I am spending some time with my son in the city of Split in Croatia at the moment. The reason is that I broke my arm and had to put my hiking boots on the shelf for a while and search alternative travel adventures. I have been wanting to visit Split in Croatia for some time, and my hiking pause seemed to be the perfect opportunity to fulfil my wish. So I will go off topic in this article and write about the cultural treasures that I have found in this remarkable city by the Adriatic Sea.
Here are the highlights :
Diocletian’s Palace in the old town
My son Nicklas at the Bell Tower in Diocletian’s Palace
The main attraction of Split is without a doubt Diocletian’s Palace, which is one of the best preserved monuments of the Roman architecture in the world.
The first time I pass through the Silver Gate to Diocletian’s Palace I am surprised to see how huge the monument is. It measures 215 x 180 meters and has its own streets, churches ans shops and is surrounded by an outer wall with a gate in each side: The Golden Gate, The Silver Gate, The Iron Gate and The Bronze Gate. So the designation palace seems misleading in this context, it is rather a small town in the town,
The setting is an abundance of Roman monuments and architectural elements. When you go sightseeing there you will be walking on 1700 år year old streets of mable blocks. And when you look up there are Roman monuments, columns and arches adorned with reliefs everywhere you go. However, do not expect a dead museum that only comes to life when tourists visit the place. The palace is a vivid town centre where the Split residents go shopping, hang out in bars and go to work, i.e. are living their modern lives in a unique Roman setting.
But why a Roman Palace in Split?
Emperor Diocletian (284–305 CE) was originally born in Salona in Croatia and wished to spend his last years on the Dalmatian coast. So he commissioned the construction of the palace for his retirement. The palace was designed as a combination of a luxury home and a military camp. The southern part facing the sea was used for Diocletian’s private chambers, formal purposes and religious ceremonies, while the military and servants resided in the northern part.
There are several must-sees within the walls of Diocletian’s palace:
The main court is an impressing peristyle framed by columns and monumental buildings. It gives access to Diocletian’s mausoleum (today the Cathedral of Saint Dominuis) and bell tower to the one side. To the other side there were three temples, of which only one, the Jupiter Temple, still exists today.
Originally, Diocletian decorated the palace with 12 sphinxes that were shipped directly from Egypt to Split. Standing on the court you will see one of the Egyptian sphinxes in front of Diocletian’s mausoleum. You will also find a sphinx at the Jupiter Temple, and a third is kept in the city museum. Unfortunately, the remaining sphinxes are lost.
Note that when you arrive at the court you will most likely be contacted by guided tour operators eager to sell guided tours round the palace. Some of the guides speak English with a strong Croatian accent and may be difficult to understand. So your money may very well be wasted, if your guide’s language skills are poor.
Crossing the court you will arrive at the Vestibule, a 17 m large tower with well-preserved reliefs. The Vestibule played a central role during Diocletian’s time being the formal meeting point of the palace. Here VIP’s such as ambassadors and politicians would meet before proceeding to the imperial apartments. Apart from the formal purposes the tower also played a religious role, as it was here more religious ceremonies were carried out. Diocletian was considered the son of Jupiter, and whenever Diocletian wanted contact with Jupiter, his farther, he would go to the Vestibule.
The basement below Diocletian’s palace
Below the Vestibule you find the staircase leading to the impressing basement below the palace. The basement consists of more chambers and was originally used to store food and and wine for the palace. Later during the Middle Age the basement lost its function og was filled with waste and subsequently almost forgotten. It was not until the 19. century scientists became aware of the old basement og started the archaeological excavation.
Today the basement is recognised as one of the best preserved ancient complexes of its kind in the world. Also by the film industry. Perhaps Game of Thrones fans remember that the Great Basilica, the main chamber of the basement, was used as the Dragons’ chamber in season 4, 5 and 6.
The Riva between Dicocletian’s Palace and the sea
If you proceed through the chambers of the basement you will arrive at The Bronze Gate, also called The Porta Meridionalis. Originally, the emperor used this gate to access the sea. Today the gate leads to the Riva, the elegant promenade of Split that stretches along the seaside in the town centre. The Riva is definitely worth a stroll in the day time as well as in the evening when you can enjoy the nice southern atmosphere under the palms.
Cruising the Adriatic Sea
The village of Trogir
If you are interested in exploring the surroundings at sea, it is a good idea to book a cruise from Split. You find locale tour operators by the Riva who offer cruises to nice island and other destinations near the Dalmatian coast. A cruise to the village of Trogir, situated on a small island 28 km west of Split, is very recommendable, if you like historic experiences. The 2200 year old village is the second oldest village in Croatia and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Marjan Hill – A perfect way to end the day
View to Split and The Adriatic Sea bordered by the mountains
Before you leave Split please don’t miss the Marjan Hill, close to the city centre, that lets you enjoy the site from another perspective. A short uphill hike from the Old Town is needed to get there. So you need to put on your sneakers to climb the hill. But once you reach the viewing platform (takes app. 20 minutes) you will not regret your effort. The platform offers a stunning view to the Adriatic Sea, the Old Town and the mountains. You may also enjoy the moment at the nearby restaurant Teraca Vidilica that is known for its Mediterranean cuisine. It is time to sit back, relax and revel in your Split adventure.