The wait is over. The eighth and last season of Game of Thrones has started. The lucky among us have already seen the first episode. Others will enjoy it throughout the day. Few will dare to leave it for next week. Spoilers panic is real. That’s why we’re not going to spill anything about the last season here, even though there will be references to previous ones. We’re going to talk about – what else? – infrastructure and construction.
The HBO series is full of epic places and structures. Some of them are natural, like the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland, or Malta’s Azure Window (which collapsed in 2017 during a storm). Others were simply made up, the result of special effects, like the wall of ice that separates the seven kingdoms from the wild lands or the enormous Braavos statue. But we actually erected some of these structures long before television existed. This is what the roads, bridges, and other buildings in Game of Thrones are like in reality.
The Walls of Dubrovnik (and Ston)
We better start at the beginning. King’s Landing is the capital of the seven kingdoms, one of the central locations in Game of Thrones since its first season. It’s no secret that its streets, walls, bridges, stairways, and ports largely belong to the Croatian city of Dubrovnik. Its imposing walls over the Mediterranean Sea have been standing since they were put up in the 14th century.
However, it’s much less commonly known that the fortifications that surround the city in the series aren’t only Dubrovnik’s. Some of the scenes are set on the Walls of Ston. It also dates back to the 14th century, and even though it is in worse shape, it was meticulously restored in the 2000s. The walls were originally built to protect the city of Ston’s salt pans. It is the second largest wall and Europe, only surpassed by Hadrian’s Wall in the United Kingdom.
Another key piece of infrastructure throughout the whole series is Kingsroad. In fact, it’s the title of the second episode in the first season. It’s one of the main thoroughfares (for carriages and horses, instead of cars) in the seven kingdoms. It begins in the capital and stretches as far as the northern border of the territory, to the foot of the great wall of ice that almost no one dares to cross.
Even though it’s in several scenes, one of its iconic sections is the avenue of beech trees on Bregagh Road between Armoy and Stranocum, in Northern Ireland. This stretch of road, called Dark Hedges, made up part of the entrance way to Gracehill Mansion. The beeches were planted by its owner, James Stuart, in 1775. Today, at their most famous, the trees are facing the threats of their advanced age and pressure from tourism.
The Roman bridge of Cordoba
Nine meters wide, 310 meters long, and with 16 arches. Along with the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and the Episcopal Palace, the Roman bridge of Cordoba is a World Heritage site. Built in the first century A.D. (even though there is proof of the project as early as 45 B.C.), it bore motorized traffic until 2004. A decade later, this classic megastructure achieved global fame with Game of Thrones.
Cordoba’s viaduct served as the basis for recreating the Long Bridge of Volantis. And long it is. Thanks to special effects, the bridge looks three times longer than it actually is. Its arches and buildings (which are also virtual), are key in seasons five and six of the series. Tyrion Lannister, Varys, and the Greyjoy brothers (along with hundreds of extras) crossed it.
Shane’s Castle, Sant Pere de Galligants, and Carrick-a-Rede
There are many smaller bridges, far from the massive size of the Cordoba Bridge, that appear throughout the first seven seasons of the series. Some deserve to be named. In one of the most important moments in the sixth season, Arya Stark is chased by the abandoned girl through the streets of Braavos. The young Stark ends up being stabbed on a stone bridge. It’s the Sant Pere de Galligants monastery bridge in Girona.
Not far from the tunnel of beaches, still in County Antrim, in Northern Ireland, is Shane’s Castle. Even though it was used in several scenes, the most recognizable ones were filmed on its stone bridge. That’s where the fight between Jaime Lannister and Brienne de Tarth takes place at the start of the third season.
Lastly, the hanging rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, which is also in Northern Ireland, is part of the scene where Renly Baratheon’s army camps in the second season. Its 20 meters in length and 30 in height don’t make it very spectacular, but it has gone from being a forgotten place to getting more than half a million visitors per year.
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The San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Stairs
After Northern Ireland and Croatia, Spain is the country with the most real locations from Game of Thrones. The streets of Girona, the Alcazar of Seville, or Osuna’s bullring are just a few of them. One of the most spectacular ones is found in Bizkaia, Basque Country. Specifically, it is the small island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Bermeo. Fans will remember it as the ascent to Dragonstone Castle.
There is a hermitage on the Basque island, though it is replaced with a castle in the series. The pathway to it is spectacular. You have to follow a narrow path that crosses a stone bridge and goes up 241 stairs hewn out of rock. Since its appearance in the seventh season of Game of Thrones, it has become one of the favorite spots of Instagrammers who visit the coast of Bizkaia.
The Roman ruins of Italica, the Castle of Zafra in Spain, or the city of Ait Ben Haddou in Morroco could have also been included in this article. Many of them will appear once again in the eighth season, which has just started. Others will be remembered during nostalgic recollections of one of the most watched series in history.
Cover image | HBO