Split is the second-largest city of Croatia and the largest city of the region of Dalmatia. It lies on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea and is spread over a central peninsula and its surroundings. An intraregional transport hub and popular tourist destination, the city is linked to the Adriatic islands and the Apennine peninsula.
The story of Split is already 17 centuries old, dating to the time the Roman Emperor Diocletian decided to build his Palace right on the peninsula near the great Roman city Salona, where he wanted to spend the last years of his life. During these 1700 years the Palace slowly turned into a city, which to this day lures with its rich tradition, glorious history and beauty of its natural and cultural heritage.
Always buzzing, this exuberant city has just the right balance of tradition and modernity. Step inside Diocletian’s Palace (a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the world’s most impressive Roman monuments) and you’ll see dozens of bars, restaurants and shops thriving amid the atmospheric old walls where Split life has been humming along for thousands of years.
To top it off, Split has a unique setting. Its dramatic coastal mountains act as the perfect backdrop to the turquoise waters of the Adriatic and help divert attention from the dozens of shabby high-rise apartment blocks that fill its suburbs.
Diocletian Palace and the entire historical core of Split have been on the World Heritage UNESCO list ever since 1979, and not only for the extraordinary preservation of the Palace, but also because the Palace and its city (or the city and its Palace, if you like) continue to live a full life. All historical layers from the old Rome, middle ages till today are still visible and alive in this structure. A walk through the ancient city takes you through time, along the great examples of ancient architecture like Peristyle, the middle aged Romanesque Church and Gothic Palace, Renaissance portals of the noblemen’s houses, Baroque facades and modern architecture superbly merged in the rich heritage.
The Emperor’s Palace was built as a combination of a luxury villa – summer house and a Roman military camp (castrum), divided into four parts with two main streets. Southern part of the Palace was, in this scheme, intended for the Emperor’s apartment and appropriate governmental and religious ceremonies, while the north part was for the Imperial guard – the military, servants, storage etc. The Palace is a rectangular building (approximately 215 x 180 meters) with four large towers at the corners, doors on each of the four sides and four small towers on the walls. The lower part of the walls has no openings, while the upper floor is open with a monumental porch on the south and halls with grand arch windows on the other three sides. Over the centuries the Palace inhabitants, and later also the citizens of Split adapted parts of the palace for their own requirements, thus the inside buildings as well as the exterior walls with the towers significantly changed the original appearance, but the outlines of the Imperial Palace are still very visible.
The Golden Gate
Porta septemtrionalis is their Roman name. Emperor Diocletian walked through them as he entered the Palace on the 1st of June 305. They were built in the shape of a rectangle, with double doors, as part of the defensive military tactics (propugnaculum).
The facade was decorated with niches containing figure sculptures of the four tetrarchs (Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus). These doors, starting from Peristyle, and then through Cardo street, led directly towards Salona as the capital city of the Roman Province Dalmatia, and could only be used by the emperor and the members of his family. Today they are, together with the nearby monument to the Bishop Gregius of Nin (Grgur Ninski), the work of a great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, one of the favourite Split tourist spots.Under the influence of Venice, in the 16th century, the gates change their name to Porta Aurea or Golden Gates, and this name stayed with them to this day.
The Silver Gate
Porta orientalis is their Roman name. These gates were used to enter the palace from the east towards the west, through the main street, decumanus, all the way to the Iron Gate and to Pjaca, the central city square.
The Silver Gate was more modest in its decorations than the Golden one, and it was closed from the Middle Ages till 1952, only to be thoroughly reconstructed during the destruction of the Baroque church Dušica. On each side of the gate the remains of the octagonal towers are visible, hence making it easy to imagine the beauty of the construction and the strength of the control over the entrances from the north, east and west. Entering through those gates the passersby, even today, have the opportunity to walk the original ancient pavement on decumanus, walked also, so many years ago, by the Diocletians subjects.
The Iron Gate
Their original, Roman name was PORTA OCCIDENTALIS, and they are one of the four through which life flowed during all 17 centuries of the history of Split. From the very first day that they were opened, they continued to witness all the changes the city went through from the Roman times, through the middle ages till today, all the power and influences, only to welcome, even to this day, with the bells of the Renaissance clock, the city of Split with its citizens. A relief of Nika, the Roman Goddess of Victory stood on the lintel, but already in the fifth century the Christians carved a cross in its place as their symbol.
In the eleventh century, a small church of our Lady of the Belfry, was built above the door, originally dedicated to St Theodor, with beautiful early Romanesque bell tower. In the Middle Ages the area inside the gate was used as a courthouse, and until about fifty years ago an empire of small shops found its place there.
