We are settled in Split, Croatia for the next month. So far, we have both been blown away by how much we like it here.
Split’s history is long and convoluted. The Romans built a town called Salonae around 200 BC at the site of a small village, just a couple miles from modern day Split. At it’s peak, Salonae had 60,000 inhabitants. A man named Diocletian was born to peasants there. He joined the Roman army and came up through the ranks to become the Roman Emperor. Diocletian was a remarkable emperor for several reasons: he ruled for 20 years, he divided the enormous Roman Empire into four administrative districts, each with their own ruler, and he abdicated.
Between 294-305AD, Diocletian had a palace built a few miles from his hometown. Diocletian’s “Palace” is more of what we would call a fortress. It housed Diocletian, his wife and daughter, their servants, and 700 soldiers inside a walled compound. Even a retired emperor needed protection and an army.
In the seventh century, well after the Romans abandoned the palace, locals moved in while fleeing invading Slavs. They built a medieval village inside the former palace walls. Since then, people have built, torn down, renovated, and made this site their home. Walking around, you can see a mix of building styles that reflect various rulers: the Venetians, the Austro-Hungarians, and even Yugoslav Communists. It is a beautiful mishmash and well preserved because it has been continuously inhabited for hundreds of years. As the text in one museum said, unused standing buildings became “quarries” for tomorrow’s building projects.
Today Split is Croatia’s second largest city with 180,000 inhabitants. The metro area is a sprawl of 1960s and 70s high-rise buildings. The center of town (Diocletian’s palace and the surrounding medieval villages) is where we are staying. Many streets are too narrow for vehicles, the pavers underfoot are polished smooth, all the buildings are stone, laundry hangs from windows and lines strung between houses. The stone used for building and pavers is local limestone. Underfoot they gleam a glossy soft cream from wear, older building are blackened with age and salt spray, recently cleaned building are a soft warm off-white. Many walls show signs of past windows, doors, and walls from previous remodels. It is beautiful.
There are many reasons that we like Split:
- It has a green market seven days a week where you can buy local eggs, cheese, olive oil, figs, pomegranates, citrus, kiwi, bread, wine, almonds, honey and all the usual veggies. The daily market is bigger than Portland farmers’ market at it’s height and one of five in Split, it is admittedly the largest. Most of the vendors use mechanical balance scales and small weights to determine how many kilos of produce we’ve bought.
- The charming narrow lanes with a mix of architectural styles built on top of each other.
- The natural beauty from the very clear, very blue Adriactic Sea, to the white limestone cliffs in the steep Dinaric Alps paralleling the coastline, to the colorful bougainvillea.
- The frequency of sunshine (often).
- We can blend in. One of the first things our host said was “you don’t look like Americans, you look like you are from here!” Additionally, it is the low season. In the height of summer, this place can be packed with cruise boats, yachties, backpackers, and families going to their coastal summer homes. This time of year, tourists are rare. One of the men working in the tourist information office told us, “you can’t get an English language newspaper this time of year. No one else is going to ask for one for six months.”
- Split is a port with frequent high-quality ferries running to near by islands.
Locals appear committed to fitness and healthy living. Even in November, we see swimmers in the Adriatic. Bikes, walkers, joggers are all common. The people look strong and healthy.
- A couple thousand people live inside the walls of the original Roman palace. Because of near-continuous use, the Roman construction is very well preserved.
- We’ve found an exceptional pastry/coffee shop.
You can look at more pictures from our visit here. Stay tuned for more about our adventures in Croatia coming soon.