This morning we head to the bus station for a 3 hour drive to Croatia’s second largest city, Split. It also lies on the Adriatic Sea, a part of the Dalmatian coast. Even though the city is large, a visit here will focus mostly around the ancient walled Old Town, which is fascinating in its own right.
The walk from the hotel into the Old Town takes around 30 min, but the view is worth it. There is a waterfront promenade with beautiful boats and yachts docked along the piers.
As we get closer, Republic Square comes into view. It is a 3 sided square with the fourth side open to the sea.
The colorful buildings in the square are pretty; the square is almost empty today but it usually holds many cultural and music events. We continue along to the Riva, a waterfront promenade which is a popular meeting place for the locals. There are many cafes and restaurants so grab a coffee, wine or gelato and settle in and enjoy your people watching!
The ancient walls of the Diocletian’s palace can be seen from here; it is the oldest part of the city- around 1700 years old. It is one of the best preserved monuments of Roman architecture in the world! This makes it a UNESCO World Heritage Site (tick another one off my list!).
We enter the palace by one of the four main gates, and meet up with our local tour guide, Mirjana. She is fantastic! Such a great storyteller, and she offers us a look into the history of this fascinating town. We start in Vocni Trg, (fruit square); it gets its name from the fruit market it used to host daily.
On one side is the Octagonal tower that was built for protection against invaders. In the centre of the square stands Marko Marulic, known as the father of Croatian literature. This statue was sculpted by the famous Croatian artist, Mestrovic.
As we wander through the narrow alleyways and into the Diocletian’s Palace, Mirjana tells us that this is one of the only old towns in the world where people still live! It’s been more difficult for the locals as tourism has increased; they’re not able to go about their daily lives as freely with all of us invading their privacy!
She shows us notable areas like the former dining area of the Palace, the bath areas and the parts of crumbling walls that remain intact today.
We enter the vestibule, a circular area that was once used as an entry to the residential part of the palace. Today, there is a choir singing inside, as the acoustics are top notch. This leads us to Peristyle Square at the heart of the palace; the original Roman court.
It is always jam packed with people; a popular meeting point. There are lots of Roman columns around the square and it feels like I’ve stepped back in time.
The impressive St Domnius Cathedral can be reached from the Square. The entrance to the palace cellars can also be reached from here – this is another filming location for Game of Thrones. It is where Daenerys kept her dragons!
Today, there are many stalls selling souvenirs.
Our tour with Mirjana ends as we exit the palace from the golden gate, and a giant 28 ft tall statue of Gregor of Nin stands above us.
He was a medieval bishop who brought the Croatian language to religious services (they were usually held in Latin). He is impressive but a bit menacing, so began the tradition of rubbing his big toe for good luck!
We have a bit of free time before dinner, so why not sit at a small pub and enjoy a Karlovacko! We dine as a group tonight, at a place called Konoba Pizzeria Feral. Even though it’s a pizzeria I feel like calamari and it doesn’t disappoint.
We find another cool place for drinks and then walk back along the promenade to our hotel, ice cream in hand!
Today, the itinerary included a full day trip to Brac Island, a place which is mostly known for its beautiful beaches. The weather isn’t sure if it’s going to cooperate and I feel like I haven’t gotten to enjoy the Old Town as much (I’m fascinated by this place!), so I decide to skip the trip to Brac. This tour could benefit by adding an extra day in this area so one can fully enjoy the Old Town for more than just a half day and also go to Brac!
I start my day by heading over to St Domnius Cathedral. The Cathedral was once the Diocletian’s mausoleum and it dates back to 350; one of the oldest Cathedral structures in the world that is still in use today.
In front of the cathedral sits a black granite statue of a sphinx..one of the two you’ll find in Split; it has been here since the Diocletian built his palace.
The Bell Tower of the Cathedral is 57m high and was built in the 13th century. Let’s just say climbing this tower isn’t for the faint of heart.
It is a fairly narrow staircase and the tower has many open window areas that are only protected by small bars. I feel like if I trip, I’m falling through it! And to make matters worse, the way up is also the way down so you really have to squeeze by other climbers. And be careful! As I get closer to the top, the stairs are metal and see through, which means I can now see all the way down to the bottom of the tower. Good god. But the views of Split from the top are pretty fantastic so I figure it was worth the nerve wracking experience.
Then onto the very tiny Temple of Jupiter. To get there you must go down the smallest street in the world, called the Let Me Pass Street. It’s funny…barely enough room for two people to walk down.
Outside of the Temple sits the other sphinx statue, only this one is headless. This temple was built to serve and celebrate Jupiter’s cult. It looks quiet and I debate paying the fee to go inside (which I think is a bit high).
And then out of nowhere, a huge group of people show up and I regret not going in sooner because now it’s really crowded. I wait it out and manage to snap some pics without any tourists in them. I then make my way to People’s Square and I sit and have a coffee at one of the oldest café’s in the world, City Café. It was once the centre for social life in Split, so a perfect place to settle in for a coffee.
Emily meets up with me shortly after and we wander around the town, souvenir shopping and enjoying the sites. I pick up a few cool things that are unique to Split…their home grown lavender, a pair of stylish booties and art that is made from stone gathered from Brac Island. Fun fact: white limestone found on the island was used to make the White House in the USA. Before heading back to the hotel, we stop at Luka ice cream – a recommended place – and I try the mango ice cream. It is rich and creamy and tastes amazing. The group decides to go for dinner but I’m not feeling very hungry so I hit the supermarket across the street for something simple and easy to eat back at the hotel (this proves to be a terrible decision, as I get food poisoning…more about that in my next blog post..I know what you’re thinking…I can’t wait! Hahahaha).
Split was easily one of my favorite cities visited on this trip, and in all of my travels around the world. I loved walking around the Old Town, exploring the ancient ruins and absorbing the history. If you plan on going to Croatia and have Dubrovnik on your list, then you’d best make the drive up to Split as well…you may even prefer it!