Split City Break
Split, as a second largest city in Croatia and largest in Dalmatia, it is a great place from where you can start exploring Dalmatia from. It kept a wonderful balance of tradition and modernity and, luckily, it is no more seen only as a transport hub to nearby islands. Split finally started to get more well-deserved international attention!
Split has earned its fame long time ago. When in 305 AD Diocletian Palace was built, it was the only structure in the area. After Diocletian’s death, it was used as a retreat palace for Roman emperors and, after the nearby city of Salona (today city of Solin) was abandoned in the 7th century, many of its inhabitants fled to Split and settled within the palace. Split’s rich history and influence of many different rulers can be easily seen in the area. Romans, Venetians, Byzantine Empire, Napoleon, and Austrians, they all left a piece of their culture in Split.
We arrived in Split in the early afternoon, after checking out the beaches along “magistrala”, the state road which is following the coastline. Our apartment was very centrally located so in less than 10 minutes, we were strolling down the Riva (that’s how seafront promenade in Split is called). Last (and first) time I was here, somewhere at the beginning of college, Riva just got renovated. It took a minute to realize Split has changed a lot past years. New touristic attractions, attractive accommodation, and well-designed restaurants found their place all around the city center.
Just a few steps away from Riva, Diocletian Palace is located. Build in 305 AD, it was built as a retirement house of Emperor Diocletian. It was an imperial residence, fortified town and military fortress, all in one. As the history changed, the city of Split engulfed the palace which literally became a heart of the city and home to more than 3000 people.
Today, this grand palace is like an antic jungle surrounded by the bustling city and chilled sea promenade. It is known as the old town of Split with numerous shops, restaurants, and apartments. It is considered to be one of the most imposing Roman ruins and, of course, the main attraction of Split. Along with Arena of Pula, Diocletian Palace is the most valuable surviving Roman architecture in the Adriatic.
As you step into this impressive monument, you will instantly realize here the life has been going on for thousands of years. When the night falls, palace becomes particularly attractive. Columns are illuminated by colorful garlands, the interiors become a beautiful scene and you can hear music everywhere.
Diocletian Palace was shaped in the form of an irregular rectangle, with towers on all facades except the southern one. Diocletian wanted to enter his palace from a ship, so it was rising directly from the sea. Along the seaside his rooms were located, as well as the temples and the octagonal mausoleum. The mausoleum was reconstructed into one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, today’s Cathedral of Split. It is hard to imagine lower parts of the palace were actually in the water and the ships were cruising around. But if you take a closer look, you can notice it by the location of the windows – they are very high, almost near the ceiling, in the case water would rise.
There were four gates to enter the palace. They were not preserved, but stone pillars and arches can still be seen. All the gates were named by a metal, so we had Bronze (south), Iron (west), Silver (eastern) and Golden gate (north). If you enter the palace through the Silver gate, you will have the best view. Just walk straight, following Krešimirova street (better known as Via Decumanus) to the western gate, which was separating the imperial residence on the south from the northern side which was used by servants and soldiers.
Soon you will find yourself in the heart of the palace, Peristyle. Peristyle is an open court located on the crossroad of the two main roads of the palace. It was a place where the most powerful citizens were gathering. Here Diocletian used to receive visitors, who paid their respect by kissing his cloak and kneeling. Today is known as the most lively place in the city with joyful atmosphere and “Roman guards” waiting to take photos with you.
Palace’s underground is turned into a tunnel full of souvenir shops and a museum. It is a perfect place to cool down during the summer while buying traditional souvenirs for your loved ones!
When you feel ready to go out again, you can exit the palace through the western gate and you will find yourself on Narodni trg (People’s Square), the main meeting point for people living in Split. It is like a living room withing the city and people watching paradise, similar to Cvjetni trg (Floral Square) in Zagreb. Back in time, it was a political center of the city, with Rector’s Palace (Knežev dvor) and Municipal Hall.
Ok, I think by now you understand Diocletian’s Palace is not what you expected. To begin with, it is not only a palace and it is definitely not a typical palace building like you thought. It is one of the most imposing Roman ruins in the world and it is a true heart of the city. It became the most amazing city center you will ever experience, the soul of Split, a maze packed with people and shops. It is a real-life labyrinth where each narrow street and passageway hides a different secret, different restaurant or a bar. At its beginning, each street has a sign stating what are you going to find in it – bars, restaurants, shops, museums, … what makes moving around much easier. But the most interesting way to explore it is to get lost.
It is big enough to find dozens of interesting places, but small enough to find your way out easily. It is a place where you are going to wine and dine in some of the most amazing modern restaurants, in a location thousands of years old, while locals are hanging their freshly washed laundry over your heads and old grandmas are closely watching what is happening around so tomorrow they could share all the gossips with their neighbors. This UNESCO World Heritage Site it is a place of the unceasing inspiration for travelers, architects, and painters and it is just amazing.
DO NOT FORGET TO…
- In front of the Golden gate, there is a statue of Grgur Ninski. Rub his left toe for luck and you will come back to Split for sure!
- Check out the Cathedral of St Dominus to see one on the oldest churches in the world. Climb up the tower for spectacular views of Split!
- Sip a coffee at Republic Square (Prokurative), imagining you are in Venice.
- Learn more about Split’s history, traditional costumes, and memorabilia by visiting Ethnographic museum. It also has some nice views from the top.
- Find the synagogue. It is one of the oldest ones in Europe that is still in use. It was created in the 16th century in the part which was then a Jewish ghetto.
- Listen to the local musicians, klape, singing in Vestibul.
- Enjoy beach life in Žnjan, Bačvice or Kašuni beach.
- Discover why Marjan hill is called lungs of the city.
Did you already visit Split? What did you like the most?
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