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Review: Split

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Split, Croatia

In the footsteps of Diocletian

  • By SilverTraveller SilverTravelUser_3610

    1 review

  • May 2009
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11 people found this review helpful

An aerial photograph of Split shows clearly that its core is a large square fortress, and when you get there you find that much of the surrounding wall is still standing, often to its original height. This was the palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD for his retirement. His mausoleum at the centre is now the Catholic Cathedral of St Domnius, and the Roman peristyle is still there, along with the vast cellars of the palace. The roads around the mausoleum are still paved with the original marble – quite slippery in the rain – and as you wander through the narrow, twisting alleys you come across marvels like the tiny temple of Jupiter, almost complete and now housing a fine sculpture by a Croatian artist commemorating the temple's renaissance as a baptistery.



But this is no museum piece. Domitian's retirement place is now home to the natives of Split, who colonised the abandoned palace centuries ago and now live in houses built higgledy-piggledy into the ancient remains. The friend with whom I travelled is a nut about Domitian, so he was thrilled when I found us a hotel built right up against the precinct wall which allowed us too to stay within the palace. The Hotel Peristil is just inside one of the gates, and is a friendly, welcoming place, very reasonably priced.



Salona, Domitian's birthplace and the ancient capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia, is a short bus ride away. It is not much visited, so it is possible to wander round it gently, communing with the spirits of the ancient Dalmatians. The extensive ruins include a large amphitheatre where St Domnius and other Christians were martyred for their faith. Many of the artefacts found in Salona can be seen in the archaeological museum in Split, which well repays a visit.



We ate very well. There are plenty of good restaurants in the city, and the vegetables tasted better than anything I'd eaten recently, perhaps the consequence of the numbers of small vegetable gardens we saw on our way from the airport. Oddly, given Split's position on the sea, fish was the most expensive item on most menus, apart from one meal where we were given a delicious grilled fish from a catch landed just that day; we never did discover its name.



Split is not just about the ancient past. The waterfront is a pleasant, wide-open space with plenty of benches and shady trees, where you can look out at the Adriatic or back at the facade of the palace. The courtyard in front of the peristyle was the scene one evening for an open-air celebration of the tango, with couples dancing away in the balmy twilight to the music of a small band. This was the tingle factor for me – the knowledge that Diocletian himself looked out on this tranquil sea and walked on this marble pavement where now his descendants live their twenty-first century lives within his creation.

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