta was the real-world setting for King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
The historic settlement of Mdina saw its city gate sub for the gate to King's Landing and the island's Fort Ricasoli fronts as the exterior of the show's Red Keep, the castle home of the king of the Seven Kingdoms. Incredibly historic, Malta has an almost surreal history itself as an island base for the Crusade-era Knights Hospitaller who fought to defend the island from Barbary pirates, the Ottoman Empire and even Napoleon himself.
Gozo, Malta's smaller sister island, was the setting for the Dothraki Wedding in the show's first season between protagonist Daenerys Targaryen and the Dothraki king Khal Drogo. The island's Azure Window, a natural rock arch on the sea, was the spectacular backdrop to the scene.
Part of the reason why Game of Thrones moved production from Malta in its second season was due to controversy over damage to the Azure Window and its ecosystem caused by the show's contractors. But that aside, rest assured that the Azure Window is still very much a treat for visitors.
Starting in season two, the Croatian walled city of Dubrovnik became the real-world home to King's Landing.
One reason behind the set change was the producers' wish to show more exterior shots of a seaside walled city, and in that regards Dubrovnik was a great move. Once the capital of Ragusa, a historic maritime republic, the old city of Dubrovnik and its walls can be clearly identified in the show, as can several of its historic attractions.
Fort Lovrijenac is the new substitute for the Red Keep, and the bay just outside its walls was the scene for the naval Battle of Blackwater, in which King Stannis Baratheon attempted to invade King's Landing and dethrone King Joffrey.
Another must-see GoT filming location is the Trsteno Arboretum, which is the seaside garden in King's Landing where characters like Tyrion and Varys go to work through their intricate plots of deception.
Dating back all the way to Orson Welles' Othello, Essaouira's historic medina has been a hot commodity for Hollywood producers looking for an out-of-this-world filming location.
In season three of Game of Thrones, Daenerys continues on her journeys in Essos and stops by the slave-trading city of Astapor in hopes of buying an army of their 'Unsullied' warriors. Well, Astapor is actually Essaouira, and though the city doesn't have any armies for sale, visitors will immediately recognise its coastal fortifications and windswept beaches from the show.
Aït Benhaddou is another Moroccan city with a long history in film -- some recent films shot in the city include Gladiator, The Mummy and Prince of Persia -- but unlike Essaouira, Aït Benhaddou is set in the Sahara Desert/Atlas Mountains region of Morocco.
Its historic medina, surrounded by giant red walls, was a central trading post for caravan traders in the Sahara, and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the Game of Thrones universe Aït Benhaddou is the city of Yunkai, a slaving city that Daenerys besieges with her newly acquired Unsullied army.
Winter is coming, and that means we'll see more of the mysterious lands Beyond the Wall.
One of the main story arcs of season three followed Jon Snow on his adventures in the frozen landscapes Beyond the Wall, and, though the setting looked otherworldly, the scenes were filmed in Iceland. One filming spot was Lake Myvatn, whose shores are lined with rock pillars known as 'black castles.'
Most of the action in Game of Thrones takes place in Westeros, and most of its filming locations are in Northern Ireland, where the show's principal photography takes place.
Castle Ward, for instance, is the setting of Winterfell, home of the House of Stark. The tourism bureau of Northern Ireland has gone to great lengths to promote its GoT filming sites, and travellers following their Causeway Coast and Glens road-trip itinerary are sure to see a ton more recognisable places from the series.
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