Osuna’s Hol­ly­wood fame

Game of Thrones magic de­scended on the small Spanish town in Serville prov­ince, An­dalusía, and turned it into a mecca for fans of the series

The Sun (Malaysia) - - GOING PLACES -

WHEN the mayor of the small south­ern Spanish town of Osuna called Je­sus Cansino to tell him Game of Thrones was com­ing to shoot part of sea­son five, he wouldn’t be­lieve it.

“She said: ‘They’re com­ing to film a series, I’m not sure you know it’. I started laugh­ing,” says the 43-year-old town hall em­ployee and long-time fan of the multi-award-win­ning series, sit­ting at a sun-drenched cafe. But it was no lie. Princess Daen­erys Tar­garyen, her dragons and crew de­scended on Osuna’s cen­tury-old bull­fight­ing ring in Oc­to­ber 2014 to film what is re­garded as one of the sea­son’s best scenes – and the town nes­tled deep in arid An­dalu­sia has not looked back since.

With Cansino now in charge of pro­mot­ing Osuna to Thronies (fans of the series), visi­tor num­bers have soared and for­eign­ers are reg­u­larly seen wan­der­ing round the town of white-washed houses, monas­ter­ies and Ro­man ru­ins – once a draw mainly for Spa­niards.

In the first 12 months af­ter the shoot, the num­ber of tourists to Osuna shot up 70%, and while it slowed down in the sec­ond year, it was still up around 35%, says tourism coun­cil­lor Rafael Diaz.

This com­pares to a 10 to 15% rise in years prior to Game of Thrones, a series so pop­u­lar that shoot­ing lo­ca­tions in Spain, Malta, Croa­tia and North­ern Ire­land have be­come a draw for ‘set­jet­ters’, who visit des­ti­na­tions seen in films or series.

The in­flux in Osuna has yet to change the for­tunes of an 18,000strong, mainly agri­cul­tural town sur­rounded by olive groves with 22% un­em­ploy­ment.

But it has helped cre­ate jobs and put the town on the in­ter­na­tional tourist map – so much so that the lo­cal newsagent now stocks the Daily Mail, Bild and Le Monde news­pa­pers.

The tourism of­fice is now staffed with four em­ploy­ees rather than just one, Diaz says, and au­thor­i­ties have opened pre­vi­ously closed build­ings such as the 467-year-old university, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the visi­tor in­flux to show off the rest of the town.

The lo­cal mu­seum has also launched a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted to Game of Thrones, com­plete with photos of the shoot.

Teresa Jimenez, the bub­bly 53year-old who runs the Casa Curro restau­rant where ac­tress Emilia Clarke cel­e­brated her birth­day dur­ing the shoot, has had to dou­ble her staff since then.

With a wall adorned with pic­tures of the series’ stars, she also has dishes named af­ter the char­ac­ters.

‘Gno­mas’, for in­stance, is a grilled cin­na­mon ap­ple named af­ter Tyrion Lan­nis­ter be­cause both the char­ac­ter and the piece of fruit are “small”, she ex­plains.

The al­lure of Game of Thrones will not last for­ever, though, and the town has to keep think­ing up ways of at­tract­ing vis­i­tors in a bid to ex­pand a tourism sec­tor it hopes will bring more money in.

“Many peo­ple think that when a film crew comes, money is go­ing to fall from the sky,” says Cansino. “But you have to work on it.”

Plans are afoot to give vis­i­tors in the bull­fight­ing ring a vir­tual re­al­ity head­set with which they will fly through the air like a dragon, look­ing down on the sites around Osuna in the hope of get­ting them to visit those too.

Cansino is also plan­ning a na­tional com­pe­ti­tion of medieval com­bat in the very arena where Khaleesi was saved by her dragon.

And as Game of Thrones crew de­scend on other parts of Spain for sea­son seven, sev­eral towns have called Osuna for ad­vice, like Zu­maia in the north­ern Basque Coun­try.

The tiny sea­side town known for its un­usual rock for­ma­tions had al­ready been over­whelmed by vis­i­tors af­ter a pop­u­lar Spanish film was shot there, Diaz ex­plains.

Even well-es­tab­lished tourist des­ti­na­tions have reaped the ben­e­fits, such as Penis­cola on Spain’s east­ern shore – the scene of Daen­erys Tar­garyen’s city of Meereen.

“Game of Thrones was a real gift for us,” says Laura Hi­dalgo, spokesman for the city hall.

“From July 2015, when the film shoot was an­nounced up to now, there have been more than 5,000 news items in the in­ter­na­tional press,” she says – free pub­lic­ity es­ti­mated to be worth more than € 35 mil­lion (RM164.8 mil­lion).

Back in Osuna, mean­while, res­i­dents like to re­call the time when ac­tors like Clarke, Peter Din­klage and “the good-look­ing one” – Michiel Huis­man – walked through the streets.

Peo­ple would con­gre­gate out­side their ho­tels like it was “Hol­ly­wood”, re­calls one res­i­dent.

“It was great,” says Dolores Padilla-Cuervo, 64, walk­ing down the street dressed in colour­ful, flowery trousers.

“And there’s much more at­mos­phere now, more peo­ple from out­side town.” – AFP

The town of Osuna (bot­tom, and far bot­tom) is hop­ing its as­so­ci­a­tion with hit TV series (be­low), such as its iconic bull­ring (far left) which was turned into a film set in the series (left), will con­tinue to lure in the Thronies and the cu­ri­ous (bot­tom, far left).

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