One of the most interesting things about George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and one of the most visually appealing parts of HBO's hit series Game of Thrones is the wide range of settings that play host to the characters of Westeros and other distant lands.
Filming for the series is sprawled throughout Northern Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Morocco, Malta, and more. The showrunners, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, are no doubt looking for more places to full in for worlds we have not yet seen in their show. What places in the real world could double as settings in Game of Thrones?
Braavos, one of the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea from Westeros, is said to be built on hundreds of islands sprawled over a vast lagoon, linked by bridges and canals. The city is vacant of trees, the house are built so close that they lean against each other, and home to a powerful trade and merchant culture. Sounds a lot like the city of Venice in northeastern Italy!
Venice is built on a lagoon off of the Adriatic Sea and consists of some 118 small islands linked by bridges and canals. Formerly the capital of the wealthy Venetian Republic, a major maritime power of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the City of Masks is today one of Italy's top tourism destinations. If you ever get a chance, go and see it as soon as possible — the aged city is slowly sinking into the sea.
Dorne, one of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, is by the sea, arid, and has some mountains cutting it off from other kingdoms. It's culture is quite different than its neighbors, and it is well-known for its wine. Dorne is ruled by House Martell, whom we'll be better-introduced to in Game of Thrones season four, which has just cast Chilean actor Pedro Pascal as Prince Oberyn Martell.
Andalusia, Spain, with its arid climate, mountains, wine, and Moorish influences differentiating it from the rest of European culture seems like a fitting choice. Granada, with its great citadel and rich architecture, and Cordova, with its ancient history and beautiful sites, could easily pass as entities within Westeros. Also, Andalusian wine — especially Sherry from Jerez — is absolutely delicious.
Astapor and Yunkai, cities we were recently introduced to as part of Daenerys Targaryen's abolitionist crusade around Essos, seem to have a very Mesopotamian feel to them. It reminds one a lot of Babylon, the ancient city just south of Baghdad. It is an ancient city — home to both Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar, where the ancient prophet Daniel predicted the fall of the Babylonian Empire, and where Alexander the Great died. Most of its ancient treasures were plundered by the Europeans and currently reside in Western museums, and Saddam Hussein had much of the area turned into his own palatial playground. During the invasion of Iraq, U.S. and Polish troops built a military camp there, further damaging the ruins.
Archaeologists are currently working to restore the ancient city and preserve its ruins. The remnants of the Ishtar Gate (the original has been moved to Berlin), the Lion of Babylon, the ancient roadways - one can see that, if rebuilt, Babylon could certainly fit into Essos.
The real-life inspiration for the Wall to keep out the White Walkers, Hadrian's Wall was built under Roman Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD. It was the northernmost border of Rome, and the most heavily fortified wall throughout the massive empire. It is believed that more than 10,000 soldiers manned the 73-mile-long wall in a dozen forts, defending Roman Britain against attacks from the mysterious north (Scotland).
Much of Hadrian's Wall still exists today, the majority of its remnant being in Northumberland in northern England. The wall is largely unprotected, so tourists are able to get close and personal with it. While not as grand as the Wall of the Night's Watch, it is a remarkable achievement of historical note.
Nestled between Virginia and West Virginia in the eastern United States, and bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Allegheny Mountains, the Potomac River, and the James River, the Shenandoah Valley has some similarities to the Riverlands in Westeros. Both are agriculturally rich watersheds that are very strategically important in war — both in the Westerosi War of the Five Kings and in the real-life American Civil War.
The Shenandoah Valley is a beautiful wilderness full of caves to explore, rivers to paddle, trails to hike, history to learn, and scenes to see. Put on some chain-mail and wander around the forests pretending to avoid Starks or Lannisters and you'll feel transported to Westeros.
What real life places do you think would make great Game of Thrones settings? Let me known in the comments below or tweet me at @RobinsonOB.