Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Croatia: Palatial Split

Like portals to a different time, covered passageways
take visitors through the maze of Diocletian's Palace.

The big attraction in Split, in terms of popularity and size, is Diocletian's Palace, a sprawling structure that was part palace and part military garrison or fortress. Over the centuries it has been overtaken by the city that surrounded it. What had been walls inside the palace were integrated into otherwise new structures. Interior courtyards became public squares. Amazingly, the palace's basement is still largely intact, giving visitors an idea of the size and grandeur of the rooms that once were above it.

Diocletian, whose parents were slaves, may have been born near Split. He rose through the Roman military to be in a position to have himself proclaimed emperor in 284 C.E. when the previous emperor mysteriously died. In his 60s in 305, he retired to Split where he died in 312, possibly at his own hand and presumably in the palace that was probably still under construction. The palace remained an imperial residence and fortress well into the fifth century. In the seventh century, the palace was turned into shelter for local residents when Slavs and Avars ransacked the nearby towns and countryside. It has been occupied continuously since then, with medieval and even Renaissance elements added as the centuries passed.

Today its narrow streets (hallways?) lead to restaurants, shops, hotels and even a church. Its footprint takes up about half of Split's old town, though pedestrian streets seem to extend the old town into newer areas. The palace fronts the Riva, Split's huge harborside plaza, and when we arrived by ferry from Hvar, we walked the length of the Riva to reach our small inn, Heritage Hotel 19, tucked away in the pedestrian zone beyond the Riva's western end. Split was probably the most relaxed, easiest to navigate and most friendly of the cities we visited on our seven-week, five-nation Balkans tour.

From the hotel, we could walk to the palace and all the shopping and restaurant streets that surround it. Split attracts a lot of tourists, many of them visiting before heading to Hvar or other islands, but the town itself seems to have a life apart from tourism. We visited the rooftop wine bar Paradox twice, and each time I would guess that a third to a half of the patrons were local in that they weren't speaking English to the servers. Just outside the eastern side of the palace, there's a large public market selling all manner of meats, cheeses and produce, clearly aimed at residents. Just beyond the food vendors is a street of shops selling clothing (I bought a pair of cargo shorts for about the same price I'd pay at Marshalls) and housewares.

When we headed in the other direction from our hotel, going west onto the Marjan Peninsula, we came to the Ivan Mestrovic Gallery, housed in the artist's palatial villa. Mestrovic (1883-1962) was and is the most famous Croatian sculptor. He built this mansion in the 1930s and in the 1950s he donated it to the nation as a gallery for his work. There are 190 sculptures and more than 500 drawings here. His sculptures reminded me of Rodin's, though with less sensuality.  In Zagreb, his former workshop is also now a gallery devoted to his work, and examples of his work can be seen in other public places in Split and in Zagreb -- and even in Chicago's Grant Park (a bronze of a native American on horseback).

Here are some photos.
A chamber in the basement of Diocletian's Palace.

The central passage in the basement is home to a variety of craft and souvenir vendors.

The ceiling in a portion of the basement.

A bust of Diocletian is displayed in the basement.

The Golden Gate is at the northern end of the palace and was the grandest of the
original four gates. After 17 centuries, it remains surprisingly intact.

A courtyard within the palace. To the left is the Cathedral of St. Dominus,
which was once Diocletian's mausoleum. To the right is a restaurant. One
evening this place, called the Peristyle, was filled with people listening
to two street performers, both guitarists, perform  "Hotel California," "Hey
 Mr. Tambourine Man" and other songs, all in English.

Many parts of the palace area look like ruins, which they are.

The streets in Split stay busy well into the night.

Inside the Cathedral of St. Dominus.

Ivan Mestrovic's monumental statue of
Gregor Ninksi, a bishop in the 10th
century who defied the pope to allow
the Croatian language to be used in
Catholic services. He is a national hero
and the sculpture had political meaning
before Croatia gained independence
from Yugoslavia.

A view of the Adriatic from Mestrovic's former home,
now a galley dedicated to his works.

The Cyclops is about to hurl a stone as Odysseus escapes in this work by Mestrovic.

A Mestrovic work.

One of many nudes at the Mestrovic Gallery.

Giant yachts such as the Solo here are frequent sights in the Adriatic.

The road to the Mestrovic Gallery overlooks Marjan Peninsula beaches such as this one.
 It had a lot of people on a Sunday afternoon.

This street connects the old town with the Marjan Peninsula.

Marmontova Street, with the old town on the right, and new neighborhoods on the left.

This fountain is on the harbor at the western end of the Riva.

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