wendylady1 (wendylady1) wrote,

Adventures in Croatia 1 : Split




Last week, we decided to make a return journey, after five years, to one of the most interesting Ancient Roman sites in Europe, and one which you don't hear much about really - Split, the city that grew up inside a Roman Emperor's Palace !!
We also decided to combine it with a visit to uncharted territory for us - Dubrovnik, down in the South of Croatia, on the Dalmation coast !! We flew to Zadar in the north of Croatia, and hired a car to drive down to Split which is about half way down. There we would have three days to explore both the ancient/modern city of Split and the ancient ruins of Salona, just there in the suburbs, and photograph everything we needed to, before driving the rest of the way down to the very south of Croatia, and the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik. We'd have two nights there before driving all the way back to Zadar for our return flight home to London on Friday...


Here we are with our hired car - this is me with our good friend Russ, who accompanied us, as he is a real ancient Rome fanatic, just like Adam - I'm going along for the ride, the sun, the photography, and the Roman mosaics, jewellery and arty stuff...

Because there are so many really excellent photos for each place, I thought maybe a post for each would be good - My first post will be about the first city we went to - Split - the city that grew up in an ancient Roman Emperor's palace...

So here's the story of Split - it's a fascinating one actually - how does a city come to develop inside an old ruined palace anyway ?!!
This beautiful painting is what the experts think that the palace looked like when it was first built by the Emperor Diocletion, on his retirement from governing the Roman Empire in 305AD


Here's a basic map of the palace within the Old City, with points of interest listed - as you can see, the black rectangle is the original outline of the Palace, and therefore you can see how much the city has grown up in and around it over the centuries !!


Here's a very good basic run-down of events, adapted from a website called 'Total Split' written by Mila Hvilshoj :-


Most of Split's history takes a focus on Diocletian's Palace built 1700 years ago, however the city was founded before that when it was a Greek settlement Aspalathos, and Illyrian tribes also lived in the area. The Romans conquered the whole area in the Illyrian Wars of 229 BC and 219 BC, upon which they named the province Dalmatia, announced nearby Salona (today known as Solin) as the capital, and renamed Aspalathos to Spalatum.


The Roman Emperor Diocletian who ruled between AD 284 and AD 305 had already started planning his retirement with the massive construction of a retirement palace on the sea near to the province's capital; this was Split, a peninsula on the shore of the Adriatic, at the foothills of the Kozjak and Mosor mountains. The project began in AD 294 and was completed just in time for the owner to move into his new home in AD 305. Interestingly, Emperor Diocletian was the only Roman Emperor to ever voluntarily step down from office. Most of the others were either killed in battle, murdered by family members who liked to wield the odd vial of poison, or assassinated by disgruntled Senators or Roman citizens...

This military fortress-like palace measured 170 by 200 metres, with walls at 20 metres high, enclosing an area of 38,000m². At times, as many as 10,000 people inhabited the palace and the surrounding areas, and Diocletian therefore also initiated the development of recreational spaces on Marjan hill; this is still the case today. Very modern for its time, an impressive aqueduct was constructed to supply the palace with ample water from the Jadro spring. This south-facing palace takes the shape of an irregular rectangle with watchtowers at every corner, and at the centre of each walls are gates that lead down the main street to the Peristyle square, where the emperor addressed his people before passing through the vestibule into his Imperial quarters. All the other buildings in the palace were intended for guests and servants. The sea-facing wall was previously right at the water's edge, serving as a private access by boat, to the Emperor's quarters.
Today, the modern Riva harbour promenade has now been constructed and so the original entrance now takes you into the basement halls of the palace.


After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, the palace was left mainly abandoned during the Byzantine era for almost three centuries until Salona was invaded by the Avars and the Slavs in AD 639. Here, the frightened citizens of Salona fled and took refuge inside the old ruined palace - because of the massive walls and lookout towers, they felt this was the safest bet. They stayed and built a city within its walls, with markets and shops, which has developed into the city of Split we know today.

In the Middle Ages, Split changed hands quite a few times from the Byzantine Empire, Venetian Republic, Kingdom of Hungary, to the Kingdom of Croatia, and back and forth a few times in between. This can clearly be felt when you walk through the palace with the many influences of architecture present. Although the majority spoke Croatian in Split during the Venetian Republic's long rule from 1420 to 1797, the city's dialect is still influenced by the Venetian language with many Italian words in their vocabulary. The cuisine is also clearly influenced by all of Croatia's rulers over the centuries, and its neighbours today !!
Split started getting recognized, mainly as a port with important trade routes to the Ottoman-held interior and then for Marko Marulic, known to have written the first Croatian literature with the poem, 'Judita' in 1501. After another few centuries of rule by Napoleon, Austria, and the Kingdom of Dalmatia, and also, after the subsequent break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Split became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later named the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

So much for the actual history - come around this beautiful old city with us and enjoy the views...

