Do you recognise the place in the video above? If you are a fan of the TV series Game of Thrones, you will know instantly that this is the Great Sept in King’s Landing, where Queen Margarey’s ‘walk of shame’ (almost) took place. In the last episode (S6E6) Blood of My Blood aired on May 29, 2016, the High Sparrow was all set to have Margery emulate Cersei’s walk of shame down these steps, the very same steps that Jaime Lannister (or rather his stunt double) ascended astride his horse. Incidentally, Cersei’s walk from season 5 was shot in Dubrovnik, Croatia. But for season 6, filming shifted to the Spanish city of Girona, located in the north-eastern region of Catalonia.
Girona is just 99 km from Barcelona, and one cool, grey morning in October last year I found myself on a train heading for a day trip to this medieval, walled city. I knew, of course, that the TV series had been shooting in Girona, and being a die-hard fan of the show, I was most excited to check out the filming locations. And it’s not just Westeros scenes that have been shot here. Girona doubles up as Braavos as well, as you will find out later in the post.
The train ride from Barcelona Sants took just over an hour. I made my way from the station towards the old own, which lies on the other side of the River Onyar (sounds very Game of Thrones-ish, doesn’t it?!). I crossed the Pont de Pedra bridge (one of the several bridges that crisscross the river), and when I reached the tourist office for a map, I found that I had just missed a guided tour conducted by the tourist office. However, Girona is a small city and the historic old town is easy to get around (albeit with a few steep, winding alleys and stairways thrown in). So map in hand I headed off to explore, and walk the paths taken by Arya, Margery, Jamie & gang!
I headed straight to the Girona Cathedral, the massive bulk of which you can see even from across the river. The cathedral was built between the 11th and 18th centuries, in varying styles including Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic. Only the cloister and one of bell towers remain from the original 12th century Romanesque church. The most striking feature of the church is the grand staircase completed in 1607 – 90 wide steps leading up to the Baroque main facade. It’s no wonder that the TV series decided to shoot on these steps, since the cathedral’s architectural elements fit right in with the show’s.
A €7 ticket gets you entry inside the cathedral, including the nave, cloister, treasury, as well as an entry into the nearby Basilica of Sant Feliu. Inside, the cathedral’s sheer size will overwhelm you. The nave is second in width only to the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and is the widest Gothic nave of its kind in the world. Pick up an audioguide at the entrance to help you navigate the place. The cathedral houses a treasury, which has the huge ‘Tapestry of Creation’, a 3.65X4.7m panel of needlework dating back to the 11th century and depicting theological scenes. The 12th century Romanesque cloister is also impressive with a series of columns with sculptures from the New Testament, as well as carvings of fantastic birds & beasts.
I descended the steps of the cathedral (stopping for a coffee in the square) and walked through the Portal de Sobreportes, a tall gate first built by the Romans in the 3rd century. You can still see the original Roman-era stones at the base of the gate.
These winding alleys and staircases in the old town’s Jewish Quarter have been used to depict the dark city of Braavos on the show, where a blind Arya Stark is seen begging, later fighting the (frankly annoying) waif, and of course, uttering those famous words.
I stumbled upon the Banys Arabs, the 12th century Arab Baths built in Romanesque and Moorish styles. There’s a €2 entrance fee, and you can descend underground to see the Roman-style baths and the striking central pool surrounded by slim, tall columns that support a cupola on top. Some Braavos scenes have been shot here too.
Walking further, I came to Girona’s festival square Plaça dels Jurats, which was used to shoot the outdoor theatre scene in Braavos – the play that Arya is watching while snooping on the lead actress at the behest of Jaquen H’gar. The square is otherwise also used as a theatre and concert venue in Girona.The nearby Abbey of Sant Pere de Galligants, with its unusual octagonal belfry, was also used to shoot some scenes in Braavos.
On my way back to the station, I crossed the River Onyar using the striking, red iron bridge, called the Eiffel Bridge (also known as the Pont de les Peixateries Velles). Gustave Eiffel constructed this bridge in 1876, 11 years before he engineered his masterpiece, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I paused at the end of the bridge & looked back at Girona’s iconic view – the colourful buildings lining the riverfront, buildings standing close together painted in pastel yellow, orange and pink, with fresh laundry fluttering from some windows, and the Gothic facade of the city’s cathedral dominating the skyline behind. The late afternoon sun cast a warm glow over the buildings, with the bone-white cathedral standing in stark contrast…
Before heading to the station, I went to Rocambolesc Gelateria opened by one of the Roca brothers behind El Celler de Can Roca, the current ‘best restaurant in the world’ (which is also located in Girona).
At the gelateria, I tried their famous panet, a take on the gelato in brioche popular in Sicily, Italy (see this photo-essay on Palermo). They cut a brioche in half (horizontally), scoop some ice cream on the bottom half, top with nuts, chocolate and suchlike, cover it with the brioche ‘lid’ and place it in a sort of grill sandwich maker. I had my panet stuffed with baked apple ice cream (vanilla with baked apple, caramelised apple & shortbread) and it was all kinds of delicious – hot on the outside, cold on the inside, and utterly delish! What a great way to end a lovely day trip 🙂