Split is a very scenic city lying on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. With just under 200,000 residents, this ancient city is the largest on the Dalmatian Coast and Croatia’s second largest city. Its rulers have included the Greeks, Romans and Turks, with each culture leaving its stamp on the city. Split is especially famous for its beaches and Roman ruins, particularly Diocletian’s Palace, which lies in the heart of Split’s Old Town. With so many beautiful attractions in Split, it won’t take long for visitors to figure out why this Croatian city is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.
The square of Trg Braće Radić was once home to a bustling fruit market and so received its unofficial name. These days fruit is no longer sold here, but there are several shops and attractions, including the Venetian Castello and tower, both of which were constructed in 1435 to protect the city from local revolts and Turkish raids. The northern side of the square is dominated by the Milesi Palace, one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Dalmatia. A statue of Marko Marulić, a 15th-century poet, stands in front of the palace. The statue was created by Ivan Meštrović.
Marjan Hill sits in a forest park at the west end of the Split Peninsula. Approximately the size of New York City’s Central Park, Marjan Hill is covered in Mediterranean pine. The park offers wide paved paths just made for strolling or biking. Those who make the climb to the top of Marjan Hill will be rewarded with panoramic views of Split and the Adriatic Sea. On the way to the top, visitors will find a small 13th century church dedicated to St. Nicholas, the fisherman’s saint. Marjan Hill has been a favorite escape from city life for Split residents since the third century.
Ivan Mestrovic Gallery is an art gallery dedicated to its namesake, a 20th century Croatian sculptor. Ivan Mestrovic, who lived in Split for several years, is considered Croatia’s greatest sculptor. He built a summer villa on Marjan Hill in the 1930s. He later moved to Zagreb and donated his villa and 132 pieces of sculpture to the state government, which turned it into a museum. The museum also contains drawings, paintings, architectural plans and furniture. Mestrovic, who later became a U.S. citizen, has been compared to Michelangelo and Rodin. Like theirs, his work can be found in museums throughout the world.
Bacvice Beach is considered one of the top beaches in Split, though it is packed solid most of the summer. What sets it apart from other beaches around Croatia is that Bacvice is located in Split’s city center. Bacvice is well-known for its sandy beach and clear shallow water. Playing picigin is a popular water activity. Dating back centuries, picigin involves a lot of splashing as players try to keep a small ball in the air as long as possible. With cafes and clubs not too far away, Bacvice is popular for travelers interested in nightlife.
Grgur Ninski, or Gregory of Nin, was a 10th century medieval bishop who defied the pope in several areas. As an advocate for the Croatian language and culture, he switched from holding masses in Latin, a language people did not understand, to Croatian. Though it strengthened Christianity in Croatia, the move resulted in Grgur Ninski losing his bishopric. His statue can be found north of Diocletian’s Palace in Old Split. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Split, people come here to rub the statue’s toe; doing this is said to bring good luck to the person rubbing it.
Riva waterfront is the place to be at sunset, whether travelers are sitting in a small café with a cold drink or on a waterfront bench as they watch the sun slip into the horizon. World travelers say the waterfront promenade is one of the nicest they’ve seen everywhere. It’s neat and clean, and lacks the pushy sales clerks found in souvenir shops on other waterfronts. Riva also is Split’s main public square, so visitors may come across concerts, festivals, religious parades or other events taking place. Palm trees and stately multi-story buildings grace the promenade while mega yachts and tour boats line the harbor.
Saint Dujam, known formally as the Cathedral of Saint Dominus, has at least one claim to fame. Since it was consecrated in the 7th century, it is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that has been in continuous use in its original structure without undergoing a major restoration. The cathedral has three parts: the mausoleum of Emperor Diocletian built in 305 AD; a Romanesque bell tower that was added in 1100, and a chorus that was built in the 17th century. The bell tower provides great panoramic views of Split, nearby islands and Marjan hill. The wooden doors, created in the 13th century, show scenes from the life of Christ.
The massive Diocletian Palace was built by The Roman Emperor Diocletian, in advance of his retirement. Managing his empire took a toll on his health, and weakened by illness, he became the only Roman emperor to abdicate the throne voluntarily. He had the palace built on the Bay of Aspalathos near his birthplace, and after his abdication on May 1, 305 A.D., he lived in it for the rest of his years. His palace went on to become the core of the modern day city of Split. As the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean heritage.
Construction of the palace began in 289 A.D. and was completed in time for Diocletian’s retirement in 305 A.D. Diocletian wanted only the best for his retirement home. He used marble from Greece and Italy, as well as sphinxes and columns from Egypt. Water came to the palace from the Jadro River through a Roman aqueduct. Visitors can view the remains of this aqueduct, which was restored in the 19th century. The palace served as an imperial home, a fortified town and a military fortress to protect those inside. It had reinforced gates on the eastern, western and northern sides. The southern side, which faced the sea, had a smaller gate that led from the residential quarters to the sea. Diocletian named each of the doors after a precious metal: gold, silver, bronze and iron. Little did he know that his palace would eventually become the anchor of modern-day Split.
In the sixth century, 300 years after it was built, the palace fell into disuse. However, around the year 614 A.D., refugees from nearby Salona (Solin) took up residence in the palace to escape the invading barbarians, and the locals have been living there ever since.
The Diocletian Palace has been home to nobility, adventurers and common folk, and it still retains the atmosphere of the past centuries. It is like a treasure box, with sphinxes from Egypt and well-preserved Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval buildings within it. It is a living treasure, with nearly 3000 people making their homes there, buying food at the market, taking their children for walks and hanging their laundry out to dry on ancient balconies.
Visitors do not need a ticket to enter the palace. They can stroll right in. The Bronze Gate gives access to the basement of Diocletian’s old Central Hall, now filled with craft and souvenir shops. Moving about in the palace is easy, and travelers can enjoy the many museums, the National Theatre and the old churches found there. They might even meet a local artist or have an espresso at one of the many shops within the palace.
Visitors can also see two major landmarks when in the palace. One is the cathedral, Katedral Sveti Duje, which stands beside the courtyard of Peristil, a major crossing point within the palace. The other landmark is the Split City Museum, found in the northeast corner of the palace. This 15th century Gothic building is more famous for its architecture than the weapons and paintings within it.
Diocletian’s Palace is one of the best examples of late-ancient architecture not only for the way it has been preserved, but also for the series of architectural forms making way for the early Christian, Byzantine and Medieval art. Due to the care that it has been given, if he were here today, Diocletian would have no problem recognizing this Palace as the home in which he spent his retirement years.