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.
Diocletian’s Palace was the retirement home of Emperor Diocletian after he abdicated as head of the Roman Empire in 305. The impressive palace ruins are one of Split’s top attractions. A portion of the limestone and white marble of the original palace was under water since the ex-emperor wanted to enter it on his ship. Diocletian lived out his retirement in his palace tending to his vegetable gardens.
After the Romans abandoned the site, the Palace remained empty for several centuries. In the 7th century nearby residents fled to the walled palace to escape invading barbarians. Since then the palace has been occupied, with residents making their homes and businesses within the palace basement and directly in its walls.
Because the Palace is also a residential area it is therefore free to enter. There are many attractions within the palace, including the St. Dujam Cathedral on the Peristyle square. Other popular sites are the Temple of Jupiter and the cellars of the palace. The narrow, crooked streets with various shops and restaurants are also popular among tourists. Night is a good time to visit as illuminated garlands light up the remains.