Our time in Istria was at an end. There were no ferries to get us to our next destination. We could have rented a car, but the red-eye bus was cheaper. We were unsure what to expect. At the very least, we would be getting some sleep during the trip, right? Hah – little did we know. The bus we chose that night had a full compliment of French teens on some kind of field trip.
Aside from the French giggling and chatter, the ride was uneventful. Every few hours or so we would stop, wake up to the sound of the engine turning off, then have 15-20 minutes for a break. Without assigned seats, by the time you returned from the restroom you might find a new passenger in your seat. We would not recommend this bus – get your own car and drive instead. The rocky coastal terrain itself is beautiful, dotted with islands and forests all the way.
Emerging from the bus station in Split, we found ourselves surrounded by a bustling port full of passenger ferries, tugs, and commercial fishing vessels. We waited only a few minutes before our Airbnb host, Slavko, arrived in his car. (Book his apartment here!) As he drove us north through town he provided an overview of Split’s recent history. The football stadium, the importance of the maritime industry, and the economic climate of the city over the last few years.
The neighborhood around Slavko’s home is nestled in the hilside overlooking the coastal downtown of Split. He gave us directions to the nearest grocery store and shared with us his homemade wine from the grapes that grow on his property. The apartment was perfect. It is an easy 5 minute walk downhill to town. Slavko and his wife are wonderful hosts! If you are staying in Split we highly recommend his airbnb.
Walking Around Split
Split is one of those towns that around every corner almost takes your breath away. Inside the palace this is exceptionally the case. The Roman architecture is so well preserved that without much effort you can transport yourself back in time. The palace is not abandoned and is very much alive with cafes, live music, shops and businesses.
This seaside promenade is bustling with action each evening. Arrive early to stroll around and find a bench, they fill up quickly. Then relax to take in all of the action. Families meet here for a stroll after dinner. Older women and men meet here to discuss the day as if sitting on their own front porch, sometimes they start singing.
Diocletian’s Palace (Dioklecijanova Plača)
Built as a retirement home for the Roman emperor Diocletian the palace sits on the harbor front. The palace consists of two main structures, the fortified Roman town and Diocletian’s home. The ruins are fully integrated into the city structure.
Emperor Diocletian ruled for an exceptionally long 20 years (284-305 AD). He is most remembered for his two biggest failures.
1) He divided the huge empire among four emperors to helped administer more efficiently, but the result had a shattering effect that led to the empire’s decline.
2) He tortured and executed Christians, including thousands on the Dalmatian Coast.
During the time Diocletian ruled the palace was situated perfectly on the water front. The water literally lapping against the back facade. Fast forward to today and this is not the case. The water front was pushed back to make room for an embankment, a road, and the Riva. The location was perfect to see approaching vessels from the sea.
Diocletian’s Cellars (Podromi)
Tickets are sold to fully tour the lower chambers so we just popped into the entrance. The lower chambers of the palace were excavated in 1952. Prior to that date the area originally served to level out the foundation for the structure backing right up to the sea. Years after Diocletian’s decline citizens took refuge in the palace from the invading Slavs (641 AD). They carved holes in the ceiling of the cellar to dump their garbage and waste. Over time the waste solidified and actually preserved this archeological find.
As the main square in the palace, its extreme architectural beauty will cause you to stop dead in your tracks. On one side sits the cathedral of St. Dominus (Diocletian’s Mausoleum). Red granite pillars surrounding the square are from Egypt where the Emperor spent his pre-retirement years. A 3,500 year old black sphinx (also from Egypt) graces the front entrance to the vestibule. The Emperor originally brought 13 to decorate his palace.
Cathedral of St. Dominos (Katedrala Sv. Duje)
The original structure was built as Diocletian’s Mausoleum but was converted into a cathedral after the fall of Rome. It is believed to be the oldest and possibly the smallest cathedral in the world.
In the seventh century the Mausoleum became a cathedral dedicated to the martyred bishop Dominus of Salona. Diocletian ordered him dead before his arrival to the Dalmatian coast. As perhaps justice is deserved Diocleatian’s body is no where to be found in his Mausoleum, instead Christian saints are entombed here.
The Bell Tower construction took 300 years to complete in the 13th century. With 183 steps to the top of the 200 foot tower, at this point in our trip I decided to go on strike. No more towers! Grant continued on in my place.
There are many more sights to see in Split from the Green Market, delightful squares and public spaces, to museums and galleries. Nature-lovers will appreciate Marjan hill. Escape from the city for a day by treating yourself to fresh breathtaking vistas. You can even top the afternoon off with a drink at the cafe.
Perhaps the most memorable and treasured moments we shared in Split would be the warm hospitality given to us by our Airbnb hosts. We will never forget the lovely afternoon coffee, conversations on the patio, and our amazing farewell fish dinner prepared by Slavko and his wife. Hvala friends!