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‘Game of Thrones’: Where to Find The Real-Life Staircase to Dragonstone in Spain

On location: Here's the setting for where Daenerys landed, what it really looks like, and how to visit.

Nathalie Emmanuel, Peter Dinklage, Conleth Hill, Emilia Clarke, and Jacob Anderson, "Game of Thrones"

Nathalie Emmanuel, Peter Dinklage, Conleth Hill, Emilia Clarke, and Jacob Anderson, “Game of Thrones”

HBO

It took Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister and their party 241 steps to make it to the top of Dragonstone.

HBO

That’s how many steps visitors to the real-life, steep twisting staircase at Spain’s San Juan de Gaztelugatxe have to take in order to make it to the peak of the islet, located in Spain’s Basque Country. “Game of Thrones” filmed at the location last fall, for a pivotal scene that capped Sunday night’s Season 7 premiere.

During a recent visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, locals excitedly told tourists of how “Game of Thrones” had recently filmed at the landmark. But even they weren’t clear of how it would play a part on the show or when it would first appear. That mystery was solved on Sunday night, when the unmistakable staircase popped up toward the end of the episode.

"Game of Thrones"

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

IndieWire

"Game of Thrones"

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

IndieWire

In the episode, Daenerys and her loyalists quietly make the journey to Dragonstone, the Targaryen ancestral home, and explore the abandoned castle – before settling in the war council room. In real life, that’s the magic of CGI – but the location is very real.

Dragonstone

“Game of Thrones”

HBO

"Game of Thrones"

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

IndieWire

Gaztelugatxe, which belongs to the municipality of Bormeo (located in Northern Spain), is connected to the shore via the man-made bridge, which leads to the staircase seen on “Game of Thrones.” On top of the island, the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe church dates to the 10th century – and was once a convent, although the one currently up there isn’t the original. Euskoguide has some back story:

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe had a strategic purpose as a defensive outpost for the lords of Biscay. It was used as a bastion against the King of Castile, Alfonso XI. The seven knights from Biscay fought against him at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Alfonso XI was humiliated and was forced to retreat.

In 1596, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was attacked again, this time by Sir Francis Drake and his corsairs. They looted everything they found and killed the hermit that was living there by throwing him off a cliff to the rocks and water below.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe also played a role, albeit small, during the Spanish Inquisition. Witches and their ritualistic meetings known as Akelarre in Basque, make up a part of the Basque mythology. For this reason, the Catholic Church focused much of its time during the inquisition hunting for witches in the region. Several accounts seem to indicate that many of the accused were locked up in the caves of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

The church deteriorated over time and it was eventually demolished in 1886 and then rebuilt from scratch. Unfortunately, during the demolition process, all of the artifacts found in the ground, such as coins and cannon balls, were thrown to the sea.

"Game of Thrones"

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

IndieWire

"Game of Thrones"

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

IndieWire

After making the trek to the church, visitors frequently ring the church’s bell three times and make a wish. “Tradition says that after climbing to the Chapel of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe if you ring the bell three times your wishes will come true and you will be free of evil spirits,” according to Bermeo’s town council website.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, which is dedicated to John the Baptist, also pays tribute to sailors who have survived ship wrecks. Local fishermen visit the church in order to receive blessings for good weather and protection from San Juan.

Dragonstone

“Game of Thrones”

HBO

"Game of Thrones"

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

IndieWire

Another staircase allows visitors to climb down to the shore, walk along the beach – and visit where Daenerys first lands and touches the sand. In the distance, Aketx island, a sanctuary for marine birds, looks a lot like the face of a lion.

"Game of Thrones"

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

IndieWire

The path to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is always open, although the church doors are only open certain times of the year. Located on the Biscayan coast, about 35 km east from Bilbao, driving is recommended. It is still about a 1 km hike from the parking area before you get to the land bridge.

For more information, check out Bermeo’s town council website here.

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