The turquoise Adriatic Sea, the ancient Roman ruins and the great food and wine. No wonder Roman emperor Diocletian built a palace in the city of Split for his retirement – and no wonder the rest of us are invading it 2000 years later!
Some trips turn out not-as-planned and this can be good or bad, but this was a very pleasant surprise! Like Florence the entire old part of Split is a museum, but it’s smaller and more Adriatic.
TOP SIGHTS ⇓
Even though Split is the largest city in Dalmatia and the second largest in the country, you can walk the entire old part of the city in an afternoon. But you can get lost in the narrow streets lead by the smell of good pasta and the sound of music.
The huge walled complex included colonnaded streets, reception rooms, a temple, mausoleum, bath house and extensive gardens. It dates back to the late 3rd and early 4th century, but there’s also some newer stuff.
DIOCLETIAN’S PALACE COMPLEX
This is of course #1 and not only a World Heritage Site, but also one of the best preserved ruins from Roman times – and a Game of Thrones site. But why did a Roman emperor built his old folks home here and not in Italy? Because he was born here, and he preferred to hand Rome over to his heir and rule the east instead!
The old city is surrounded by a tall stone citywall with 4 gates: the Golden, Bronze, Silver and Iron Gate (Yes, Game of Thrones stole everything from actual history).
The imperial residence is in the southern end opposite the quarters used by soldiers, and it included temples and state rooms for important guests. The palace was built with white stone from the island of Brac, marble from Italy and Greece and columns from Egypt.
THE PERISTYLE COURT
The center of the complex is kind of the peristyle court, which is still surrounded by the original 24 columns. This also creates one of the best wine spots in Europe: the Peristyle Court. Although when my sister was there, she felt it was too crowded…
Notice the black sphinx from 1500 BC. We didn’t know it was that old, until my son had already climbed it. Ooops… The head was destroyed by Christians, who considered it pagan (again the history nerd is crying).
CATHEDRAL OF SAINT DOMNIUS
The Cathedral is also the palace complex. It includes the tower, a treasury, a crypt and the baptistery, that was once a Temple to Jupiter and is actually the mausoleum of Diocletian. He is known for persecuting Christians, so why is his final resting place a cathedral?
When Diocletian died in 311 after several years of raising cabbages here, the Christians (who eventually came to power) destroyed the sarcophagus (the history nerd is crying here) and made it into a church in 5th century. They even named it after St. Domnius, whom Diocletian killed and whom is now the patron of the city…
So, the Cathedral was built later than the earlier parts of the palace and dates from the Middle Ages, but it’s also older, since materials from the ancient palace was reused. Actually, it’s one of the best preserved Ancient buildings today. Take that, Rome!
The tall Romanesque bell fry is a later addition, but you have to climb for the spectacular view!
The rest of Split is of course larger than the old town. There’s a nice beach, the harbou si great for strolling and ice cream, and close to the Silver gate you’ll find the large marketplace. Also check out the Archaeological Museum.
Just outside the wall you’ll find Medieval Croatian Bishop Gregory of Nin introduced the national language in sermons around 900 instead of Latin (thanks to the Romans).
At the end of the harbour is Sustipan park – which is not really a park, but a nice green spot. It’s named after a Middle Age monastery and resting place for the last Croatian Kings.
SLEEP, EAT & DRINK
About 3000 people live inside the walls of Split. As you can see below we also stayed inside the walls, so technically we were living inside the palace complex. This is definitely a highlight for a cultural nerd! We just found it on booking.com.
Unfortunately, there was a bar downstairs, so we didn’t sleep that much and no recommendations from me. But it had the best terrace ever! We had breakfast and our-son-is-finally-sleeping-beer here…
The best wine spot? Drinking a cup of coffee or even better a glass of white wine from Luxor Café just next to the Cathedral in the evenings is great. It’s called Luxor, because of the surrounding decor taken from Egypt! (Don’t worry, I’ve just been to Luxor and they still have some left…) It’s expensive and crowded at times, but it is truly a spectacular setting.
Another great spot for drinking (or eating something expensive) is on Trg Republike. The square is surrounded by a beautiful colonnade with a view of the water.
The food was exceptionally good. I didn’t really know that much about Croatian food, but it turned out that Dalmatian cuisine is kind of Italian. Italian food dominates due to the proximity to Italy, but regional specialities should definitely be tried!
HOW TO GET THERE
The stop in Split was part of a week-long roadtrip from Split to Dubrovnik and back a couple of years ago. We flew to Split and rented a car, which was quite cheap and the roads are really good. But in the old town you can only walk.
I heard of several people sailing along the Adriatic coast which comes highly recommended, but if you have read my bio, you know that’s not for me…
But the Adriatic coast is, so this summer I’m going back, but to Montenegro!
Have you stayed in a palace?