Episode 223 – Split!

March 15, 2022. 53°F/12°C

#myvikingstory

We’re in the Republic of Croatia today (HRVATSKA in the Croatian language), homeland of one of my favourite people: my very dear friend Josie!

Split is just the first Croatian city on our itinerary; after detouring to Venice for a couple of days, we’ll return to Zadar and Dubrovnik.

As we did in Kotor, we booked two tours here: the included city walking tour, and an afternoon tour of the Meštrović Sculpture Gallery and Diocletian Palace.

Croatia’s currency, until they convert to the Euro sometime later this year, is the Kuna, which is divided into 100 Lipa. The Kuna is a local furry marten, and the currency was originally based on the value of that animal’s pelts (not its ”pellets” as our poor Cruise Director was tricked into telling us – eww). The Lipa is a sacred Slavic tree, known to us as the linden. Based on our original cruise itinerary we brought US dollars with us. Since then we’ve purchased a few Euros. We don’t intend to buy Kunas, since they cannot be used – or exchanged – outside Croatia, so hopefully our guides will not be unhappy with tips in USD.

I think this morning’s tour was the best included tour we’ve taken on this trip to date. Our guide, Vedran, was the retired head of the Croatian Tourist Board and is still a lecturer on tourism at the university in Split. His breadth of knowledge – and the stories that he used to share the city’s history – were outstanding.

Most of our tour was in the Diocletian Palace, which is a complex of 7.5 acres, or over 300,000 square feet, that incorporated the Emperor’s living quarters, temples, his mausoleum, and housing for guards, slaves, and servants . The Palace complex takes up about 60% of the old town area of Split.

Our first glimpse of the Diocletian Palace was certainly not what I expected. Bars, cafés, and apartments fill the outer wall. Right: entering through the Brass Gate, which is no longer directly on the sea.

We entered through the Brass Gate, the only single set of gates to the palace, since they originally opened directly onto the water and could only be approached by boat. The Gold Gate, Silver Gate, and Iron Gate were all double gates with a “holding room” between the two gates in which intruders could be easily dispatched from the towers above.

What was really interesting about the complex was that since its construction between 295 and 305 AD (accomplished in just 10 years using the labour of 90,000 enslaved people from all over the Roman Empire), it has been almost continuously occupied, making it a “living” monument.

Entering the palace is like stepping into history – and yet also not, since the cellar is full of souvenir stalls, and the windows often have laundry drying in them.

A map of the original site (top) shows just how big the palace was. The huge rooms and pillars of the subterranean cellars are awe-inspiring.

Vedran explained that after the palace was almost ruined by attacking Avars in 615AD, the people of the nearby destroyed city of Solin took refuge in the remains and incorporated them into their homes, which to this day sport Roman columns, flooring, and decoration. In that way, our guide said, “the palace saved the people, and the people saved the palace”. Today there are over 1000 people living within the palace walls, in a range of poor (rundown) to middle class (renovated) apartments. It’s interesting that the palace is not a “museum”, but rather just part of the old city.

A few different “neighbourhoods” within the palace walls. Villas, apartments, and commercial areas were built over the centuries, incorporating portions of the ruins. Note the laundry drying outside ancient windows. In the bottom photo, you can see a boutique hotel in the centre (with the rooftop balcony).
Left: modern shops in mediaeval buildings. Right: the area just outside the Gold Gate. The semicircle above the gate would originally have housed an ornate sculpture.

Because the palace was built on a slope leading to the water, a full stone foundation was built under the southern section, with high vaulted ceilings and huge columns. Those cellars were used mostly for storage; because their floor plan mimicked the palace above, we are able to see the shape and size of many of the rooms which were destroyed.

Top: stone water pipes. Under Diocletian’s instructions, 9 km of aqueducts were built to bring water from the mountains to the palace. Those same systems still bring water to modern day Split!
Bottom: ruins of the baths in the Empress’ wing of the palace. Note the mosaic tile bottom. The red striped bricks mark the water level in the baths – usually less than a meter since most Romans could not swim, and these baths were for daily “bathing” as opposed to recreation.

Areas of the cellar, as well as the main peristyle (a courtyard surrounded with columns) oare now often used as concert venues. The platform from which the emperor would have addressed crowds has acoustics that make it a perfect stage; our guide told us that the opera season in Split opens here, often with Aida or Tosca.

Top: the Emperor’s platform in the peristyle. Note the darker coloured columns. They’re granite, and were transported intact from Aswan Egypt to decorate the palace, alongside marble columns. Bottom left: entrance to the cathedral, which was originally the temple to Jupiter, and then Diocletian’s mausoleum. Again, there are 2 different types of columns. Bottom right: one of only 2 remaining of the original 12 sphinxes brought from Egypt. As Roman Emperor ruling Egypt, Diocletian considered himself the last Pharaoh and adopted many Egyptian styles.

