Here Be Dragons is Croatia’s premier Game of Thrones gift shop and fantasy boutique, located in Diocletian’s Palace in Split.
Upon opening its doors in the summer of 2016, the fantasy-themed retailer became an instant attraction for legions of Game of Thrones fans, “Harry Potterheads,” wannabe Jedi, Tolkien worshippers, and all sorts of geeks and gamers. With its rare collection of officially licensed replicas and merchandise, as well as its magical interior (featuring a life-sized dragon), Here Be Dragons offers a unique fan experience that can’t be found anywhere in Croatia or perhaps even in the rest of Europe.
What’s in a name?
According to medieval legend, “Here be Dragons” was a phrase frequently used by cartographers (map makers) to denote uncharted territories on their maps. It was a warning, meant to steer would-be explorers away from potentially dangerous areas where dragons and sea monsters were believed to exist.
The first Here Be Dragons boutique in Split took upwards of a year in conceptual planning, with the goal of creating a truly magical space inside Diocletian’s Palace. Located just steps away from numerous Game of Thrones filming locations, Here Be Dragons initially focused their efforts on becoming the leading gift shop for licensed Game of Thrones collectibles and merchandise. “We wanted to provide our customers with something more than just mugs and shot glasses. We wanted to create a totally immersive experience that offers both hardcore fans and newcomers an environment to bring their imaginations to life,” said director, Mario Mutvar.
“With our first boutique, we really tried to push the boundaries of what people perceived as a ‘retail shop’. We wanted to create magic. So, we began by converting the entrance of our shop into a hidden doorway, like something you’d see in a movie or read about in a fantasy novel. This was fairly tricky, as we knew that we were dealing with a UNESCO protected building and we couldn’t touch the exterior walls. After some planning, we brought in a specialized team of imitation stone crafters to take negative molds of the stone around the entrance, and then reproduce them into identical lightweight panels to lay across the custom built doorframe. Initially, the locals thought we were a bit crazy or perhaps even stupid for making the front door of our shop seemingly invisible to anyone walking by,” said Mutvar.
Of course, not only did the “hidden door” in Diocletian’s Palace become a real attraction with throngs of visitors trying to find it and take selfies in front of it, but it also provided the portal to a unique fantasy experience. The interior space of Here Be Dragons is every bit as unique as its exterior. In addition to its unique display of t-shirts with each design mounted on medieval shields, the shop contains virtually every element of fantasy from dungeonesque stone walls adorned with lit torches, to cabinets and shelving meant to replicate elements of the beloved fantasy video game, Skyrim. Even its side-entry door handles are replicas of the Broken Sword of Narsil from Lord of the Rings. But perhaps one of the coolest features of Here Be Dragons, is the life-sized dragon, hand-made by UK-based cinematic pro artists, ArtyFakes. The dragon, which is still yet to be named, is a fan favorite for hundreds of tourists taking selfies each day – it is by far the most photographed dragon in the Seven Kingdoms.
While fans love the theatrics of Here Be Dragons, its unique lineup of collectibles and merchandise are the real features of the shop. It is one of the only GOT retailers to offer higher-end Game of Throne collectibles, including Jon Snow’s Longclaw Sword, Arya Stark’s “Needle” forged from Valyrian Steel of course, Daenerys’s replica Dragon eggs, the helmet of the Unsullied army, and King Joffrey’s limited edition crown, which sold out just as this article was being written.
As an active sponsor of the local, Harry-Potter-based non-profit organization, Ministry of Magic, Here Be Dragons gained quite a following of Croatian “Potterheads” with its offer of the largest collection of Harry Potter gifts and merchandise in the region, including collectible wands, jewelry such as Hermione’s time-turner necklace, replicas of the Hogwarts Castle, and even an officially licensed replica of Harry’s Nimbus 2001. But, Lord of The Rings and Tolkien fans shouldn’t feel left out either. Here Be Dragons offers the most extensive selection of One Rings, Elvish Coins, the replica of Crown of Ellesar, Arwen’s pendant necklace, and a vast array of licensed jewelry. Additionally, the boutique has taken numerous strides to make its pricing more accessible to locals. “With dozens of vendors selling 250kn t-shirts to tourists, we decided to go the opposite direction and changed our entire pricing structure last year to be more accessible to our local fans. It’s a long-term strategy to maintain prices far below other Croatian retailers, and to also be competitive with online resellers like Amazon and eBay.”
Coming to Zagreb
In early August this year, Here Be Dragons announced their upcoming expansion of an additional retail outlet on Zagreb’s famed Tkalciceva Street. While much of the new Zagreb boutique remain secret, the conceptual development team behind the shop’s unique environment tell us that it will push the creative boundaries of retail even further. Located right next to Mali Medo, on Tkalca, HBD has acquired the space formerly occupied by Record Store. Though the new shop will contain much of the same merchandise as its Split location, the interior design will move quite a bit away from the medieval fantasy theme. The Zagreb location will take several design cues from George R.R. Martin’s haunted museum/art installation “House of Eternal Return” in Santa Fe New Mexico. “We wanted to give a nod to GRRM, as well as other artists in the fantasy space, but that’s about all we can say right now.”
So brace yourselves fantasy buffs… Winter is here.
Here Be Dragons is tentatively scheduled to open is the newest location in Zagreb between August and September 2017.