“Here it is – King’s Landing.”
Our guide gestured to an imposing wall of stone, pulling out a fan as the sun grew stronger. Our tour began at 11 a.m. in the midst of a particularly hot Croatian summer, and we thanked her again for agreeing to show us a city made suddenly famous (again) by HBO in such a heat wave. My companions and I didn’t feel the heat; we were too excited. We had all seen the Lovrijenac Fortress – site of the bloody “Battle of Blackwater” – on-screen, but we couldn’t have known the real structure would be so impressive.
“Most people actually only want to know the story behind the TV show,” our guide informed us, and we felt a little sheepish. We walked along the stone wall, snapping photos of kayaks gathering in the water below and attempting to capture the full scope of the scene with our narrow-lens iPhones. “The real history behind the fortress is actually just as interesting,” she continued.
This we didn’t doubt. Built in the 11th century (long before even George R.R. Martin’s was even a twinkle in his ancestors’ eye), the fortress first guarded against attack from the Venetians, and later served as a stage for plays – most famously, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We made a mental note to return for the next performance.
Inside the city, our guide took us through the maze of marble streets, pointing out the unexpected – a tree growing within a wall, a still-functioning synagogue – while showing us the well-preserved remnants of medieval times that put into perspective just how old Dubrovnik is. A public water fountain that once refreshed ancient Romans still pumped out drinkable water. Bells rang in cathedrals centuries old. European citizens may be immune to these reminders, but we Americans felt particularly impressed by the history.