Exploring the Old City: Split
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.
Three centuries after his death, nearby residents (fleeing more invaders) locked themselves behind the palace walls.
The Cathedral and Diocletian’s Palace, with its narrow lanes and broad squares, has been home to Split’s citizens ever since.
There had been more than a little murder and mayhem during Diocletian’s reign. The man who took my 10 kuna ($2) entrance fee enjoyed talking about his city’s unsavory early resident. “Evil and ruthless” are words that come to mind.
Visiting the Superb Areas
We discovered a superb area of stalls selling mostly hand-made items such as jewelry, candles, paintings, and embroidered goods just off the Riva entrance to the Palace. This is a must for anyone interested in native crafts.
Election billboards, very much like in America, lined the highways. I pointed this out. Isn’t this a good thing? Most Croats of the older generation have long memories. “It’s just Communists reinventing themselves,” they grunted.
Kanoba signifies a Croatian restaurant featuring local food and recipes. It’s where the locals go. Grilled fish (riba) and a Croatian sausage, (cevapcici) quickly became my favorites.
Dalmatian prosciutto (prsut) and sharp cheese known as pasky sir were served as appetizers. The local red wine, plavac mali, is superb.
Food is not inexpensive due to the rise of the Croatian economy and the decline of the dollar. Another restaurant worth trying is the Tifani, again built into the Diocletian Palace.
Every restaurant has a sign stating: Book of Complaints at the main desk.
The island of Vis has been the history of my family, the Zitkos. We boarded the Jadrolinija ferry on the Riva, for the two-hour ride to Vis.
Our ferry, with three restaurants and two coffee bars, looked more like cruise ship than a ferry.
Tito had declared Vis off-limits and situated his army there until 1989. You can still see remnants of barbed wire fences.
The road (we rented a car) between Vis town and Komiza is covered with wild rosemary. You can not help but get out…just to breathe the air.
If You Go to Split, Croatia:
How to get there: We flew to Frankfurt, then to Split on Air Croatia. We found Air Croatia to be terrific.
Where to stay: Hotel Peristel, Polijana Kraljice Jelene 5 $150 double. If you stay 3 nights or more, you can choose: 10% off your bill, or nightly dinner. Roof terrace in the summer months.
Where to eat: Konoba Varos, Ban Mladenova 7 Entrees around $15.
Tifani (part of the Peristil Hotel) Poljana Kraljice Jelene 5 Entrees $10 to $30
Poseidian, just off, the Peristyle Cozy. Only four tables. Owner brings out fish for presentation before he cooks it.
Shopping: Don’t overlook the daily market place alongside the Palace.
Language: English is widely spoken.
Note: Finding these places can be tricky. Start with the Riva entrance to the Palace. Walk through the tunnel and up the stairs to the Peristyle Square. Everything is no more than a minute’s walk away. The entire Diocletian Palace, shops, hotels, and restaurants is a pedestrian zone.
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