For the first part of our adventure in Croatia we were based in Split. We budgeted only a single day for exploring the town, but we also returned to the city core every evening for 5 nights, so by the end of that stay we could plausibly claim a pretty intimate familiarity with this great town.
The historic center of Split is anchored by the area known as the Diocletian’s Palace. Built for the Roman emperor of that name in the early 4th century AD, it was even then more of a whole town than just a palace, with the emperor’s quarters taking about half of the vast structure. Nowadays, the walls largely remain, and a number of buildings can trace their ancestry to the original palace grounds. It is one of the oldest inscribed places on the World Heritage list, achieving the status in 1979.
Our apartment in Split was located a stone throw from the Silver Gate, which served as our main entry point to the historic center.
Close by is the main palace court, Peristyle, which over the centuries blended influences of different architectural schools into an eye-catching ensemble.
A look at the elegant bell tower of Saint Domnius Cathedral.
The tower dates from the 12th century, while the cathedral has been consecrated as far back as the 7th century AD and holds the distinction as the oldest Catholic cathedral still in use in its original structure. Its hexagonal shape is partially seen to the right of the tower in the above shot. It was not actually built as a cathedral; it was first the Mausoleum of Diocletian, constructed at the same time as the rest of the palace. As cathedrals go, it is of rather modest dimensions although it was extended a bit in the 17th century. Its interior is actually pretty impressive with the amount of decoration in the limited space.
The bell tower is among the hardest of its kind to climb – the steps are narrow, high, and slippery for a good part of the way – but the payoff is excellent.
The green mass in the background of the above shot is Marjan Hill, an opportunity to escape the city for fresh-air pursuits. The first belvedere overlooking the city is visible on the left side. Here is the view from that elevation.
The waterfront promenade is one of the main features of that perspective. Called Riva, it is the social focus of the historic Split, especially in the evenings. The main drag is full of eateries and artisan stalls, separated from the marina by the palm garden.
At the western end of Riva, a grassy square is centered on a fountain that constantly changes its water patterns (and at night, lighting patterns). Always a big magnet for children.
Back inside the walled core of Split, a few illustrations of how this area is fairly reminiscent of Venice, minus the canals, with its maze of short narrow streets.
And just like in Venice, narrow streets lead on to picturesque open spaces. This is Public Square, located just outside the Iron Gate of the erstwhile palace.
The gate, seen on the right, was historically the least important entry-point to the palace, reserved for the lowest classes. The tower clock next to the gate has a not too common 24-hour face, supposedly so that the sailors coming to town who lost track of time could readily distinguish mornings from afternoons.
I always thought the sailors knew how to do that by the position of the sun, but that does not detract from the fact that the old clock is amazing. And operational.
Public Square is a mix of architectural styles. Here is the building on the opposite side from the clock tower.
Reminds you of something you could see in Vienna, no? This part of the world has been conquered many times by various empires; Austro-Hungarian Empire was among them and did not neglect to leave its imprint.
Another pretty open space is Trg Braće Radić, colloquially known as Fruit Square. We did not see any traces of a produce market here during our entire stay, but the square itself is very much worth lingering on.
As you may have guessed by now, the last few shots have all been taken early in the morning when the city was still largely asleep. Here is a shot of still-deserted Peristyle…
… and an early-morning perspective of the cathedral and the tower from inside the Silver Gate.
A few more random fragments of Split.
The statue seen in the last shot is that of Gregory of Nin, a Medieval bishop who is considered one of the key figures in establishing Croatian national identity. The humongous statue is the main “rub-for-luck” location in Split, as evidenced by its shiny big toe (you may be able to discern that even from this angle if you make the photo bigger by clicking on it).
One day appears to be enough for the core sightseeing in Split. Beaches (which we took ample advantage of), museums and galleries (which we all bypassed), island trips (which we had to cut from our itinerary because of the lost day due to the cancelled flight), and the basic taking-it-slow approach can easily extend your stay in the city to a few days. A number of other interesting locations on the Dalmatian coast is within easy reach from Split, as we will see in the subsequent installments.
I can say with a complete certainty that if we loved a town in Croatia, it was Split.