Fascinating Split, a big vibrant city – but why is it fascinating? The layers of civilization that are right before your eyes. The ancient Roman blocks, basements, and walls of Diocletian’s Palace re-purposed in the dark Middle Ages – homes for the common people huddled against the walls, and nobility in the ancient Palace quarters – to today where shops, restaurants, services, and homes are tucked into these same spaces.
7 nights was a great length of time to get to know Split a little bit, go biking in Split’s big park playground on the Marjan peninsula, day trip to one of the famous Dalmatian Islands, explore a nearby historic town, and spend a good deal of time over the week in and out of Diocletian’s Palace.
- Fascinating Diocletian’s Cellars
- Exploring the maze of streets of Diocletian’s Palace
- Biking Marjan Peninsula
- Views from the Bell Tower of St. Dominus Cathedral
- Visit to Hvar Town on Hvar Island
- Excursion to nearby Trogir
Split Riva (Promenade)
Chances are good that your first real sight in Split will be the beautiful wide waterfront pedestrian promenade called the Riva. The ferry and cruise ships as well as the bus station and car rental places are just a short walk away.
What fascinated me wasn’t the restaurants and shops lining the promenade, but the fact that these modern day businesses were in what used to be the back of Diocletian’s Palace.
The arched openings between the columns used to be the open arcade of the Emperor’s Palace, now they’re filled with windows or just completely filled in.
Just imagine the retired emperor strolling the length of this arcade, gazing out to the sea which in ancient times came right up to the palace.
Exploring Diocletian’s Palace
When Emperor Diocletian wanted to build a retirement home he chose Spalatum near his hometown of Salona and built the walled fortress that was not only his palace but also housed his military garrison. Eventually the palace was abandoned, then in the middle ages people were again using the fortress palace for the protection of its walls, re-using and re-building as it suited their purpose. It’s fascinating to see the layers of history in the architectural changes of Diocletian’s Palace.
Fun Fact: Diocletian was the first Roman emperor to voluntarily leave office.
The Underground Halls
Touring through the amazing maze of Diocletian’s cellars is a terrific way to learn about the history of this important historical site, the best preserved classical imperial palace in the world.
Because the upper levels of the palace were changed so radically throughout the centuries of use, the original floor plan of Diocletian’s Palace was lost to history…until the basement was excavated to reveal the foundations of the palace, a mirror of the original floor plan of the ancient palace above.
In the middle ages the people living above cut holes to the cellars to use it as a waste dump, completely filling these vast halls.
You need a ticket to see the western and eastern part of the cellars, but it’s free to pass through the central basement space to the center of the palace.
The central basement vaults are filled with souvenir shops – and people…unless you get there before the shops open.
The long ago centerpiece of the palace, in the middle ages people built upon the remains of the palace and filled in the spaces between the Egyptian red granite columns.
Great Break: The perfect break for an espresso and people watching is on one of the red cushions on the steps around the Peristyle. Don’t expect to sit down without buying something though, if you do one of the Luxor café waiters will graciously let you know they’re reserved for patrons.
This ancient black sphinx is just one of the many that Diocletian brought back from Egypt.
Grand Entry to Diocletian’s Palace
If you’re in and around the Peristyle eventually you’ll hear the beautiful acappella voices of a traditional Klapa group who sing in the great acoustic space of what used to be the entry to Diocletian’s Palace.
I love the gorgeous harmonies and traditional Dalmatian songs and despite not understanding a word, bought one of the CD’s – a great souvenir from Croatia.
Tip: When you see a big tour group come into the Peristyle and head into the vestibule, the Klapa singers will be performing shortly. Get on up there for a terrific and free performance…and buy a CD!
Cathedral of St. Dominus and Bell Tower
Probably the world’s smallest Cathedral, St. Dominus used to be Diocletian’s mausoleum. The cathedral is dedicated to the martyr Bishop Dominus of Salona who Diocletian had killed along with thousands of other Christians.
There’s a lot going on in the small space of the cathedral, but what fascinated me was the ancient pillars and sculpture relief around the dome, the remnants from Diocletian’s time.
Tip: Get the inexpensive, combined ticket to the Cathedral, Bell Tower, Crypt, Treasury and Jupiter’s Temple and see it all. The combined ticket is sold at the Cathedral at the side entrance.
St. Dominus Cathedral Bell Tower
The best way to see the how Diocletian’s Palace is incorporated into the city of Split is to see it from the Cathedral Bell Tower.
Temple of Jupiter
Diocletian identified with Jupiter, or Jove, the mightiest of the Roman gods, and built the temple during the construction of the palace. The temple was converted into the Cathedral’s Baptistery in the middle ages and dedicated to St. John.
