Split: A city surrounded by a glistening harbour and incredible mountain-scape
As the economic and administrative hub of middle Dalmatia, Split is a destination loved by both locals and foreigners. It’s easy to see why, a glistening harbour surrounding by an incredible mountain-scape, the city is beautiful. Once a few key attractions, including Diocletian’s Palace, are added to the mix, an UNESCO township is born.
The area that has developed into Split was initially discovered in the third century AD by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Over the many years, Split has continued to grow and develop around the Palace, which now lies as the epicentre of Split.
Today, Split serves as an important port town, taking people to the surrounding islands and as far abroad as Italy and Greece. Preserved since 1979 as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, much of the city centre remains constructed by the same stone that was used hundreds of years ago. The pale sandstone makes a striking contrast with the vivacious blue water, a beautiful sight that is begging to be explored.
We scored another great Air BnB studio apartment that was a mere hop, skip and jump away from the city centre. I think we will struggle if we have to go back to hostels and hotels, having our own space has been amazing. The simple pleasures such as having breakfast in our pyjamas has not been lost on us. The hosts were also incredible, happy to extend our stay without going through Air BnB (which saved us being charged cleaning and service fees again) and offering assistance when needed.
We thought we were in luck, with a food and wine fair starting while we were in town. A bit of research made me think it was perhaps more appropriate for those working in the hospitality industry, however, we decided it was still worth a visit. Turns out my initial instincts were correct and we were well out of place at the fair. After quickly doing the rounds of the stalls, we opted to make the most of the weather and had a picnic in the park overlooking both the Split township and the expansive harbour. Perfectly content with a bottle of wine and enough meats, cheese and dip to feed a small army, we spent the afternoon enjoying the lovely winter weather and gorgeous surroundings.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
Our first day in Split coincided with our last day we had the hire car. After visiting the Krka National Park on route to Split, we decided to spend the day exploring the coastline, first driving to north to Trogir before travelling south along the coastal road to Makarska. It is clear the coastline is set up for the summer, with majority of restaurants and cafés closed for the winter. It is also clear all renovations and development is saved for the winter. After circumnavigating the island of Trogir (which is linked to the mainland by a small bridge), we stopped for a coffee in the township. Still a bit confused by the Croatian coffee menu, we ordered a café latte each. Surprisingly, this came in a cocktail glass, complete with a straw, and was layered, with milk at the bottom, coffee in the middle and froth at the top. While I’m sure it requires some skill, it was all a bit strange for us.
As we travelled to the south, it became more obvious the tiny towns are only open for the summer when the huge influx of tourists leaves the townships over flowing with people. The area along the coastline is beautiful, even on a drizzly winters day. We stopped for a walk at Makarska and struck gold with the coffee menu. As it turns out, a ‘coffee with milk’ is similar to a flat white at home and we indulged in a second coffee on the waterfront. As we walked around the harbour, I was intrigued to see fishing boats pull up alongside the boardwalk, selling fish directly to the locals. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! After a day well enjoyed, we returned the car, relieved we didn’t have to try and find another park or navigate the narrow, cobbled roads any longer!
Within moments of arriving at the Split city centre, it is clear Diocletian’s Palace has rightly earned it’s fame as a top UNESCO attraction. After abdicating the throne to the Roman Empire, Emperor Diocletian built and settled within the Palace walls in 305 AD. The Emperor spared no costs, importing many of the materials used to build the palace; including ornate granite pillars and impressive carved sphinxes from Egypt. While referred to as a Palace, it was also a fortress, with nearly half dedicated to house a significant military garrison. It is thought the gate closest to the ocean may have been, at one time, submerged; serving as a private entranceway for Emperor Diocletian to board and disembark his ships.
Over time, the water has receded and the lower tier is now completely above water level. The city has developed both around and within the Palace walls. Various buildings within the wall reflect the period in which they were built. Today, only parts of the lower tier and lower floors of the Emperors apartment remain. Extensive restorative works are being conducted and there are some parts of the lower tier that are still being excavated. A mystical place, many scenes of the Games of Thrones was filmed in these underground rooms. Walking through, it is easy to see why. There is a slightly unnerving feel about these rooms, which are vast and linked by many corridors. It would have been fascinating to see the palace when it was inhabited by Emperor Diocletian.
