Andalusia's World Heritage sites are a treat for Game of Thrones fans
Game of Thrones showcases Northern Ireland's scenic splendour, but also relies on Spain's Andalusian cities to provide magnificent settings. It is an area rich in beauty and cultural history – with Unesco recognising six World Heritage in the region. Gary Fennelly takes a look at the top spots to visit, some of which feature in the HBO show.
Above: Andalusia's World Heritage sites. Illustration by Maria Becvar
Malaga’s Alcazaba, the city’s most important landmark, is the perfect introduction to the region’s Moorish heritage. It is situated above ruins of a Roman theatre built during the reign of Augustus.
Twist and turn your way to the top to be greeted with beautiful gardens, mosaics and the sound of trickling water. The hilltop fortress of Gibralfaro is impressive in its own right and the walkways afford the best views of the city.
The city is also home to the Pablo Picasso Museum.
Eat and drink: Restaurante Kaleido del Puerto
Stay: Hotel Guadalmedina
Read more: You'll go gaga over Malaga
Andalusia’s capital, Seville, is a two-hour drive from Malaga. En route the small town of Osuna is the perfect place to stretch the legs. The bull ring,b Plaza de Toros, features in Game of Thrones when it is used for entertaining the masses of Meereen.
Eat and drink: Casa Curro is a good spot for lunch and even offers a GoT menu.
Above: Alcázar of Seville. Photo: Gary Fennelly
In Seville itself, it is easy to see why the royal palace of Alcazar, with its lush gardens, pools and intricate carvings, was chosen as a filming location for Game of Thrones. The former Muslim fort is reimagined as the Water Gardens of Dorne for the show.
The sandstone building is celebrated as one of the most outstanding examples of Mudejar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula.
In walking distance is the Gothic Seville Cathedral — the third largest church in the world and burial site of Christopher Columbus.
The Columbus monument was created by local sculptor Arturo Melida in 1892 and originally built for the Cathedral of Havana in Cuba but was brought to Seville after the loss of the Caribbean island in 1898. It is held up by four figures of kings representing the kingdoms of Castille, Aragon, Leon and Navarre.
The bell tower (La Giralda), a former minaret, is an iconic symbol of the city. Those who clamber to the top are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views.
Above: Alcázar of Seville. Photo: Gary Fennelly
Inside is the imposing basilica and the ultimate masterpiece — a massive Gothic carving gilded with gold. It depicts scenes from the bible and is the lifetime work of craftsman Pierre Dancart.
A hop, skip and a jump away is the General Archive of the Indies (Archivo de Indias) housed in one of Seville's most emblematic buildings La Lonja. King Charles III of Spain founded the archive in 1785 so that documents illustrating the history of the Spanish empire in the Americas and the Philippines could be kept in one central location.
The splendid Renaissance building, with marble staircases, houses some 80 million pages of original documents. The 15-minute video upstairs gives a synopsis of the history that helps set the scene. Entry to view the exhibits and presentation is free.
Eat and drink: Taberna del Alabardero
Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba. Photo: Gary Fennelly
The narrow streets of Cordoba are a feast for the senses as flowers fill patios and balconies, splashing colour against the whitewashed walls. Everything is accessible on foot. Spend the day exploring the medieval architecture and the city's mix of Islamic and Jewish culture.
The magnificent Roman bridge that spans the river Guadalquivir is a site to behold and will be recognisable to GoT fans as the Long Bridge of Volantis.
Above: Roman Bridge in Cordoba. The bridge becomes the Long Bridge of Volantis in Game of Thrones. Photo: Gary Fennelly
North of the bridge is the Mezquita or Mosque-Cathedral, a term that acknowledges its shared heritage. Built over a period spanning two centuries, starting in 784, the Islamic place of worship became a church after Christians reconquered the city and built a cathedral in the heart of the structure.
In 1984, UNESCO awarded it World Heritage status, describing it as “the most emblematic monument of Islamic religious architecture”.
