Visit Girona – the stunning setting for Braavos in Game of Thrones
Updated: Aug 9, 2018
Girona has become one of Spain’s hottest destinations since appearing in season six. Here's an episode-by-episode breakdown of the essential sites for fans
This historic walled city of cathedrals, churches, winding alleyways, and towering arches has changed little over the centuries, and proved the perfect backdrop for Braavos. With regular budget flights from the UK, Girona is also an easy weekend getaway if you’d like to follow in Arya Stark’s footsteps.
Girona is now in negotiations with HBO about the possibility of filming season seven in the city, though Councillor for Culture, Carles Ribas, says nothing has been agreed yet. The Girona Film Office has already attracted other offers since the city’s Game of Thrones debut and you can certainly see why.
In episode one, we see Arya Stark, now blind, begging in the streets of Braavos and being attacked by the Waif. She’s in the Medieval Quarter, behind Girona Cathedral, on a street called Bisbe Cartaña, near the atmospheric Jardins de la Francesa.
During filming, Arya’s stunt-double was reported to be seen running away from a knife-wielding waif on the Sant Marti Steps, so it looks like her persecution is set to continue.
In this episode, the Waif returns to attack Arya, then Jaquen H’gar appears to test her. “If a girl says her name the man will give her her eyes back,” he says. “A girl has no name,” replies Arya. It seems this is the right answer as Arya follows him through an archway and when she reaches for her bowl he tells her “A girl is not a beggar anymore.”
Again, Arya is in Calle del Bisbe Cartaña. Local tour guide Carles Pongiluppi explains: “When you see Arya fighting with sticks, you see clearly the cathedral in the background, or the frame of a door leading into a garden, or some steps with a few market stalls and a net over the street to provide some shade. It depends on the position of the camera, but it’s always the same spot.”
Girona’s festival square Plaça dels Jurats makes an appearance in episode five, as an outdoor theatre in Braavos. Amidst a huge crowd, Arya looks on in amusement as actors portray the rise and fall of the Lannister family, but this quickly turns to heartache as she sees a parody of her own father, Ned Stark, being beheaded.
Plaça dels Jurats during filming. Photo: Carles Pongiluppi
In real life this plaza close to Sant Pere de Galligants is also used for theatre and concerts. When it was advertised that Game of Thrones was looking for extras, thousands of fans turned up to audition, both in Girona and the Spanish city of Tudela.
One of these was a friend of museum worker, David Gonzales. “Everybody wanted to be a part of it, but they were quite strict: no tattoos, no glasses, no crazy hair, so a lot of people in Girona couldn’t do it,” he told us.
Those that did make it through will no doubt be replaying last night’s episode to see if they made the final cut!
Girona Cathedral steals the show in episode six when Jaime Lannister has a showdown with the High Sparrow. This time Girona stands in for King’s Landing, having earlier been the setting for the outdoor theatre in Braavos.
A crowd of commoners waits eagerly for Queen Margaery to do the walk of atonement, when Jaime, backed by Tyrell soldiers, thunders up the cathedral steps on horseback.
“Every last Sparrow will die before Margaery Tyrell walks down that street,” Jaime threatens, but it’s too late; the High Sparrow reveals Margaery has already paid for her sins because she persuaded her husband, the king, to join the faithful.
Already the most photographed building in Girona, the cathedral’s new celebrity status is well deserved. A mix of styles from Romanesque to Neo-classical, it has a 23m Gothic nave and the widest rib-vaulted space in the world.
Apparently, it took Jaime’s stunt-double several days to train the horse to climb the 91 cathedral steps. After filming, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the actor who plays Jaime, thanked the people of Girona in a tweet. He said the city was great and the cast were made to feel welcome.
“Great local crew, great extras, great food,” he said.
Are we to say farewell to Girona? The city that mainly stands in for Braavos (except for a brief stint last week as King’s Landing) appears again in episode seven, but we see Arya booking her passage to leave. She is almost thwarted by a sweet old lady who turns out to be the Waif in disguise, and stabs her three times. Fortunately, Arya manages to fling herself over the bridge into the canal below. Let’s hope she survives!
The turquoise sea in the distance would technically be the Costa Brava, but in reality the nearest beach is a 20-minute drive away. Needless to say the enormous statue of Titan guarding Braavos harbour doesn’t exist in Girona either, but there is a famous lioness statue in Plaça de Sant Feliu. It’s traditional to kiss its bottom!
Girona’s Arab Baths are brought back to life in steamy splendour this episode during an explosive fight sequence between Arya and the Waif. In her toughest battle yet, Arya bursts through the Romanesque columns fleeing the Waif, whilst around her, disrobed men look on in astonishment.
Girona’s Arab Baths. Photo: Ali Wood
Built in the 12th century to imitate medieval Muslim baths, this series of cold, warm and hot rooms was once the meeting place of Girona’s wealthiest socialites. In the 15th century, it became part of the adjoining Capuchin convent. No spa days for the devout nuns, though; it became their kitchen and pantry until it was restored in the early 20th century. You can no longer bathe at the Arab Baths like the men of Braavos, but they are open to the public and well worth a visit.
Filming outside the Arab Baths. Photo: Carles Pongiluppi
Another familiar Girona landmark is the Sant Marti and Sant Domenec steps, which Arya takes a tumble down, among an upended basket of oranges.
According to residents, this was a top-secret area during filming and was closed off entirely, which wasn’t popular with the university students who had to take a detour to get to their campus.
“Not everyone was happy about Game of Thrones filming,” says student Anna Bayo. “I know people who needed ID cards to get into their own homes, and had the view outside their window obscured by boards.”
In general though, Girona residents were thrilled about hosting such a popular franchise on their home turf.
“People were very excited, “ museum worker David Gonzales told me. “We have seen all the seasons. Yes, for sure we have watched from the beginning. A lot of fans have been visiting, people were in the casting for extras, and Game of Thrones merchandising has appeared in many of the shops.”
Talk about going out with a bang; Girona’s 900-year-old cathedral literally explodes onto the screen in the breathtaking finale of season six. Doubling as the Great Sept, the cathedral is blown to pieces in a vengeful plot concocted by Cersei, killing everyone inside, including the High Sparrow and Margaery Tyrell.
Girona Cathedral. Photo: Ali Wood
There’s more to come. Having already stood in for Braavos and King’s Landing, Girona now lends its ancient bricks to Oldtown in the shape of the Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Galligants. In GoT, it doubles as the citadel where the Maesters are trained. The elegant 11th century Romanesque building appears as vast and empty on screen as it does in reality – the tiny desk at which the Maester greets Sam and Gilly only accentuates this.
Just as Sam is spellbound by the immense library attached to the citadel, visitors to Girona can gape at the amazing exhibits of the monastery’s adjoining Archaeology Museum. Dating from Paleolithic to Roman times, these include tools, textiles, pottery, and even a replica hominid skull.
This little city has worked hard to get itself on the map and there are many more buildings, streets and historic sights that are yet to have their day in Hollywood. Here’s hoping we’ll see some more in season seven.