This entire history dynamics is present to this day, with housing construction in the very walls of the gate, bell tower, part of the Roman guards pathway with a wonderful view of the decumanus and the People’s Square (Narodni trg), and also city clock which is of a special interest as it has 24 digits instead of the usual 12. By the very door one of the most beautiful Palaces of the late Split noblemen found its place, belonging to the family Cypriani Benedetti, decorated by two unique six-arch windows.
The Brass Gate
PORTA MERIDIONALIS is their Roman name. As the gate which, under some assumptions of the original state of the south facade of the Diocletian palace – the sea mourned, differs completely to the other three. Modest in size, but also different in its function as it leads through the Substructures directly to the sea.
Besides its Renaissance name Aanea – Brass, it also earned the attribute Secure, as it ensured the possibility of a flee by the sea in case of attack on the Palace from the mainland. With a partial restoration, authentic door blocks indicate to the surprised visitors soon to be a two millennium old water resistance. Today they became the “main” gate as the tourists pass through them most frequently to start their guided tours with local guides, and arrive through the Substructures to the central part of the Palace.
From the outside rectangular, and from the inside circular ground plan of this old imperial court, Vestibule leaves a monumental impression even to this day. And how fascinating was it in its original entirety: semicircular niches with statues, a large cupola with colourful glittery mosaic, witnessed by Marko Marulić in his manuscript from the 16th century, the whiteness of the round wall. Vestibule was used to enter the residential part of the palace. But can you imagine that little over half a century ago it was used for living, and that the residents kept poultry there and cultivated gardens?
Southeast of the Vestibule is the mediaeval part of the city, with the oldest early Romanesque house from the tenth century. It leans on the very Vestibule, and in it today is one of the most beautiful and most awarded Split hotels, conveniently named Vestibule.
Temple Of Jupiter
Eminent Scottish architect Robert Adam considered this temple one of the most beautiful European monuments. Rectangular in its floor plan the temple served to celebrate the Jupiter’s cult. It lies on an elevated podium, with a six column porch in front of it. Embossed images on the portal, as well as the barrel coffered vault influenced the early Renaissance architecture of Andrija Alessi and Nikola Firentinac in Trogir.
The Baptistery today is dominated by a Secession sculpture of St John the Baptist, whose name the temple carried after the transformation, this was the work of Ivan Meštrović, while in front of it one of several completely or partly preserved granite sphinxes was placed that Diocletian brought from Egypt. The Baptistery is open for visitors, with an entrance fee.
Peristyle, as the central square of the Palace, intended for the Emperor Diocletian celebrated as the living son of Jupiter, finds its place among many temples. The Emperor would appear under the architrave of the central part of Protyron, and his subjects would approach him, kneeling down, kissing the hem of his scarlet cloak, or they would fall in front of him, their entire body to the ground.
The red colour of the granite columns emphasises the ceremonial function. Namely, ever since the Emperor Diocletian the colour purple became the imperial colour. With the construction of a new city square with the town hall (Pjaca) in the 13th/14th century, Peristyle became a religious centre. Today it boarders from the West with Palaces of Split noble families Grisogono, Cipci and Skočibušić, as they lean on its authentic columns and arches. With their Renaissance and Gothic architecture they themselves became monuments.
The Diocletian Palace Substructures represent one of the best preserved ancient complexes of their kind in the world, and hence are in many ways responsible for the reason the historical core of Split was in 1979 included on the UNESCO’S World Heritage list.
In the Roman times, their function was to elevate the Emperor’s chambers on the floor above, but they were also the storage area for the Palace. Being structurally a faithful replica of the chambers above, they enable a faithful reconstruction of the way the Emperor’s chambers looked like.
The entrance to the halls of the Substructures today is through Porta Aenea, from the Riva, or down the stairs from the Peristyle. Today the Substructures are full of life. They regularly host painting and sculpture exhibitions, theatre plays, fairs like the International Flower Fair, gastronomic and oenological presentations, and many other social and cultural events. The central hall, representing the main communication line between the Riva and the Peristyle, is a place to buy valuable souvenirs, and the rest of the Substructures is open for sightseeing as one of the greatest attractions of Split, frequently, besides Peristyle, a synonym for Diocletian Palace.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius
Among the European cathedrals the one in Split finds its seat in the oldest building – the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Inside the cathedral, at the end of the second millennium, the history reconciles ancient pagan, Christian Medieval and modern heritage. Mausoleum of the Emperor – persecutor of Christians becomes a cathedral in the 7th century where altars with relics of St Domnius and St Anastasius, martyrs executed in the nearby Solin, take an honorary place.