Stepping inside is a transcendent experience as a canopy of red and white horseshoe-shaped arches and over 850 columns made of marble, jasper, onyx and granite, create a captivating man-made forest. It is worth getting a guided tour or at least an audio guide to appreciate the evolution of the building.
UBEDA AND BAEZA
Ubeda and neighbouring Baeza were declared World Heritage sites in 2003 and are considered to be two of the best examples of Renaissance town planning in Spain.
Above: Holy Chapel of the Savior (Sacra Capilla del Salvador) in Vázquez de Molina Square, Ubeda. Photo: Gary Fennelly
In Ubeda's Vázquez de Molina Square you are surrounded by impressive buildings. The Holy Chapel of the Savior (Sacra Capilla del Salvador) with it's incredible stone facade and Palace of the Chains (Vazquez de Molina Palace) are situated here. Ubeda has been called the 'crafts capital of Andalusia' and you'll often spot artisans selling carvings and baskets.
A short walk away is an unexpected treasure – the Synagogue of the Water (Sinagoga del Agua). Dating back to the 10th century it points to evidence of a considerable Jewish community that co-existed with the large Muslim population of the time. The synagogue was discovered by property developer Fernando Crespo during building work to transform old property into apartments and shops.
After discovering arches of the synagogue he abandoned the project and restoration began. Today thanks to Crespo visitors can experience what the life was like for Sephardic rabbis in the Middle Ages. The ritual bath (Mikveh) is located underground and still fills up naturally with spring water.
Synagogue of the Water (Sinagoga del Agua): Mikveh is illuminated during the solstice. Photo: sinagogadelagua.com
During the summer solstice a Newgrange-style phenomenon occurs when beams of light cascade through a small opening and illuminate the dark chamber's bathing area. Guide Andrea Pezzini is bursting with enthusiasm and historical knowledge.
Plaza del Pópulo is a good starting point in Baeza with several centuries of Muslim and Christian rule reflected in the decorative carvings and arches. The former slaughterhouse bearing the coat of arms of Carlos V is now the town's court house.
The tourist office is also located here and Santa Maria Cathedral (Catedral de St Maria) and the Plateresque town hall are in walking distance.
If feeling energetic the clock tower of the cathedral is worth climbing for the view of the town and photo opportunities.
Eat: Restaurante La Pintada (Hotel Puerta de La Luna, Baeza)
Stay: Parador Nacional de Turismo Condestable Davalos (Ubeda)
Alhambra in Grenada. Photo: Gary Fennelly
Granada lies in the foothills on the northern side of the picturesque Sierra Nevada mountains. Travellers on a budget might find it appealing as it is one of the few remaining places in Spain that still serves free tapas when you order a drink.
For some that could be reason enough to pay a visit but it is just a bonus. The main attraction is the most famous Moorish palace in the world — the sprawling Alhambra complex. The enormous complex houses the Generalife gardens, baths, fountains and the halls that were once filled with the sultan’s dancing girls from the harem.
A full day is needed to fully appreciate this incredible citadel that is one of Andalusia’s jewels. The site attracted a staggering 2.4m visitors last year so make sure to pre-book.
For a stunning view of Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountains head to Mirador de San Cristobal in Albaicín.
Eat: El Coso restaurant
Stay: Hotel Abba
‘Winter is coming’ is a phrase often uttered in Game of Thrones but with Northern Ireland's weather it can sometime feels like winter never leaves.
A trip to Andalusia offers not only lots of sunshine but presents a glorious architectural legacy that can transport visitors to what feels like a fantasy world.
Andalusia has six World Heritage Sites — five cultural and one natural: Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzin Granada; Cathedral, Alcazar and Archivo de Indias in Seville; Mosque-Cathedral and surrounding areas in Cordoba; The Renaissance-style buildings of Ubeda and Baeza, Cave art in Almeria, Granada and Jaenprovinces. The natural World Heritage Site is Donana National Park in Huelva.
Aer Lingus and easyJet both fly from Belfast to Malaga with the flight taking just over three hours.