Split was where I relaxed properly and had a summer holiday. As I arrived, the coach journey from Sarajevo had been particularly dull and I managed to sleep through most of it but with several pit stops, I took some photos of the great Croatian scenery as we headed through and past Dubrovnik. Very mountainous, the coach journeyed along the water’s edge.
My first view of Split was walking along the harbour front with a lot of people in beach wear. It had the feel of a classic British holiday location, albeit abroad. The first night I stayed in the hostel and wrote up Belgrade as I was beginning to get behind on posts, and had my eye set on an early morning.
Taking the city in, it’s narrow Roman and Venetian streets were charming, transporting you back in time, and the limestone pavements were smooth and pretty cool to walk on. I quickly realised my hostel was right in the centre, just one narrow alley away from being in the world heritage site of Diocletian’s Palace. After spending hours by the water, I took a morning walking tour of the Palace where I was in awe of the design and what was left standing, since the majority was constructed in 305AD.
Entering via the Golden Gates, I found out a little show called Game of Thrones films here, and will be again in ten days. That must cost a pretty penny to film in a UNESCO site! Littered with actors from the live museum dressed as roman guards, the highlight is of course the Peristyle, a religious area flanked by temples and a mausoleum which became the world’s oldest Cathedral when the Christians took control.
What immediately strikes, is the presence of Egyptian artefacts; the emperor, who abdicated so lived into his seventies and retired here, had pillars and sphinxes relocated from Luxor, which dated back to 3500BC! Very opulent. He also had 15,000 slaves working on the palace’s construction each day. One morbid fact I picked up was that Roman’s had the best cement in the world, mixed with the blood and therefore iron of slaves… the Croatian authorities have DNA tested the cement, tracing it to existing families in the area.
In the vast history of this, in effect, open-air museum, with mosaics, a magnificent bell tower (reconstructed), crypts, temples and slaves’s quarters, much has been destroyed as much as remains. The Venetians narrowed the Roman streets which were meant to fit ten Roman soldiers across, and a bank now rests just of the Peristyle, built in 1973, five years before it became a world heritage site. This only seems typical of the space however, each new generation offering something up to the location for future generations to discuss and comment on. It was also bombed during WWII by the Italians, destroying a Roman roof and dining area, plus vomit room.
Oddly, private homes exist in this site, and one home owner was permitted to use a 305AD Roman pillar as a coffee table, which someone has now put graffiti on. When Christians took control, they removed the emperor’s remains from the mausoleum to destroy them (motivated by Dioceltian’s stance on their religion), and also beheaded many of the Egyptian sphinxes. This latter destruction of ancient items left me feeling quite angry, but again is something we still see repeated in the world today; it seems a natural consequence of invasion to destroy and ‘reset’ the prevailing culture.
The rest of my time was spent at the water, walking through the parks on the west side for more fantastic views of the mountains and getting arty and cultural. Along the promenade on my second night, several impromptu gigs took place before I went to a park by the Golden Gate for another concert of pop classics. Food wise, I went to the well-reviewed Venetian pizzeria, Pizzeria Portas within the Palace walls, which I can recommended for the quality of food, value and service.
My artistic highlight however came on my last night when I went to the opera. I watched a performance of Aida in the ancient Roman Peristyle, which was an absolute unique privilege. Set in Egypt, it was incredible to have an original sphinx as part of the set. I read the plot before I attended, so followed fairly well, despite it running from nine until midnight. Several attendees actually left at intermission, believing it to be over. The atmosphere was electric and whilst I may not go to the opera again for concern of being monumentally bored, this would be a tough act to follow.
Did Split deserve three days? It could easily be done in two but it provided me the chance to relax, amble and reflect on my journey as it begins to lose some quickness to it’s pace. An activity of note I missed out was going to the art gallery celebrating the works of Croatian sculpture Ivan Mestrovic. I’ve actually seen a few examples of his work, such as the Pobednik statue in Belgrade, and researched him online, negating the need to physically enter the gallery.
Onto Sibenic and back with the trains after two motor vehicle journeys, it’s a less touristy part of Croatia where I plan to take a boat tour of the surrounding Balkan islands. Choo choo!