Split is the largest coastal city in Croatia. It’s also one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The Riva, the long promenade that meanders along the azure Adriatic Sea is decorated with café tables and large awnings, a perfect pause from the heat for a cool refreshing beverage while watching the parade of passersby.
The narrow 13th-16th century white marble streets amble past ancient houses and small shops, eventually spilling out onto the grand stone thoroughfare called the Marmontova, a promenade named for Auguste de Marmont, Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, and former Governor of Dalmatia and the Illyrian Provinces. The Hotel Marmont , also named after the General, is one of the best hotels in the city. It is extremely comfortable and sells out very fast.
The big attraction of Split, however, is the enormous (710’x 600’) 3rd century Roman Palace built by the Emperor Diocletian between 295-305 AD. It’s entirely made from white Croatian Marble with added décor made of Egyptian granite.
In 305, ill and tired of Roman politics, Diocletian abdicated the throne and retired here with plans of tending his gardens. Unfortunately, his retirement was short. He died 6 years later at age 67.
Unlike many other ancient Roman ruins that were torn down and re-used as building materials, Diocletian’s Palace was reused as a fortress, using the walls and gates as protection against invading forces.
By the 16th century, the Palace walls protected over 200 buildings, including houses, shops, a 16th century Synagogue and Churches going back to the 5th century.
Today there are over 3,000 people living inside, sharing this amazing piece of history with souvenirs, trendy clothing, restaurants, food markets, craft fairs, ATM machines and the daily onslaught of international tourists snapping photos at every turn. No matter which way you look there is another great photo opportunity.
Some of the ancient buildings require an entrance fee but most of the Palace is entrance FREE. It is a living neighborhood after-all.
The 3rd century Mausoleum of the Emperor Diocletian and his wife, Prisca was transformed into the 5th century Cathedral of Saint Duje (the 3rd century bishop of Salona), which is somewhat ironic since Diocletian was well known for his persecution of the early Christians.
The transformation didn’t change much. Although the gold trappings are long gone, inside it still looks like a Roman Mausoleum. The tall Bell Tower adjacent to the Cathedral was added much later.
The Church also kept the Temple of Jupiter in the original condition, replacing the statue of Jupiter with a statue of Saint Duje and adding a baptistery font.
The great Prothyron Arch and the large domed vestibule that led to the Emperor’s Private Palace (now the Ethnographic Museum) are still here. The 4 original entrance gates (Silver, Gold, Iron, Bronze) to the Palace still exist, so do the North/South street (the Cardo) and the East/West street (the Decumanus).
The Peristyle courtyard, a beautiful sunken terraced courtyard surrounded by columns and arches was, and still is the heart of the old Palace. In the 3rd century, Diocletian would exit through the Prothyron Arch to the courtyard to greet his people. These days the same formality is done by actors in costume.
During the days the Peristyle courtyard is filled with tourists, locals and vendors. At night the visitors take their seats on the terraced steps and listen to live music under the reflection of the ancient buildings glowing behind soft amber light.
Through the ancient Brass Gate (the southern gate from the sea), a large barreled hall was once the access for all goods needed to sustain the Place. These days it’s the location for local artisans to sell jewelry and assorted bowls crafted from the marble quarried from nearby mines.
If you think this all looks like a set from Game of Thrones, you’re correct. It is. It has been a film location for the HBO series since 2014.