Photo/IStock/Siegfried Schnepf

The Croatian City of Dubrovnik has become a favorite destination for Game of Thrones fans, but is also worth visiting if you don’t watch fantasy series on TV.

“You are here, in King’s Landing!” Gulliver Travel’s Tour Guide Darko Madžar, with his long blond hair and beard looks like he just walked out of a movie set himself. In Dubrovnik this is actually not unlikely. Playing in a major TV or Hollywood production is part of life if you live in this stunningly intact walled city on the Adriatic Sea coast. When I ask him if he ever works as a background actor, Madžar answers matter of fact that he didn’t have time to be in the HBO series Game of Thrones, but he was one of the extras in the latest Robin Hood film, which will be released in November this year. Other major blockbusters such as Star Wars and the new James Bond film were also filmed in the scenic city, which likes to call itself Adriatic Hollywood.

As far as the people here are concerned, the more movie producers come to town, the better. “They film in the winter, when there aren’t too many tourists. They block off a few streets to work, but that doesn’t bother us,” Madžar says. Now that it is summer, and the old city is teeming with tourists, no movie characters are to be found, but before we even set foot in the historic Old Town we see a row of Thrones-themed tours sellers. Inside business is thriving in the shops, where everyone sells Game of Throne T-shirts and George R. R. Martin's ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ fantasy novels, the books that started all this craziness.

For fans of the HBO series, this is the capital of Westeros. The noble families in Game of Thrones, which has filmed seven seasons here, spend much of their time battling over this important city in their seven kingdoms. So no wonder that the moment Thones fans get off the bus and walk under the arches of the town wall, they see swords and dragons and fierce battles.

Madžar takes us to some of the many recognizable locations in the heart of the Old City, including St Dominika Street, used for numerous market scenes, and most of all Stradun, where Queen Cersei Lannister takes a walk of penance down the stairs as a punishment for her sins, a scene involving 500 extras. We exit the Old Town to the sheltered little harbor – a location instantly recognizable as the departure and returning point for Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s daughter Myrcella. Towering above is Fort Lawrence, Kings Landing’s legendary Red Keep. A few hundred meters further along is Gradac Park, the site of the Purple Wedding feast where super-brat Joffrey discovered that kingship really can be very poisonous.

Dramatic Landscapes

There are so many grand palaces, ancient castle ruins, and dramatic landscapes in Europe that it is the perfect continent for movie producers. Effortless beautiful, stylish movie sets are to be found everywhere and Game of Thrones producers made use of as many as they could. After a successful first season, which was mainly filmed in a studio in Ireland, the Thrones executives went all out and made one of the largest productions in television history, with every season filming on-location in multiple countries simultaneously.

While the main studio is in Ireland’s Belfast, locations go from as far north as the Hverfjall volcano of Northern Iceland and as far south as Malta, with exotic Spanish palaces and English woods in between.

Dubrovnik was added in the second season. For Executive Producer David Benioff, his first visit to the city was instant recognition. “The minute we started walking around the city walls we knew that was it. You read the descriptions in the book and you come to Dubrovnik and that’s what the actual city is. It has the sparkling sea, sun and beautiful architecture,” he stated on the HBO series blog. Given that many of the large interior sets such as the Iron Throne room and interiors of the Red Keep are large soundstages in Belfast that are not open to the public, Dubrovnik became fast a favorite Thrones destination.

Ancient Charm

Naturally, Dubrovnik it is also a great destination for those who do not watch fantasy TV series, but would like to visit this Pearl of the Adriatic. There is something about this town that make it special. Thick stone walls make it look invincible, pristine marble streets look like something from a 16th century painting. The fine sculpture on buildings and monuments shows the centuries-old artistic heritage. The joy of Dubrovnik is that, apart from the major attractions, there are steep cobbled streets to explore, hidden churches, staircases, glimpses of the sea and cute architectural detail everywhere. The old town center is strictly for pedestrians, and has therefore kept its ancient charm.

In the Middle Ages Dubrovnik was the only city-state in the Adriatic to rival Venice. It was known for its high level of development, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries, when it became notable for its wealth and diplomacy. The Republic, which lasted for 450 years, was an early adopter of modern laws and institutions. The long lists of ‘firsts’ includes a medical service introduced as early as 1301, and the first pharmacy, still operating to this day. There was an almshouse and Madžar shows us a small door in the wall, which was the entrance of the first orphanage, opened in 1432. A 20 km water supply system with aqueduct and two public fountains was constructed in 1438. With its wealth, Dubrovnik became one of the centers of the development of the Croatian language and literature, home to many notable poets, playwrights, painters, mathematicians, physicists and other scholars.

Nowadays Dubrovnik suffers much from the same problems as its former rival Venice – so many tourists visit the city that it has become almost impossible for normal Croatians to live inside its old walls. We share the small streets with thousands of visitors who have walked off a cruise ship that is moored at the port. Madžar says that the best time to visit this city is late afternoon, when the cruise ship visitors have left and you can walk the walls in relative peace or take a boat from the small harbor to watch a stunning sunset. If you are very lucky, you might just see the shadow of a dragon flying by.

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