The bell tower of the Cathedral (57m) is the most original Dalmatian Medieval architecture started in the 13th century. The bell tower was thoroughly reconstructed and somewhat altered at the turn of the 20th century. Today you can climb the steps all the way to the top of the bell tower, where a spectacular view of the entire Split awaits you.
Cathedral today is primarily a place of liturgy, with a millennium long continuity, best reflected in the Sunday mass and the renewed splendour of the procession on the St Domnius’s day – the day of Split’s patron saint. The renowned part of the Cathedral are its gates carved in walnut by Andrija Buvina from Split. The two door posts show fourteen tablets each with scenes from the Gospels, from the Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Resurrection of Christ.
Marjan, the hill that overlooks the city has always been the most impressive part of Split imagery. Such a harmony betwwen natural and urban is rarely found, on one side the densely populated city in all of its glory and on the other a peninsula of almost pristine nature.
Holy hill, as it is often called, harbors many monuments of sacred and secular architecture which are combined with this green oasis in such a way that they inspire a sense or awe an admiration even in a passer-by.
The very fact that we climb up to Marjan directly from beautiful and world renowned waterfront of Split („Riva“) gives the visitors from any part of the world a chance to experience the beauty of this park-forest, the freshness of air and stunning view of the city of Split and the nearby islands from several unique lookout points.
Marjan offers to its visitors peace and tranquility, recreation and entertainment with natural pathways and trim-trails.
Marjan is the place from which Split can be seen in all its glory, but you can also experience entirely different side of this densely populated and tourism oriented city.
The Riva started to look the way it does today two centuries ago, when the French, in time of Napoleon ruled these parts through Marshal Marmont. Today this promenade is the cities living room, the most popular and most important public place in Split. In the meantime it has been widened and reconstructed several times, but it was always blessed with the most spectacular set, the south facade of the Diocletian Palace, with the entrance into the Substructures, and later on with the buildings that were built west of the Palace, also the Franciscan monastery with the church of St. Francis, and the Bajamonti Dešković Palace and last but not least the Port Authorities building on the east end.
Riva today is a pedestrian heaven, thrusting with Cafés and restaurants, an ideal place for having your morning or afternoon coffee, or for an evening out with friends over drinks. Riva is the stage of the city life of Split, a venue for numerous cultural and entertainment events, boisterous Split carnival, as well as the stage for meeting Split sportsmen after countless successes, such as Goran Ivanišević, Hajduk football club players and Jugoplastika basketball players, Olimpic medal winners… Riva is also a political forum, with decades of political opportunities being depicted through mass rallies. Naturally, Riva is always at its best in time of Sudamja, a celebration dedicated to St. Domnius, the patron saint of Split.
Getting to Split
Split Airport (IATA: SPU) is, after Zagreb Airport, the most important in Croatia. Scheduled services fly to major European cities, with summer charter flights from more. The airport is about 25 km west from Split, near the city of Kaštela. It has free WiFi internet. Airport buses run from the terminal to the city and stop at the eastern end of ‘Riva’. A single ticket costs 30 kn. Local buses run from the road outside the terminal — walk through the parking lot and go to the bus stop on the other side of the road.
Split train station is right in the city center, it is a few minutes walk from the port and from the old town. Expect very friendly grannies to be waiting with signs saying “Sobe” (rooms) at all arrivals and they will jump on anyone with a backpack. The train station is rather basic, because train travel is not much used to Split. Trains run between Split and Zagreb, Split and Perković (where you can change for Šibenik). Timetables can be found from Croatian Railways website. Trains are generally slower but slightly cheaper than buses in all of Croatia.
Split bus station (Autobuski Kolodvor) is conveniently located in Split port area. Frequent buses run to and from Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Sibenik, Zadar, Rijeka etc. There are also regular buses to and from Mostar (125 KN, buses start leaving Split at 06:00) and Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (210 kn), Belgrade (Serbia), Trieste (Italy) and major cities of Germany and Austria.
Ferries run three times a week across the Adriatic to and from Ancona and Pescara (Italy). There is also a large ferry that runs twice a week up and down the coast between Dubrovnik and Rijeka, stopping off at a couple of islands along the way.
Split is the main hub for local boats and hydrofoils in Central Dalmatia. Several a day run to and from Brač, Hvar, Solta, Vis, Korčula and Lastovo.
Traveling to Split by car is always a good idea. Split is connected with by a very picturesque highway from Zagreb. This is A1 highway from Zagreb to Split. The A1 connects the continental part of Croatia with Mediterranean Dalmatia.