Split provides many amusing adventures. We’ve spent days exploring the city.
The front of the harbor has a very wide walkway called Riva. There are cafes with outdoor seating, rows of palm trees, benches to sit on and watch the sea or the people. It is a favorite place for locals and tourist alike to stroll, to see and be seen. It’s a great place to get icecream or take a picnic lunch. A walkway continues along the shore for several kilometers in both directions. To the east, it circles several bays with pebble beaches that are set up for swimmers. Despite it being November with cooling air and water temperatures, we’ve seen at least one swimmer every time we’ve gone to one of these beaches; and once waded into the cool water ourselves. To the west, the walkway passes a fisherman’s dock, then a protected marina full of winterized charter boats, and finally onto more pebble beaches overlooked by villas. On the way, there are 73 plaques embedded in the walkway for Olympic medalists from Split. Locals are proud to claim they have the most medalists per capita in the world. Within Split’s harbor is a large system of ferry docks. There are about 30 bays for ferries. Now that it is the winter, they are only about 25 ferry trips a day in and out of this harbor. You can go to six different islands, multiple ports on some of those islands or even to Italy from Split. In the next post we’ll share our ferry adventures.
West of town is a forested peninsula that is a public park called Marjan. Its proximity to the center and network of roads and trails make it very popular with the locals. The roads are closed to traffic so they are ideal for bike riding, family walks, and joggers. Hiking trails cut steeper paths. Marjan encompasses multiple beaches, a fitness trail with exercise stations, playgrounds, tennis courts, a restaurant, and much more. The cliffs overlooking the ocean have a few old small chapels and caves that monks lived in centuries ago. On our first venture into Marjan, we came across signs that they are concerned about wildfire: back-pack pumps full of water and hand tools prominently placed, even a fire lookout tower! After asking around and finding the park administration offices, we learned the tower is staffed every day of the year and a fire brigade is hired during the summer. Marjan Park is clearly a loved resource.
In town we have submersed ourselves in Roman history. One day we took a walking tour with a retired history teacher. We learned that Emperor Diocletian had been to Egypt with the Roman army and was deeply moved by their art. When he decided to build his palace, he imported many red granite columns (which were taken from existing Egyptian temples) and black sphinxes. At the time when Diocletian’s Palace was built, these artifacts were already 1500-2000 years old! The guide showed us exactly where the dining room in Diocletian’s Palace was. There were kitchens on three sides and the fourth side had sex-divided showers for clean up. We learned that the retired emperor was a hobby gardener. In a letter he went so far as to brag about the size of his cabbages to a friend. Our guide also explained what happened to the palace after Diocletian’s death.
During Diocletian’s rule, he persecuted Christians because their beliefs threatened the Roman Empire. After Diocletian’s reign, the Roman Empire came to fully embrace Christianity. As Christianity became the dominant religion, any signs of other belief systems were seen as threatening. Therefore, much of what existed during Diocletian’s time was destroyed. All but one of the sphinxes lost their heads. Most statues and wall reliefs were smashed. Diocletian’s sarcophagus was broken and discarded. As centuries passed, professional exorcists “cleaned” the most sacred of Diocletian’s places: the temple of Jupiter and his mausoleum. These buildings were converted to sacred Christian sites: a baptistry and cathedral respectively. Our guide pointed out what had been destroyed, replaced, and changed over the millennia.
Few things in Split appear as they were when originally constructed. After seeing other ruins, it is clear that the reason many parts of Diocletian’s Palace are in such good shape is because of continuous habitation. As a recent example of care-taking, some of the oldest stone structures were cleaned to remove centuries of grime and salt spray. Because the center of Split is a UNESCO Heritage Site, the cleaning process had the meet the highest standards and not result in any damage or erosion. How did they do it? With lasers! It took four years of work to go over these old buildings inch by inch but they gleam as white today as they probably did when new.
Another day we toured the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace. The original builders created a complete basement in order to level the floor (it was on a natural slope down to the sea), to raise the building high enough to take advantage of cooling breezes, and to create a solid foundation that could support the weight of multiple stories of thick stone walls on top of it. They say that the floor plan of the cellars matched the floor plan of the palace above. When the palace was turned into a medieval city beginning in the 7th century, people bored holes through the floor and turned the cellars into a sewer and landfill. It wasn’t until 50 years ago that archeologists began excavating what was a solid mass often filling the cellar space. Today about 90% is excavated and you can walk through rooms and passageways. It’s a bit gloomy and dank but allowed us to imagine the grandeur of the open-air halls that stood above as the emperor’s private accommodation.
We attended a ballet performance in the Croatian National Theater, a grand building with layers of box-seats and a red velvet curtain. Local dancers had recently returned from an International Competition in Zagreb and performed parts of dances from the competition. We were blown away by the high quality of local talent, especially for a town of only 180,000. These were professional-level dancers. The next night we went to a performance of the Mozart Requiem in celebration of All Souls Day. The orchestra and chorus were exceptional. We had front row seats and the wall of sound and emotion at times was overwhelming, in the best of ways.
You can see more of our pictures from Croatia here, new additions are at the bottom.