There are four gates into the Old City, and this is the Silver Gate - it's the Eastern Gate, no 20 in the map, half-way up the right hand side of the rectangle - and a beautiful old ruin it is too, with ivy and creeper growing over it and the arches open against the blue sky...I just love places like this !!


From the other side...


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Here you can see what the interior of the Palace looks like, with old ruins and new buildings (only 600 years old) intertwined comfortably and naturally together, and mostly built in the creamy-white stone of the region.
As you walk forward and round by the Cathedral, notice the small hexagonal tower next to the tall bell-tower - this is actually the Mausoleum of the Emperor Diocletian himself, until the Catholics ruined it by converting it into a cathedral with an extremely ornate and rather vulgar gilded altar...

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Diocletian's Mausoleum


Here's the beautiful little Peristyle Square - the Emperor's Vestibule - a sort of entrance to his own private quarters, to the side of the Cathedral with its mini-forum, where the Emperor used to talk to his people in the Palace...


Huge chunks of Roman masonry lying around in the grass - beautiful carved floral motifs and zig-zag borders, with the occasional broken column lying forlornly on its side...



Every Summer, they hold plays based on Ancient Roman events, in full costume - five years ago, when we visited Split the first time, we had the good fortune of coming across one of these plays in full flow - so we stopped to take pictures !! Great toga and really great Roman Praetorian Guards...

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Some rather random alleyways, narrow streets and flights of stone steps...just to get a flavour of the place !!

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Here's a delightful little Roman Temple, dedicated to the chief Roman god - Jupiter, god of sky & thunder...this temple has inevitably been requisitioned as a Christian Church, and as such, you have to be part of a tour group to see inside, unless you actually want to pray !!


I was struck by how cheap the door itself looked, especially with the obviously temporary bit of wood nailed at the top - what was underneath ? I looked online for some older photos, and this is what I found :-


Of course, you will notice straightaway that not only is the real door a lot more ornate, but there should be a bronze grill above it with the Christian 'Chi-Ro' symbol in the centre - it must be being cleaned or restored perhaps - the carved stone around the doorway has clearly had some brilliant cleaning done since this photo was taken in 2007...

The outside features a truly spectacular doorway with a beautiful Egg & Dart border along the top of the lintel, with fantastic scroll-work border above and huge scrolls at either side - the stonework looks, in some places, as fine as the day it was carved !!

Funny little faces - some of them upside-down !! And lots of cherubs and grapes...


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Intricate stone-work under the eaves too - beautiful stuff !!


Next to the doorway, was this old sarcophagus with a Latin inscription, but it isn't actually of Roman origin, I don't think...


Elsewhere, we went up a level, so that we could look down onto the little spaces and courtyards amongst the underground chambers where the modern touristy craft market-stalls are...


We stopped for a sit on a low rockery created out of huge Roman stones, in a tiny courtyard, planted with palm trees and all kinds of plants - and spotted a snoozing cat, nestled comfortably in the basal leaves of a huge palm tree !!

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Playing with the panoramic function on Russ's camera...



A rather surprised looking woman carved in stone, originally from Diocletian's Mausoleum, they think !!


A rather relaxed looking local resident, snoozing among the ruins, in the sun...


Beautiful Roman brick arches forming three windows in a row...



The most fabulous Bougainvillea spreading all over the façade of a more modern building, built around Medieval times I should think !! I love the fact that the locals have acquired bits of Roman masonry, and chunks of Roman columns for their own gardens !! I would do the same...


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Looking down from ground level, onto the small space below, with a Roman sarcophagus missing its lid - and its original occupant !!


Ancient stone steps, now leading nowhere. See the lovely weather we had too - it was so good to get some sun at last !!


Down into the crypt - these subterranean vaults have lasted for 1700 years, and still look great !! It was considerably cooler walking all round these chambers, and some were very dark indeed !! In other places, you emerged into the light of a sunny courtyard with palm trees  - we stopped to look down on one from ground level above...



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About halfway round these vast underground chambers and vaults, we came across this amazing bust of the Emperor Diocletian, so we can see what he looked like at least !!

Head of Diocletian

A gold platter depicting the head of the Emperor Diocletian, mounted on the wall of one of the underground chambers...


Here's are two illustrations exhibited clearly on the walls of the underground vaults - the first is a set of architectural ground plans and elevations of the Palace and subsequent additions over the centuries, which made for very interesting reading, and the second is a family tree of the Emperor Diocletian with a map depicting the extant of the Roman Empire under his rule and a superb drawing of what the palace must have looked like when it was built !!



Interesting cross-vaulting in the ceiling of a very small chamber off one of the courtyards...


Adam and I posing for pics...


Then Russ and I...


This little courtyard was my favourite, because someone had planted a very small herb garden in a spiral design there, and there were also a few random cats snoozing...




Further around the passages, we emerged into another open room, this time with fragments of mosaic floors visible - and you know I'm not one to miss out on a good mosaic...