Cathedral Sveti Duje
The Cathedral Sveti Duje, or Cathedral of Saint Domnius, is the oldest cathedral in the world. The structure was built in three stages, the first in 305 AD was the building initially used as the Mausoleum of Diocletian. Renovations later changed the structure and finally, the bell tower was built in 1100 AD. The church complex is dedicated solely to the Virgin Mary and the bell tower to Saint Domnius; together forming the Cathedral of Saint Domnius.
The buildings that we see today are quite different to the original after extensive rebuilding in 1908 removed many of the Romanesque sculptures. I found the enormous church and bell tower fascinating. Beautiful carvings and ornate pillars adorn the building and seem so rich with history and culture. We marvelled at the opportunity to climb to the top of the bell tower. After initially climbing steep stairs through a narrow, short corridor, we emerged to a platform and started to wind our way up past the bells themselves. While I thought the narrow, stone stairway would be the worst part, I was quickly proved wrong when we started to climb the rickety iron steps. It felt as though one wrong step and you would plummet from the great height. Considering my clumsy nature this was quite disconcerting for me! We made it to the top and admired the view of Split as people have for many centuries prior. It was amazing to see the outline of Diocletian’s Palace and imagine all the various things that have happened in this area throughout time.
Often considered as an urban getaway by the locals, Marjan is a hill, peninsular and forest park frequented by many. In a contrast to the narrow alleyways, Marjan offers wide, open spaces and the air feels fresher the closer you get to the top. We explored the park at dusk, marvelling at an incredible sunset from the top. A great way to conclude the day.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
As with the smoking culture, there seems to be a different drinking culture here. We have noticed it’s not uncommon to see people drinking a beer instead of a coffee mid-morning in a café. Perhaps they are also tourists on holiday, but to me it just seems a bit unusual. Especially considering it’s so cold; I much prefer a warm drink! It was also surprising to see many people drinking in public places. We embraced this relative leniency and enjoyed a couple of drinks while having a picnic and watching the sunset in the park.
While hiring a car and booking an Air BnB seems simple, we hadn’t factored in peak hour traffic and the unbelievably narrow streets we would be forced to navigate. We were caught off guard, with peak hour traffic hitting around 4pm, the exact time we were due to meet the Air BnB hosts. Once we made it through, we hit the narrow streets and I had the extremely stressful task of navigating our rental car (which happened to be a brand new BMW) down streets that were far too narrow. This became even more evident when the GPS directions told us to turn down a street with buildings so close I could stand in the middle and touch each side. After a rather tense discussion, Jimmy went to find the apartment while I attempted to reverse the car out of the tight predicament we had driven into (as we had reached a dead end). While driving on the right is a little strange and requires a bit more thought than usual, reversing and looking over the right shoulder (as opposed to the left as I would normally) was a lot harder than you would expect. As the BMW had sensors in the bumper, every time someone walked past, which was often as the road is more for pedestrians than cars, the sensors went off, throwing me for a six! Luckily an elderly man took pity on me and directed me as I reversed for what seemed like miles back up the unbelievably narrow street. I would be happy never to have a similar experience again!
WHAT WE LEARNT
While the motorways are amazing, the inner cities of these old towns are not designed for modern cars. We noticed during out stay in Split that many people have tiny cars, obviously to avoid hairy situations in narrow alleyways. These cars often have a lot of paint missing, evidence that the narrow roads get the best of the locals too!
As we continue through Croatia we seem to be managing well with our budget. I think if we were eating out and living a bit more lavishly we would be spending more, however, we are both really enjoying the home cooked meals and exploring Croatia during the low season.
From Split we will travel to the island town Hvar before we continue south, stopping at Korcula before Dubrovnik. We are starting to look into our remaining time in Europe. With the heavy time restrictions due to the Schengen Visa we are hoping to have most of our trip planned before we leave Croatia.
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