The beating heart of Split, Croatia holds the UNESCO Palace of Diocletian. The ancient Roman behemoth was built in between the 3rd and 4th century by retired Emperor Diocletian. Fortunately for us, he didn’t use his full name – Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus. He likes names as much as Daenerys Targaryen. The Diocletian Palace is special as it reflects transitional architecture from Greek occupation to Byzantine rule. The seven-acre fortress looks over the sparkling Adriatic Sea and is sheltered by Mount Mosor. My best suggestion, lose yourself in the narrow, granite alley ways. The palace reminds me of walking in an Arizona slot canyon. Steep, claustrophobic walls that become maze. Enter for free through one of four gates – Golden, Silver, Iron, and Bronze.
I knew nothing about Split, let alone Croatia when I decided to visit. When my carefully planned, six-month itinerary went out the window and a cheap flight popped up on Skyscanner it all seemed chalked up to fate.
What can you do in this ancient beauty?
Firstly, embrace your inner Cersei Lannister and enjoy the greatest local reds. Wine is a trade that has been produced in Split for thousands of years. Coastal wine made in the Dalmatian region tends to be fruity yet, bold. Pick a light white to accompany a fresh fish dinner. Speaking of the Lannisters… there are several Game of Thrones filming sites in and around Split. The first site is the Fortress of Klis (about ten miles out of Split) and recently for GOT season 5, the Diocletian Palace itself. One of the best feelings is recognizing a place you have visited on screen.
I entered through the buzzing Iron Gate from the equally as ancient, residential area of Varos. The Iron Gate is truly the place to be for food and is lively from 10AM to late in the evening. Split offers hundreds of local eateries and shops in and around the Diocletian Palace. Croatian food? They have it. Sparkly sandals? Check. Italian cuisine? Yup. Gelato? Please, don’t get between a tourist and a gelato stand or risk foot prints on your forehead.
The Iron Gate leads directly to Peristyle Square. Want to see the square empty? You have to rise with the sun. I took this at 6AM as the sun was waking up. The morning is an incredible time to start exploring the city however, entry into the paid sites are normally not open. Another notable time to be in the center of the palace is noon. At noon actors present changing of the guards. It’s completely kitschy but, fun to watch! What girl doesn’t want to watch muscular, Roman guards march about?
My favorite find was through a tunnel leading to the subterranean palace. The arched hallways are untouched and seem completely original. How many years has this cavern seen? Oh right, thousands. Likeness to not being able to visualize millions of dollars, thousands of years doesn’t seem to make sense. The world was such a different place. Echoes produced by the tall ceilings are harrowing as you wander about. The buzz of the city above is haunting. Here you can wander about in yet another maze. The rooms below used to be under water when the palace was first built. Afterwards, the rooms were used as a home for the Roman’s pet dragons. Um, kidding. But, it was used to produce wine – see a picture of the press below!
The Temple of Jupiter represents the old gods. Jupiter was the top Roman god. The vaulted ceilings create an acoustic sweet spot. There was a group of German tourists singing in the center of the temple. The result gave me goosebumps.
Right outside Jupiter’s temple is the narrowest alley in Split. Two adults are unable to squeeze through!
St. Duje Cathedral and the bell tower reigns supreme over the Split skyline. The bell tower, located next to the Peristyle is the tallest building in the city. The octagonal Christian Cathedral did’t exist until the 13th century as Emporer Diocletian was a persecutor of Christians. Climb the spiral staircase for a panoramic view of Split and surrounding areas.
Facing the Riva is another quiet corner of the palace. Here you can also find the Ethnographic Museum of Split. I highly recommend stopping by this museum! Here you can learn about dress, weapons and wine making in Split throughout history.
Be sure to wander, I cant stress this enough. You never know what you will come across.
Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses into the ancient past. Mosaics and stone carvings are hidden around the complex. They are incredibly preserved and protected.
In closing I’m completely in love with Split, and the bits of Croatia I have experienced. I cant wait to go back. A quick side note – watch that sky. The weather changed in a matter of hours.
PSA granite is slippery.
Love, your Queen of Travel, Clearer of Cobwebs, Mother of Ferrets, Twister of Ankles – Kate