I loved the random nature of the ruins - bits of columns and broken fragments of carved stone, lying where they fell probably - and overgrown with lush grass and ivy...


A couple of excellent examples of the ubiquitous Egg & Dart moulding pattern, used by the Romans everywhere, all over their Empire, even as far north as Britannia...



This is the interior entrance courtyard of one of the most beautiful houses in Split - originally a 15th Century Renaissance palace, owned by the Grisogono family - a noble family of Split, and the Cipci family later on...now, it is the Museum of the City of Split, and houses mainly medieval and Renaissance collections.


I liked this bit of informative graffiti, painted onto one of the walls in one of the tiny narrow streets in the Old City...


Lots of Roman archways over the tiny narrow alleyways - no cars here, there simply isn't room...


One of the many cats wandering freely around the ruins...this one was photographed five years ago, when we first came to Split !!


Is this the same cat ? Could easily be, couldn't it...who knows ?!!


Out of the northernmost gate - the Golden Gate - which was the entrance for the main road to the palace from the Roman town of Salona nearby (more about this amazing Roman ruin in my next post !!) and indeed, the rest of the inland country - and a huge statue of Gregory, Bishop of Nin, created by the famous sculptor Ivan Meštrović in 1927.
Gregory of Nin was chiefly famous for defying the Papal decree that all church services should be held in Latin - incomprehensible to most of the populace at the time - and held his services in Croatian, so that the congregation could actually understand what they were hearing !! This was a massive deal actually, but as he was under the protection and support of the current King Tomislav, until he lost his Bishopric in 927 AD, he continued with this practice in outright defiance of the Holy Roman Empire at the time. The statue is considered to bring you luck if you rub his big toe - and the result is that his big toe is far shinier than the rest of him !!

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Fabulous elongated hand outstretched to the sky...


Adam, looking contemplative...


Just beside Gregory, there were some ruins in the grass - this was what remains of the pre-Romanesque Church of St. Benedict, built in the mid-11th Century - I love little ruins like this, and even if they aren't actually Roman, they are still fascinating !!


This is the central main square in Split, where we stopped for a much needed glass of cider - yes, somewhat surprisingly, they had English cider, which was quite sweet, but very appley indeed, more like Normandy cider than English really !!


Next day, it was absolutely tipping with rain, and so we went off to the Archaeological Museum of Split, where they had a simply fabulous collection of all the artefacts from the excavations at Salona, just outside Split  - so we spent a wet morning browsing round this amazing little museum, the results of which will be in my post on Salona, up next. Afterwards, we returned to the same square and had a drink at the cafe a few doors down...I'm afraid Russ was very camera-happy !!



The Croatian flag flying merrily in the breeze...


Here's Adam doing his paparazzo bit with the camera, shooting photos of me wandering round this place below...



This beautiful building is the Prokurative Complex - in other words, government offices with restaurants and a hotels within as well - it's a beautiful example of mid-19the Century municipal building in the classical style...



This is what the modern esplanade looks like - the waterfront of Split, which is a modern port and ferry destination, is just wonderful - a huge wide paved pedestrian area with long lines of palm trees and huge beds of fragrant herbs - rosemary, sage, oregano and bay all growing en masse here among the white cantilevered benches...across the paved walkway are all the cafes with their white brollies - a marvellous place to lunch !!

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Here, you can see the ancient frontage of the original palace forming the backdrop to the whole esplanade...


Adam and I, and Russ, having walked round the entire city and explored the whole place - ready for a G & T...


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The hotel we stayed in for three nights was just outside the city, and down the coast slightly in Podstrana - it was a lovely modern hotel with a fabulous beach-bar under a huge wooden gazebo structure, right on the beach !!


A lovely G & T on arrival...

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The pebble beach was empty of course - it is very early in the season - but it appeared to be pretty much for the sole use of the hotel guests, with its own little jetty and a huge number of beach-loungers.



Breakfast in the restaurant just inside the main building, with exits out into the beach-bar and the beach itself - lovely when the weather's hot, I should think !!



Split is a truly fascinating place and is highly recommended if you have any interest in Roman history at all, and even if you haven't, there is such a romantic atmosphere that you can't fail to be enchanted by the place !!

In my second post, I will be talking about the amazing ruins out at Salona, in the suburb of Solin, on the outskirts of Split, where the original Dalmation inhabitants fled from, when they were facing invasion by the Slavs and the Avars in 639 AD. I'll also be including all the amazing treasures we found in the Archaeological Museum of Split, all the tiny minutia of daily life - jewellery, pots, weapons, make-up and cosmetic tools, glass, mosaics, oil lamps and tiny gods and goddesses in mobile figurine form, and not forgetting some rather unexpectedly risqué sexy stuff too !! An absolute wealth of simple everyday objects that give us a really clear vision of what it was like to live under the Romans in that era !!

After that, we're off to Dubrovnik and what we found there, so watch out for parts 3 & 4...

Tags: croatia, travelling in central europe
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