An ancient Roman palace that became a town, that is now the heart of a city. A glorious mishmash of architecture, friendly people and a thriving café culture? I shouldn’t need to tell you things to do in Split – you should just get yourselves there!
First thing in the morning the cool cream canyons of Split Old Town are quiet but by 10am the air is abuzz with chat as locals and tourists enjoy the many, many cafes – in every piazza and of course along the magnificent harbourside Riva.
Everyone from poets to pirates have settled here and it shows. There are Roman pillars that still look like Roman pillars – get used to talking about the Peristyle and the Decumanus. And then there is the recycling. The original Roman materials have seen constant recycling for the past 2,000 years!
Look up above the cafes on the date-palm-lined Riva and you will see medieval elements, 9th century wrought iron balconies and even 20th century additions. Unesco designated Split a World Heritage Site in 1979 but this is not an archaeological site – people live here – laundry hangs from the windows of apartments tucked into the walls.
Diocletian was born the son of slaves near Split but rose to become the Roman Emperor at the age of 39 (in 284 AD). He was a successful and innovative emperor and his well-planned retirement was something of a novelty. There is nothing left of his no doubt luxurious apartments but the palace basement can be toured and this apparently reflects the layout of the what was once above.
His palace has been altered so much over the centuries but the mighty gates and the set pieces of the cathedral (Diocletian’s mausoleum) and the baptistery (once the Temple of Jupiter) are glorious.
The black granite Egyptian sphinx in the peristyle is one of a number that originally guarded the emperor’s mausoleum. Amazing to think that when he pilfered it from Egypt to decorate his retirement home it was already 1,800 years old.
Take a walk out along the Marjan peninsula, where wooded views offer views of the Dalmatian coastline and islands. There are pebbly swimming beaches along here and huge villas sleeping amid olive groves and oleanders.
You can climb up to the peak but Wandering Kiwi Jr had done well enough to walk out here (especially after climbing the campanile earlier in the day).
The Ivan Mestrovic Gallery houses the works of Croatia’s most famous modern sculpture. He had it built as a house and studio and it is very grand setting for both indoor and outdoor pieces. A few hundred metres further on there is more of Mestrovic’s work displayed at a little chapel with views over the hazy gulf.
On the way back there are great views over the water to the Riva and the Old Town. Fishermen clean their catch on the waterfront and there are a number of family seafood restaurants here. We had a great meal at Buffet Fife.
Seagulls haunt the fish market west of the Iron Gate and the shining piles of fish, squid and crayfish fill you with confidence about the restaurants here!
East of the Silver Gate is another market – this time for fruit and vegetables, honey, cheeses, sweet chestnuts and bags of fragrant lavender – a great place to get picnic supplies as you wander through Split.
By Natasha von Geldern
Split is a convenient jumping off point for exploration of islands such as Hvar. The ferry terminal is down at the port/harbourside and you can buy tickets for ferry services the day before you wish to travel. We got an airport bus to Split that dropped us right here at the waterfront. Look at the Croatia Ferries website for details of timetables.