Split Part 2

Split provides many amusing adventures. We’ve spent days exploring the city.

Split as seen from the marina with the Dinaric Alps in the background.

Split as seen from the marina with the Dinaric Alps in the background. Palm trees line the Riva.

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.

We have seen many fire lookouts in Croatia. This one overlooks a large forested park/peninsula on the edge of Split. The locals tell us it is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year.

We have seen many fire lookouts in Croatia. This one overlooks Marjan Park.

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.

The one surviving intact sphinx and red granite columns imported by Diocletian for his palace.

The one surviving intact sphinx and red granite columns imported by Diocletian for his palace.

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.

The entrance to Diocletian's mausoleum turned cathedral. The Roman column stands next to more recent Christian carvings in this town that keep layering history upon itself.

The entrance to Diocletian’s mausoleum turned cathedral. The Roman column stands next to more recent Christian carvings in this town that keeps layering history upon itself.

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.

Jupiter's Temple. Diocletian believed he was a son of the god Jupiter.

Jupiter’s Temple, gleaming in the sun after its laser cleaning. Diocletian believed he was a son of the god Jupiter.

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.

Passage in the cellar under Diocletian's Palace.

Passage in the cellar under Diocletian’s Palace. The interconnected underground chambers are vast.

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.

The domed roof of Diocletian's mausoleum. In the upper left you can see carvings of Roman chariots.

The domed roof of Diocletian’s mausoleum. In the upper left you can see carvings of Roman chariots.

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.

Diocletian had about a dozen sphinxes brought from Egypt for his palace. They are estimated to be 4000 years old.

Diocletian had about a dozen sphinxes brought from Egypt for his palace. They are estimated to be 4000 years old.

The medieval portions are Split are full of beautiful views around nearly every corner.

The medieval portions are Split are full of beautiful views around nearly every corner.

Diocletian ordered the death of many Christians because they threatened the Roman Empire. Anastasius was drowned in 302 by a millstone tied around his neck. Like many others, he became a saint. Ironically this alter to St. Anastasius is in the cathedral that once was Diocletian's mausoleum.

Diocletian ordered the death of many Christians because they threatened the Roman Empire. Anastasius was drowned in 302 by a millstone tied around his neck. Like many others, he became a saint. Ironically this alter to St. Anastasius is in the cathedral that once was Diocletian’s mausoleum.

St. Anthony. The small man in the lower right donated the sculpture and didn't want his gift to be forgotten. Our guidebook calls this figure "mini-me."

St. Anthony. The small man in the lower right donated the sculpture and didn’t want his gift to be forgotten. Our guidebook calls this figure “mini-me.”

Jim at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

Jim at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

View from the bell tower across the west side of Split to Marjan forest park.

View from the bell tower across the west side of Split to Marjan forest park.

Megan at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

Megan at the top of the bell tower in Split on a rare cool windy day.

The interior of a stone roof.

The interior of a stone roof.

Split claims an unusual number of Olympic medals for its size. This walkway has 73 plaques with the names of athletes from Split who have won Olympic medals.

Split claims an unusual number of Olympic medals for its size. This walkway has 73 plaques with the names of athletes from Split who have won Olympic medals.

The marina in Split is full of sailboats. Despite the weather we think is amazing, no one goes sailing because the season is "over".

The marina in Split is full of sailboats. Despite the weather we think is amazing, no one goes sailing because the season is “over”.

The Adriatic is a lovely turquoise blue and incredibly clear. This was in a marina looking through at least 8 meters of water.

The Adriatic is a lovely turquoise blue and incredibly clear. This was in a marina looking through at least 8 meters of water.

Ivan Meštrović is a Croatian sculptor who studied with Rodin and settled in Split. His mansion now serves as a museum of his work.

Ivan Meštrović is a Croatian sculptor who studied with Rodin and settled in Split. His mansion now serves as a museum of his work.

1700-year-old Roman construction is very sturdy but shows signs of time passing in the cellars.

1700-year-old Roman construction is very sturdy but shows signs of time passing in the cellars.

Roman construction circa 300AD. Notice the mortar layers are thicker than the red bricks.

Roman construction circa 300AD. Notice the mortar layers are thicker than the red bricks.

The square blocks made pipes for Roman sewers in 300AD. Behind the pipes is a wall of waste left by medieval inhabitants.

