The mythical Casterly Rock in Game of Thrones was inspired by a personal visit George R.R. Martin made to Gibraltar several years ago.
Writing in his blog, the American novelist and screenwriter said that, when doing his world building, he often starts with a real world event or location – “and turn it up to 11” (in reference to Spinal Tap). The Wall, for example, was inspired by his visit to Hadrian’s Wall, “but three times as long and way way taller, made of ice and magic”.
The origins of Casterly Rock were somewhat similar, he said, but this time his inspiration was the Rock of Gibraltar. Noting that “a depressing number of people only seem to know Gibraltar as the trademark for Prudential Insurance”, Martin admitted that he also grew up with that image.
“But, believe it or not, the Rock of Gibraltar is not just a stony version of the Geico Gekko. It is a real place, a unique place, with thousands of years of history. To the ancients it was one of the Pillars of Hercules (the other pillar is far less impressive), the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic. Today it is a British outpost at the bottom of Spain, one of the last remnants of an empire that once spanned the globe.”
The celebrated author of the series of epic fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire, which were adapted into the HBO series Game of Thrones between 2011 and 2019, recalled that he had visited Gibraltar some years ago on one of his tours through Spain and Portugal, and he found the place just as fascinating in person as he had in print.
“It’s the home of the Barbary apes, who will hop on your back and steal your hat and eyeglasses if you let them. There are British pubs and fish-and-chip shops all over the town at the Rock’s foot, as well as some amazing Spanish restaurants. And INSIDE the Rock… it’s not just a big hunk of stone, y’see… are 34 miles of tunnels, more than 150 halls, chambers and caves, Napoleonic gunports and cannons looking out over land and sea, stalagmites and stalactites, World War II bunkers, a concert hall/amphitheatre, a hospital (WWII era) and ancient mines.”
Martin said that, for those who want a Westerosi reference, the Rock of Gibraltar is – at almost 1,400 feet high (427 metres) at its uppermost point – twice as tall as the Wall.
“Casterly Rock is larger. Two leagues long from west to east… that’s approximately six miles (9.7 kilometres) compared to three for Gibraltar. Its peak is about 2,100 feet high, or about 700 feet higher than Gibraltar.
“I am not certain I have ever given the width of Casterly Rock, but I’d venture to say that number is greater too, say around two miles north to south (Gibraltar is seven-tenths of a mile, or 1.1 kilometre, wide). And inside? Yes, the Lannister stronghold has all the passages, halls, stairs, caves, mines, galleries, tunnels, chutes and wells that Gibraltar has… and more, and more, and more. It is thousands of years older, after all. Turned up to 11. Or 11,000.”
(Casterly Rock and Gibraltar ape photos reprinted courtesy of georgemartin.com)