|One of the reasons that Game of Thrones has been such a spectacular success – aside of course from the fabulous story lines and astounding acting – is that it has managed to create a compelling sense of atmosphere and much of that has come down to the choice of the perfect locations to represent the various kingdoms of Westeros and Essos. The arid beauty of Yunkai and Pentos are created in Aït-Ben-Haddou, and the endless barren vistas of the land North of the Wall are filmed in Iceland at Vatnajökull.
One of the latest lands to be featured in detail in Game of Thrones is Braavos, home to the Faceless Men and Jaqen H’ghar, and now also to Arya Stark. The Faceless Men are mysterious assassins who work in the shadows, and the location needs to reflect this sense of silent watchers in labyrinthine back streets. The producers, who have often chosen to use locations in Spain, have set Braavos in the town of Girona, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
The old town of Girona looks as if it were preserved in time some time around the Medieval era, with stone arches towering skywards from its winding cobbled alleyways. A walled city with ramparts that were extended back in the ninth century, Girona has a smell of history and antiquity about it. The 1st century Roman fortress, La Força Vella, was the site of the very first city enclosure and the remains of those walls are still visible today.
The present Cathedral at Girona dates from the 15th Century, but the site has contained a place of worship at least since the 600s. In 717CE under Moorish rule the building was converted into a mosque, and then subsequently re-dedicated as a church in 908 CE. The impressive staircase with nearly 90 broad stairs approaching the cathedral has also starred in Game of Thrones, with a horse back ascent by one of the main characters featuring in one of the episodes.
Part of Girona’s atmospheric feel comes from its own dark history. As a much fought over town with great strategic importance, Girona has been the site of many invasions; which once caused it to be known as “city of a thousand sieges”. One of the darkest periods in this history is the expulsion of the entire Jewish community from Spain in the late 15th century, following a hundred years of pogroms and persecution. The Jewish ghetto in Girona is felt to be one of the most perfectly preserved and the 15th Century synagogue which houses the Jewish History Museum is a popular visiting place for tourists and historians alike.
The almost palpable sense of history swirling through the stone streets and buildings of Girona combines with the majesty of the cathedral dominating the skyline, and the dark and twisting back alley ways, to conjure up the perfect atmosphere for Arya to complete her uncanny training with Jaqen in the mysterious and silent ways of the deadly Faceless Men.
Tim Aldiss writes for Holiday Taxis.