The One with Split, Croatia

Thursday, May 15, 2014

After visiting Plitvice Lakes we started our journey to Split, Croatia. The drive was incredible. I've never been anywhere or seen anything like it before.
Chris and Jay took turns driving.
We got a beautiful view of Split from up high as we were driving down to the city.
How do they build towns and churches and castles way up high on the hills like this?
I found all of our places to stay through Sooooo much cheaper than hotels! And it's super great to have separated rooms, a full kitchen, bathroom, usually great views, and amenities. I love living in someone else's space for a night or two! I found Neven's Split apartment and he met us there to show us around and give us the keys. He was so nice and accommodating too because we kept having to change our arrival time due to the car accident and finding a new tire ordeal...
Pics of the apartment from Nice right?! Only $92 per night for 2 bedrooms and a pull out bed and everything you see here. Plus it's close to the Adriatic and Old Town. Loved it.
And then the last of the bad things in a streak of pretty bad things happened: my phone screen cracked and stopped working completely. I had it in my back pocket and was sitting in the back middle seat and it must have broken on the seatbelt I was sitting on. I was sooooo bummed. My phone is my connection to the world! Chris let me borrow his throughout the trip to instagram. I'm just glad it wasn't my camera! And I bought a new cheap phone as soon as we got home from our vacation so all is well. And like I said, that was the last of the bad things. Moving on!

Since we arrived pretty late in the day, I stayed home with the kids and put them to sleep while Jaylie and Chris went to get dinner. The next morning we woke up bright and early, ready to explore Split! Me and Janey, happy to have had a nice night's rest and looking forward to adventures!
Bathroom. | Jaylie eating breakfast. 
All dressed and ready to go!
We walked down the street to the Adriatic Sea. 
View from our balcony. | Fox and Jane throwing rocks into the sea. Their favorite activity this trip. That's all they wanted to do was throw rocks in water, e'erywhere we went!
Detail shots from our walk to the sea and the sea itself. Such a pretty color and almost crystal clear!
Still going, or should I say "throwing" strong!
While some houses looked run down, others looked in tip-top shape! These ones are nice. Our apartment is on the right with the chairs on the balcony.
Once everyone was ready, we hopped in the car and drove just a few short minutes to Split!

Split (pronounced as its spelled amazingly, seems like I'm always saying things wrong!) is Croatia's "second city" (after Zagreb), bustling with 178,000 people. While most Dalmatian coastal towns seem made for tourists, Split is real and vibrant - a shipbuilding city with a large sprawl surrounding an atmospheric Old Town. Though today's Split throbs to a modern, youthful beat, its history goes way back - all the way to the Roman Empire. Along with all the trappings of a modern city, Split has some of the best Roman ruins this side of Italy. In the fourth century AD the Roman Emperor Diocletian (245-313) wanted to retire in his native Dalmatia, so he built a huge palace here. Eventually the palace was abandoned. Then locals, fleeing seventh-century Slavic invaders, moved in and made themselves at home, and a medieval town sprouted from the rubble of the old palace. In the 15th century the Venetians took over the Dalmatian Coast. They developed and fortified Split, slathering the city with a new layer of Gothic-Renaissance architecture. But even as Split grew, the nucleus remained in the ruins of Diocletian's Palace. To this day, 2000 people live or work inside the former palace walls. A maze of narrow alleys is home to fashionable boutiques and galleries, wonderfully atmospheric cafés, and Roman artifacts around every corner. In recent years - as packed-to-the-gills Dubrovnik has had to turn away cruise ships - Split has become a popular port of call for Mediterranean cruises. 
Split's top activity is visiting the remains of Roman Emperor Diocletian's enormous retirement palace, sitting on the harbor in the heart of the city. This monstrous complex was two impressive structures in one: luxurious villa and fortified Roman town. The ruins themselves are now integrated with the city's street plan, so exploring them is free! Diocletian grew up just inland from Split in the town of Salona which was then the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. He worked his way up the Roman hierarchy and ruled as emperor for the unusually long tenure of 20 years. Despite all of his achievements, he his best remembered for two questionable legacies: dividing the huge empire among four emperors (which helped administer it more efficiently but began a splintering effect that arguably led to the empire's decline); and torturing and executing Christians, including thousands right here on the Dalmatian Coast. As he grew older, Diocletian decided to return to his homeland for retirement. Since he was in poor health the medicinal sulfur spring here was another plus. His massive palace took only 11 years to build - and this fast pace required a big push - more than 2000 slaves died during construction. Huge sections of his palace still exist, modified by medieval and modern developers alike. 

