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An island off northern Spain with a small church perched on top is the location of the dramatic Dragonstone in “Game of Thrones”

Martin Chalakoski

I was born at Dragonstone. Not that I can remember it. We fled before Robert’s assassins could find us… I spent my life in foreign lands. So many men have tried to kill me, I don’t remember all their names. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and I will!” – Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones, season seven, episode three, “The Queen’s Justice.”  

It took thousands and thousands of pages read or 60 epic episodes watched until those of us who enjoy the world of Game Thrones reached July 16, 2017, when the premiere of the seventh season finally gave Daenerys the chance to reach her home in Westeros. To step inside Dragonstone Castle, the ancestral seat of House Targaryen, see the throne she rightfully deserves, and ask one simple question: “Shall we begin?

On the shore of Blackwater Bay, Dragonstone, according to the story by George R. R. Martin, is an ancient Targaryen stronghold and has been the home of House Targaryen for centuries. For the fans’ favorite–Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons–it was a home she never had and was just dying to come to.

Gaztelugatxe Basque Country

Gaztelugatxe Basque Country

That being said, for the rest of us, Dragonstone is a place of wonder and unprecedented beauty that we can actually visit.  We can breathe in awe as she did when she first arrived and break free from the chains of our everyday lives.

Dragonstone Castle was erected from the ground up out of Valyrian black stone by the Targaryens long before the War of the Five Kings and was considered to be unbreachable, unbreakable, and indestructible. An isolated refuge built to last and fend off attacks of any kind. It is also a great work of fiction, and clearly a brilliantly done piece of  CGI work by the visual artists inside the studios during post-production. It doesn’t exist except on the screen.

Stairs in San juan de Gaztelugatxe. Basque Country

Stairs in San juan de Gaztelugatxe. Basque Country

What does exist is the island on which Dragonstone Castle was supposed to stand, and it is as magnificent in person and it looks on-screen. It doesn’t have a castle with massive dragon-shaped gargoyles at the front gate, but it does have a church on top that serves as a refuge for those who seek one, and a long, man-made footbridge that leads to it from the mainland. Legend says that you if ring the bell inside the church three times and make a wish, then it will come true.

The first thing that comes to mind is making the moment everlasting. If silence is golden, here on Gaztelugatxe (“the craggy fort”), the small islet just off the coast of Basque Country in Northern Spain, silence is worth as much as Dragonglass is in Martin’s world of fiction.

There is nothing on it except for a small church dedicated to John the Baptist and the best of what Mother Nature has to offer. No wonder the producers chose this location for a place of such magnitude in their series. Everything we saw in the 7th season connected to Dragonstone or its scenery is inspired by this location. Crashing waves for millions of years have made the rugged shoreline what it is today.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe church is dedicated to John the Baptist, connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge, Bermeo, Basque Country, Spain.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe church is dedicated to John the Baptist, connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge, Bermeo, Basque Country, Spain.

The beach we see when Jon Snow and Ser Davos Seaworth arrive at Dragonstone is part of the scenery. It’s called Itzurun, and on cold winter days is just as grim as it was during these scenes and lots of others featured in the seventh season. Down on this beach, Snow led his future Queen into the Dragonglass cave and showed her the ancient engravings inside, and on that spot in the 4th episode she had heard enough of the clever plans of her advisers and flew off in fury.

It is grim and dreary, yes, but it’s fitting for times when winter comes knocking and scenes that scream for such a dramatic location. It’s more than adequate, it is just plain spectacular. And on clear sunny days, it is even more so, especially early in the mornings when there is not a soul in sight. It is also very pleasant late in the afternoon, as the sun sets behind the horizon and all one is left with is the sky that melts with the calm ocean. When sunset illuminates the seashore, it creates a gorgeous backdrop to the rocky landscape that stretches along the coast and the Bay of Biscay to the nearest human settlement, a small town Zumaia in the province of Guipúzcoa.

Stairs in San juan de Gaztelugatxe in Basque Country

Stairs in San juan de Gaztelugatxe in Basque Country

So it is sometimes gloomy when one dares to walk the long walk across the medieval bridge and the 240 steps over steep rocks connecting the mainland to this haunting Spanish island, up toward a sanctuary that is believed to be more than 1,000 years old.

It can also be warm and tranquil. Nonetheless, it is always jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring–as is the fact that the 10th century church, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, has endured so long and still stands perched on top of a rock, as beautiful as ever. It has been burned and ravaged by men from different cultures through different times, but it was never destroyed completely and was rebuilt after every attempt.

Basque Country

Basque Country

For instance, in 1334 the church, presumably built by the Knights Templar as a post to oversee the coastline, was successfully defended for a month by seven knights brave enough to stand against a whole army below them and send one humiliated general back across the sea. Or the sad one two and a half centuries later when, in 1593, English sea captain and slave trader Sir Francis Drake sacked the post, ravaged the nearby villages, raided the church, and without mercy threw the hermit inside off the cliff.

The church has a long history and few more stories to tell. But it can never speak what wishes are wished inside it though. In the Game of Thrones series, one landed in search of a home, another to ask for help; both found what they were looking for. In reality, perhaps people are wishing for personal well being or that of their loved ones. Or perhaps not. Maybe most just enjoy the stillness this place seems to offer and wish for nothing.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

We can only guess and never know for sure. But for what it’s worth, Dragonstone was there for the Targaryans, it was there for the Mother of Dragons when she was looking for a home, and was there for a man who was nothing but a coward and a runaway for a long time to find the strength within and become what he was always ment to be. A brave Stark and a proud Greyjoy.

Related story from us: Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding is based on Scotland’s Black Dinner in 1440 and Glencoe Massacre of 1692

Just the same, Gaztelugatxe and San Juan is there for everyone motivated enough to visit it and ring the bell in search of peace, help, and guidance. It is there for those who seek to find courage and strength within and endure the hardships in their lives, and it is there for those whose wishes are to explore nature and nothing more.