The tiny temple has a beautiful vaulted stone ceiling and decorative frieze border. Each block of the ceiling has a unique relief in the middle of the block.
Don’t miss the stone relief on the front of the baptismal! The carving has an intriguing depiction of the social order of the middle ages – a Bishop and a King standing on the back of a commoner.
Tip: Jupiter’s Temple is down a narrow passage directly across the Peristyle from the Cathedral. When you see a break in the masses of people crowding that passage, that’s the time to take your combination ticket and scoot over there for a look.
Wrapping Up Diocletian’s Palace
The tiny main street out of the Palace complex heads straight to what was Diocletian’s main gate, called the Golden Gate and another fascinating look at how the people created their spaces directly in the ancient walls.
Biking Around Split – the Marjan Peninsula
With beautiful views and interesting places to visit, biking Split’s huge park playground – the Marjan Peninsula – is a terrific chance to get out in nature and get some exercise. You can walk to the Marjan Park viewpoint from the Veli Varos neighborhood where we were staying, but the most fun was renting a couple of bikes and biking all around it.
Excursions from Split
With 7 nights in Split, we had time for a couple of excursions – a day trip to Hvar Town on Hvar Island and a visit to the historic town of Trogir.
Excursion #1 – Hvar Island
I can see why people love Hvar…even though our visit was only 4 hours, it was worth the effort to make the trip to see this beautiful town. What do you do in 4 hours? A visit to the fortress, a self-guided walking tour all around the tiny town, and time out for a beer and a people watching break before heading back. Despite the short time there, THIS was my favorite of our 2 excursions from Split.
Getting there and back: Easy enough to do by taking only the high speed ferries – the morning high speed Krilo Star ferry directly to Hvar Town, and the afternoon high speed Jadrolinija ferry back, 2 different ferry companies. We bought the tickets the day before, and you should get your tickets in advance – these speedy ferries fill up fast. The high speed ferry takes about an hour.
Excursion #2 – Trogir
With buses every 30-60 minutes to the historic town of Trogir, it’s easy to go for a quick visit…and that’s just what we did from Split. The 3 hours we were in Trogir was enough time to see the some sights, do a self-guided walking tour, have a cafe break and a bite, and wander around some of the tiny picturesque streets admiring the centuries old Romanesque-Gothic architecture. The top sight for me was the magnificent 13th century Romanesque Portal of the St. Lawrence Cathedral, called Radovan’s Portal after Trogir’s own master sculptor and architect Radovan. You can see the portal through the bars of the entrance gate but it’s worth it to pay the entrance fee to examine all the amazing figures up close, followed by a climb up the Bell Tower.
Getting there and back: Easy to get there on a very nice nonstop bus that left from the bus terminal near the cruise ship docks and rolled into Trogir 30 minutes later. When we were ready to head back to Split, the best option was the public bus, a 50 minute ride with some stops that (surprising to us!) ended a short walk north of Diocletian’s Palace.
In, out and around Diocletian’s Palace, fascinating history, interesting museums, great excursions, terrific friendly people, there’s a lot to love about Split. With easy transportation to other places and other European countries, Split’s a city I could really see living in and getting to know better.
- Croatia Map
- Luxury 1 Bedroom (Airnbnb) – Perfect stay, we would love to live in this beautiful apartment for a month (or more!)
Leone Apartments – Luxury 1 bedroom City Center
Just a few minutes walk to Diocletian’s Palace, 15-20 minute walk to the ferries, lots of popular restaurants around the apartment, a spacious and quiet apartment, terrific hosts – everything about this apartment spoiled us. The apartment (called Ankora) is luxurious, spacious, and spotless plus it’s in the back of the building so was very quiet. 1.5 bathrooms, an elevator, a big table for our 2 laptops – the list goes on and on. The WIFI worked fine, we enjoyed the big LCDTV and streamed Netflix even though there were many English language channels to choose from. There were plenty of supplies plus juice and snacks (nice touch!), even towel changes if we wanted. Air conditioning worked great the couple of times we used it briefly. We loved our 7 nights here and could see how easy it would be to spend a month (or two!) in this perfect apartment.
Arriving in Split
An easy 3 1/4 hour drive from Dubrovnik, we dropped off our luggage at our Split apartment and returned our 22 day Enterprise rental car without a hitch.
A quick and easy 20 minute Taxi ride to the Split airport, a long wait for our delayed flight and then an uneventful 2 hour nonstop flight to…Berlin, the last stop on our 60 Nights in 6 Countries.
Have you been to Split? Did you find it as fascinating as I did?