So, we parked right in front of the old palace! Super convenient!
To get a good sense of the original palace we took a gander at this big illustration. The "front" door of today's Split (facing the harbor) was actually the back door of Diocletian's Palace. There was no embankment in front of the palace back then so the water came right up to this door - sort of an emergency exit by boat.
Looking out to the water we could see and appreciate the palace's strategic location: it's easy to fortify and to spot enemies approaching either by land or by sea. 
Now the "back door" is a promenade filled with palm trees, benches, and cafés galore. The official name for this seaside pedestrian drag is the "Croatian National Revival Embankment" but locals just call it "Riva" (Italian for "harbor").
The gigantic palace is more than 600 feet long on each side. Diocletian and his family lived in the seaside half of the palace - with the mighty view of the Adriatic. The inland, non-view half of the palace was home to 700 servants, bodyguards, and soldiers.
We went through the door in the middle of the palace known as the "Brass Gate" (pictured a few photos below, next to the bell tower) and just inside the door is the entrance to Diocletian's cellars. 
Since the palace was constructed on land that sloped down to the sea these chambers were built to level out a foundation for the massive structure above. These cellars were filled with water from three different sources: a freshwater spring, a sulfur spring, and the sea. Later, medieval residents used them as a dump. Rediscovered only in the last century, the cellars enabled archaeologists to derive the floor plan of some of the palaces long-gone upper sections. These underground chambers now house art exhibits and a little strip of souvenir stands. We didn't tour through the museums, though it would have been really cool to see the mound of ancient garbage and look at what people back then threw away.

We walked through the passageways and up the stairs into the Peristyle.
A video of the bells ringing in the tower and views of this square:
This square was the centerpiece of Diocletian's Palace. The red granite pillars are from Egypt where Diocletian spent many of his pre-retirement years. This black sphinx is the only one of his collection of 13 that's still (mostly) intact. 
We climbed the stairs above where we came in into the domed, open-ceilinged, impressive entry vestibule. The empty hole was once capped by a dome (long since collapsed) and the ceiling itself was covered with frescoes and mosaics.
This was the grand entry to Diocletian's living quarters, meant to wow visitors. Emperors were believed to be gods. Diocletian called himself "Jovius" - the son of Jupiter, the most powerful of all gods. 
Just like Rick Steves said we probably would, we ran into an all-male band of klapa singers performing traditional a cappella harmonies in the entry vestible. Listen:
So fun to get a taste of the local traditions!

We walked back to the Peristyle. The original octagonal structure was Diocletian's elaborate mausoleum built in the fourth century. But after the fall of Rome it was converted into the town's cathedral. 
Construction of the bell tower began in the 13th century and took 300 years to complete! Sadly the cathedral was closed for a few hours while we were there so we didn't get to go inside. 
But we did climb the 183 steep steps to the top of the bell tower!
The bells rang while we were climbing. It was SO LOUD and SO COOL to experience being in a bell tower with the bells ringing. I took a couple of videos:
Views walking up the steps.
WOW! Helllllllo Split!
Views of this magnificent city.
I love all of the red roofs. 
Looking out to the Adriatic Sea.
While waiting for Chris and Jay to ascend the tower Fox found a cat to pester. I told him not to touch it and what did he do? :)
A collage of some of the sights in Split: bells in the bell tower; the entrance to Jupiter's Temple/St. John's Baptistery; part of the palace walls with plants growing out of it; pink blooming tree.
The alleyway leading to Jupiter's Temple.
About the time the mausoleum became a cathedral, this temple was converted into a baptistry. We didn't pay to go inside.
We went into a little tie shop called Croata and Chris got a tie as a souvenir because did you know ties originated in Croatia? It's true! 
Croatian soldiers who fought with the French in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) had a distinctive way of tying their scarves. The French found it stylish, adopted it, and called it à la Croate - or eventually, cravate - thus creating the modern necktie that many people wear to work every day throughout the world. 

