aNewDomain.net — I stand at the edge of the Gulf of Grief, at Slaver’s Bay, on the very spot where Daenerys Targaryen freed an army of eunuch slaves to help her invade Westeros and vanquish the evil boy-King Joffery.
Luckily, I have no fear of being fried to a cinder by her dragons or licked to death by feral cats. The cats wander here in the hundreds.
If you are not a fan of Game of Thrones, which begins its fourth season Sunday April 6, 2014 on HBO, you don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about. But that’s okay. The beauty of this place, now embodied in an elaborate fantasy world originally penned by George R.R. Martin, is enough to make anyone curious.
Part of season three was filmed here in Essaouira, on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco.
Forget Casablanca — that famed city lost its allure years ago. Essaouira absolutely reeks of intrigue and beauty. Over the centuries it was in turn ruled and remodeled by sultans, kings, and traders of spices and slaves. Find Essaouira at the port of Marrakesh, a part of the Sahara caravan route that stretches through the Middle East and Africa and south to Timbuktu.
Old Essaouira is a walled fortress overlooking a harbor that pirates once favored. It is easy to get lost in the narrow passageways that snake through its medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Next to the old fortress is a postcard-worthy fishing port, pictured above with a host of boats, each painted blue. Every day the fishermen bring back their catch of sardines and conger eels. That explains the innumerable cats that congregate, hoping for a scrap or two.
I checked into the Riad Mimouna, a hotel reconstructed from an 1896 windmill. It overlooks the Castelo Real de Mogador, built by the King of Portugal in the 16th Century. In Game of Thrones this is where the Unsullied, an army of elite warrior slaves, were assembled — not unlike the very real Black Guard, a force of roughly 150,000 slave soldiers in the service of Sultan Ismaïl, who ruled Morocco in the early 18th century.
This is not, of course, to be confused with the Black Watch in Game of Thrones. Sheesh. I could never get the kings of England straight without a flow chart either.
Have a look at this making of GoT video from Season 3.
The original pilot of Game of Thrones was filmed in 2009 at Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate, Morocco — just on the other side of the Atlas Mountains. It was shot on a tight budget using leftover sets from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. KoH had a different cast, was never aired, and was rumored to be a dud.
This year most filming returns to another walled city in Dubrovnik, Croatia … or should I say King’s Landing.
The fourth season of Game of Thrones debuts Sunday, April 6 on HBO.
For aNewDomain.net, I’m Russ Johnson.
Based in Sonoma, California, Russ Johnson is the founder of Travelmedia and a senior editor ataNewDomain.net covering travel. Email him at Russ@aNewDomain.net and follow him @connectedtravlr.