Well, it has been quite some time since I last blogged, and thought it was about time I take it up again! I can’t leave it hanging half way through a trip like that.
From Mostar we carried on to Split, back in Croatia (the back and forth between the countries does make sense! Have a look at a map – you will see Mostar is north of Dubrovnik, and Split is north of Mostar).
Split is one of those towns I’d not heard much of before I began researching for the trip. As a sucker for ancient historical sites and filming locations, though, I knew it would, in all likelihood, make it onto our final itinerary.
Split is the second-largest city in Croatia and is centred around the ruins of the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace. For this reason, it is important to remember that when people speak of visiting ‘Diocletian’s palace’, they’re essentially talking about walking around the Split old town. (One of the biggest novelties of Split was going to the supermarket set within an old Roman wall!) This means it has one of the most interesting old city centres I have ever seen.
What started as a huge, sprawling Roman palace complex passed through multiple hands (including the Avars, Byzantines and Bulgarians) before falling into Venetian hands (like much of the Adriatic coast). Therefore, the ruins of the Roman Palace are scattered with architecture from several eras and people groups – most notably the Venetians. Split changed hands multiple times throughout the 20th century, spending much of it as part of Yugoslavia, being annexed by Italy during WW2, and ending up as part of Croatia when it declared independence in 1991. Despite witnessing conflict during these periods, this isn’t visible in the old town today (at least not obviously). It is a beautiful maze of ancient roman streets, walls, and basements filled with a patchwork of architecture that spans centuries, and even a few ancient egyptian relics.
We stayed in a little studio Air BnB, which was perfect and in a great location right in the old town. We spent our 2 days there exploring the little old town, which included a walking tour, checking out the view from the bell tower, walking along the waterfront (complete with palm trees!), visiting Park Suma Marjan (on a hill overlooking the old town), listening to buskers (which included a traditional dalmatian men’s choir) seeing the City Museum and finding Game of Thrones film sites! Unfortunately weather put a halt to any plans to take a boat out to one of the islands – while it was mostly sunny, it was also a bit too cold and windy.
There is a multi-entry ticket you can get which (if I remember correctly) lets you up the bell tower, into the old cathedral inside Diocletian’s mausoleum and into the crypt below the church. It is said by some that the cathedral (installed in Diocletian’s mausoleum after Christians desecrated his grave) was the world’s first Christian church, but I find that unlikely. What is more likely, however, is the claim that it is the world’s oldest cathedral.
The bell tower was not from Diocletian’s time, and was added later over a 300 year process by multiple rulers (the current version has had significant work done to it to make it structurally sound). There are also columns (the darker ones) and sphinxes around the city which were imported by Diocletian from Egypt.
There is also an imposing vestibule nearby where we listened to a capella dalmatian singers perform to promote their CD.
We also spent time in the City Museum which takes you right through Split’s history, and stumbled across a complex of basement rooms which served as the film location for both Daenarys’ throne room in Mereen and the basement where she kept her dragons shackled in Game of Thrones.
Also of note is the statue of Grgur Ninski, a Croatian bishop who lived in the tenth century and defied the Pope of the time to conduct his services in Croatian instead of Latin.
We were sorry to leave Split so soon – the day we were leaving the weather improved enough that we could have taken a cruise out to the islands! Instead, we were onto a bus and headed north to the Plitvice Lakes National Park.