I love how new apartments are built right into the hundreds of years old walls. What I wouldn't give to live there for a few days!
Jaylie checking out a local artist's paintings.
Parts of the palace walls and a couple of the gates/entrances/exits.
The wind blows seeds into the cracks and crevices of the walls and plants grow wild! I love it!
We exited out the Silver Gate and found Split's busy, open-air Green Market.
People pick their fruits and veggies ripe from their garden, sprawl them out along these makeshift concrete slab tables, and buyers come and choose their fresh produce.
Flowers, flowers, fruits & veggies, and more flowers.
I bought a shirt at one of these street vendors. Whenever I wear it I can say I bought it in Split, Croatia!
We walked around the corner, outside palace, and came to a beautiful park.
Bell tower. | Statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin.
Bishop Gregory of Nin was a 10th-century Croatian priest who tried to convince the Vatican to allow sermons during Mass to be said in Croatian, rather than Latin. People rub his toe for good luck so we let Fox have at it. And seriously, our vacation was up-up-uphill from here on out! It totally worked!
Jane naps on Chris when we're on vacation. She never falls asleep on me, but falls asleep instantly in Chris' arms. It's quite precious.
Jay and Fox having a good time, jumping off a fountain.
Across from the statue is the Golden Gate - the main entry of Diocletian's Palace.
Golden Gate isn't literal, rather "gold" suggests the importance of this gateway to Salona.
We walked through the gate and found some ice cream for Fox. Man he loves ice cream. Janey is starting to love it too.
We walked back down the Cardo (north-south axis) and turned right, exiting out the Iron Gate and into People's Square.
Locals call this lively square at the center of Old Town "Pjaca" (PYAH-tsah). 
Details from our walk.
Alleys and narrow streets are so picturesque!
I love all the different kinds of doorways. | Purple blooming palm trees.
We walked to Radić Brothers Square - also known as Fruit Square for the produce that was once sold here. 
Overhead the square is a Venetian citadel. After Split became part of the Venetian Republic there was a serious danger of attack by the Ottomans, so octagonal towers like this were built all along the coast. But this imposing tower also has a second purpose: to encourage citizens of Split to gorget about any plans of rebellion...
I SAW A DALMATIAN IN DALMATIA!!!!!!!! Total check off my bucketlist.
We walked back out to the Riva and stopped for a family picture. Sweet Jane was still sleeping.
We had places to go to keep up with our itinerary so we waved goodbye to Split and headed back to the car. Split was such a unique place - I've never seen modern buildings integrated into such an old palace, not to mention the seaside location. Nothing like the inland cities we've visited thus far! 10 out of 10!


  1. Another excellent recap! I love the photo of the Dalmatian in Dalmatia, cool focus use. Split was a cool town because of the qualtiy of the Roman ruins there. I loved it!

  2. LOVING all the photos!! Bummer about your phone .. but thank goodness Fox brought good luck for the rest of the trip! :)

  3. The breakfast photo cracks me up in so many ways! And a dalmation in Dalmatia blows my mind.

  4. Such a beautiful place and the accommodation is just so amazing! Envy!

  5. wow--this was AMAZING to look at, I think my favorite picture just MIGHT have been Fox touching the cat after you told him not too! Just BEAUTIFUL!!

  6. Fabulous history lesson and tour today! Thank you for all the photos, stories (love the dalmatian), Fox & the cat, love all the colors and loved seeing all the palm trees. Glad everything is going much better now.....

  7. Another awesome post. I've never even heard of Split and now I feel like I've been there. I live how Jane sleeps on Chris. Great photos and descriptions on this post, Pailge!

  8. Yay to the bad luck streak being done! This place looks incredible! So tropical!!!!

  9. I am glad to hear that my kids aren't the only ones who want to throw rocks in the water!! :) The view of the city is spectacular!!


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