Split today is booming. Benetton, Espirit and McDonald’s met our eyes as my husband Kent and I navigated the Old City. Classes were over and students were streaming out of the University with backpacks and jeans. New businesses were being started; construction cranes stood side by side with Roman ruins. Not all citizens were happy about the changes, however. “Ghastly,” said one local to me.
Our first order of business was to locate our hotel, the Peristil. It is literally tucked in amongst the ruins; half of it was built (in 2005) right out of the seventeen-hundred-year old Diocletian Palace. One wall of our hotel room was part of the original Palace. The Peristil’s owner, Mile, had lived briefly in Chicago and had come back to take part in the new Croatia. The hotel has twelve rooms and its location put us into the center of it all. Alas, like many of these ancient structures, there are no elevators. No matter, the staff was more than happy to carry our luggage.
Today’s residents live in the quarters where Diocletian’s soldiers once lived. There are some 220 buildings within the palace walls that are home to about 3,000 people. In Diocletian’s time, it had some sixty thousand inhabitants. UNESCO has declared the entire section of the city enclosed by the old palace walls, a World Heritage Site.
The Palace Underground Tour was getting underway as we stepped out of the Peristil. The Roman Emperor Diocletian had added a subterranean floor, or podrum, where the cooking, wine making and palace fix-it shop were all located. The ventilation system was elaborate for its time. A needed commodity because he used this area to deposit garbage, some of which remains to this day in pulverized form. Three thousand people had lived and worked within its four walls. Pieces of the Emperor’s original wine-making apparatus are still in place. It was worth the $3 for the very thorough guided tour.
We ventured out to the Riva (Split’s seaside promenade) on our first night for a close-up view of the harbor. The light, bouncing off the walls of the Diocletian Palace, was reflected in the water. Chestnuts were cracking on the open-air flame. The vendor paused long enough to see if we looked like prospective customers before resuming his activity.
After navigating another maze, we came upon the Peristyle Square, where the Split Music Festival is held every July and August.
Travel in Split
Split was made for wandering down narrow alleys. Sometimes stray cats and pigeons were our only company. We sat and sipped coffee (more Turkish than American) at the Peristyle’s Luxor Café. In front of us reposed a 3,500-year-old black granite Egyptian sphinx. Alas, another item Diocletian had his slaves pilfer from afar. Other than a nose slightly bashed in and a crack in the backside, it’s in good shape.
Across the Square is St Domnius’ Cathedral. Diocletian originally had it built as a mausoleum for himself. He spent 170 years of eternity there before someone stole his remains. To this day, they have never been found. It is ironic justice that the Christians he murdered during his reign (284 – 305 A. D.) are buried there instead. The twenty-eight carved wooden panels by the 13th century artist, Andrija Buvina, showing the life of Jesus, from the Annunciation to the Ascension, is worth the price of admission alone. (10 kuna, or $2.) For an additional dollar, climb the Bell Tower for a panoramic view.
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