When Christianity was established in the area, many of the decorations, like the 12 sphinxes originally in place around the central square, were destroyed.

Diocletian’s original temple of Jupiter, which he later decided to turn into his mausoleum, was subsequently turned into the Cathedral of St. Domnius in 653 by the first bishop of Split. Anything inside the mausoleum was destroyed including, presumably, Diocletian’s remains since no one seems to know where they are.

The Romanesque bell tower was constructed around 1100 AD. I couldn’t find anything to verify our tour guide’s comment that it was built one layer per century, but extensive repairs were done early in the 20th century to bring it to its current state.

You can see how the bell tower has been attached to the mausoleum (which has the pillars around its exterior).
In the 17th century, a hole was cut into the mausoleum wall to create an entrance to the cathedral’s choir (the rectangular building on the left). Restoration and maintenance is ongoing.
With the hole cut into the mausoleum, this is the area behind the altar that was created.
Top: inside the cathedral, Roman pillars were extended with Baroque designs, and Roman imagery is still visible just below the original domed ceiling. Bottom: there were two areas cut out of the stone floor to show the original Roman mosaic.
The wooden doors on the cathedral are one of the best examples of Romanesque sculpture in Croatia. They were made by the mediaeval Croatian sculptor and painter Andrija Buvina around 1214, and show 14 scenes from Jesus’ life.
Diocletian’s second temple of Jupiter, originally his temple to the gods of medicine, was turned into a baptistry. Still visible are the symbols of medicine (snakes), Jupiter’s visage, and eagles, which were also symbols of Jupiter.

We stopped back at the ship for a light lunch and to shed a layer of clothes, since the day was warming up nicely, and headed out for our second excursion.

The afternoon tour took us to the marble villa and manicured gardens that house the sculpture gallery of Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s best known sculptor and an internationally renowned artist, architect and writer – our guide kept saying “Renaissance man”. Among many, many other works, he sculpted The Bowman and The Spearman which adorn Michigan Avenue in Chicago Illinois (and which may now be removed as being offensive – our guide suggested Croatia would be very pleased to have them back).

Clockwise from top left: the marble villa that Meštrović designed; one of many large bronzes on the villa’s grounds; a life-sized marble; plaster cast of “Hope”; a marble bas-relief on the villa’s porch; a walnut sculpture (made of a single piece of wood) with me beside it for size context.

Sadly, our afternoon guide could not hold a candle to our morning guide (think monotone golf announcer vs enthusiastic baseball play-by-play) so when we returned to Diocletian’s Palace we stayed with him only long enough to access the interior of the Cathedral of St. Domnius and get the pictures included above, since the cathedral’s interior was not part of the morning tour.

The bonus was that we got a lovely walk in the sunshine back to the ship, instead of a bus ride, leaving me time to do a quick load of laundry before dinner. (You’re thinking, “laundry AGAIN?” Yup. I need the same pair of long pants and long sleeved tee shirt every day lately, since I packed no other cool weather clothes.)

We took in the evening lecture on Venice, enjoyed a late dinner, and returned to our room so that Ted could sort photos and I could stay caught up on my blogging.

Venice tomorrow!

8 comments

  1. My most precious, I need you to tell me of my origins! I am so grateful for the pictures of you and Ted! He is an AMAZING photographer! Much love

    BTW – This week – 14th – pi day, 15th – Ides of March, 16th – St. Patrick’s day

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Rose, Thanks for another good post – I usually read them to my wife too, so we can both enjoy them.

    I have a suggestion – in the future, I would use the phrase “ people who were enslaved” or “ enslaved people” rather than the single word “slaves”. It acknowledges the full humanity of those people. Just a thought!

    Thanks for keeping the blog going so diligently. I appreciate it.

    Jeff Barnes

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  3. I am so enjoying your blog posts! The combination of excellent writing and interesting photos entices me back every evening. Thank you for sharing your travels. If Viking invites you to do a WordPress class, I would sign up for sure.

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    • Thank you so much! Someday when we “settle down” I hope this blog will bring back lots of good travel memories for Ted and for me. Glad you’re enjoying it too!

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  4. So glad it has warmed up a little for you. If I may ask, about how much are the not included tours? Are people able to get on any tour they want? The pictures and your descriptions are lovely and you certainly are very knowledgeable. Thank you as always.

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    • Optional tours can range anywhere from $59 USD (today) to over 400 USD (a full day in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt) to over $1K for a 3 day overland to Macchu Pichu. It really depends what you want. Included tours can range from 90 minute walks to 4 hour tours, depending on the port.

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    • Part 2. Some tours have maximum numbers. Generally it works out, but it’s best to be prepared with a second choice. When you book prior to boarding, higher category rooms get priority booking timed.

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