The square blocks made pipes for Roman sewers in 300AD. Behind the pipes is a wall of waste left by medieval inhabitants.

A wall of detritus in the cellars, yet to be excavated by archeologists. The passage in the foreground was excavated in the last 50 years, as was 90% of the cellars.

A wall of detritus in the cellars, yet to be excavated by archeologists. The passage in the foreground was excavated in the last 50 years, as was 90% of the cellars.

A pigeon got into the cellars and took up residence on top of one of the lights. He may be channeling pagan religious practices.

A pigeon got into the cellars and took up residence on top of one of the lights. He may be channeling pagan religious practices.

Welcome to Split, Croatia

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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.

This was our first view of Diocletian's Palace. The old Roman wall built 1700 years ago still has its arched windows and shows signs of other buildings.

This was our first view of Diocletian’s Palace. The old Roman wall built 1700 years ago still has its arched windows and shows signs of other buildings.

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.

Inside the Palace walls. Houses made from the fortress and built on top of each other.

Inside the Palace walls. Houses made from the fortress and built on top of each other.

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.

Inside the Palace walls. Laundry hangs, cafe chairs spill into the narrow walkways, the pavers underfoot are polished smooth.

Inside the Palace walls. Laundry hangs, cafe chairs spill into the narrow walkways, the pavers underfoot are polished smooth.

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.

The green market that is about two minutes from our place. You're seeing about a sixth of it in this picture!

The green market that is about two minutes from our place. You’re seeing about a sixth of it in this picture!

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).

    Split and its harbor.

    Split and its harbor.

  • 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.
  • Stone roofs are common, as is bougainvillea.

    Stone roofs are common, as is bougainvillea.

    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.
The vestibul where Diocletian would dress in royal robes and prepare for public appearances. The top of the domed roof has collapsed leaving a view to the sky.

The vestibul where Diocletian would dress in royal robes and prepare for public appearances. The top of the domed roof has collapsed leaving a view to the sky.

You can look at more pictures from our visit here. Stay tuned for more about our adventures in Croatia coming soon.

We took the train from Paris to Croatia, passing through the Alps in Austria and Slovenia. It was snowing and the hills showed recent snowfall from the night before.

We took the train from Paris to Croatia, passing through the Alps in Austria and Slovenia. It was snowing and the hills showed recent snowfall from the night before.

The train followed the Sava River through Slovenia and Croatia. The Sava had spilled over its banks and was carrying a lot of sediment and debris.

The train followed the Sava River through Slovenia and Croatia. The Sava had spilled over its banks and was carrying a lot of sediment and debris.

Nicolas Tesla was born in Croatia. This statue of him stands in the capital, Zagreb.

Nicolas Tesla was born in Croatia. This statue of him stands in the capital, Zagreb.

Throughout our journey in Europe, we have seen statues of St. George killing or having killed the dragon. If you don't know the story, Wikipedia has a good overview.

Throughout our journey in Europe, we have seen statues of St. George killing or having killed the dragon. If you don’t know the story, Wikipedia has a good overview.

This is our house in Split. You enter through the green door on the left and immediately head upstairs.

This is our house in Split. You enter through the green door on the left and immediately head upstairs.

Inside the Palace. Stairs lead up to private residences, the passage on the right opens into a courtyard.

Inside the Palace. Stairs lead up to private residences, the passage on the right opens into a courtyard.

"Roman soldiers" in the main square  pose for tips.

“Roman soldiers” in the main square pose for tips.

This tower was built by the Venetians in the 15th century, both to discourage locals from revolting and protect the town from Ottomans.

This tower was built by the Venetians in the 15th century, both to discourage locals from revolting and protect the town from Ottomans.

This was the main gate leading into Diocletian's Palace. You can see how locals have moved into the walls, added on to them, and created gardens and terraces where possible. Also note the clothing shop on ground level.

This was the main gate leading into Diocletian’s Palace. You can see how locals have moved into the walls, added on to them, and created gardens and terraces where possible. Also note the clothing shop on ground level.

Klapa, a traditional a capella Croatian music, is often performed in the vestibul for tourists. The acoustics are remarkable in this round room.

Klapa, a traditional a capella Croatian music, is often performed in the vestibul for tourists. The acoustics are remarkable in this round room.

Building on bedrock is not a challenge  on the Dalmatian coast.

Building on bedrock is not a challenge on the Dalmatian coast.