“There is no better place on earth than Split the city in Croatia,” its residents say. You can understand them. Split is not just a pearl of the Adriatic coast and not only breathtaking architectural landscapes.
This city is famous for its gourmet and winemaking traditions, museums and galleries, clubs and restaurants, as well as numerous cultural events – festivals, exhibitions, and concerts.
Split the city in Croatia: top sights
An incredible combination of centuries-old past and present is the main attraction of Split. You will feel this magic mix in each of its sights.
The owner of this monumental residence was the Roman emperor Diocletian. After a 20-year reign, he gave up power to spend the rest of his life in solitude.
The estate of Diocletian (an area of 215 x 180 m) combines the features of a country villa and a castrum. One part was intended for the imperial apartments, the other – to house the personal guard and servants.
The palace is surrounded by high walls, decorated with towers and arched windows. There are four enters:
- The golden (northern) gates, built in the shape of a rectangle, with double doors decorated with sculptures of four Tetrarchs, were used only by Diocletian, who first passed through them to the palace on June 1, 305;
- Silver (eastern) gates with the remains of octagonal towers on both sides – were marked by the greatest event for Catholics – Pope John Paul II passed through them in 2000;
- Iron (western) gates, originally decorated with the relief of Nika, replaced by a cross in the 5th century, were intended for the Roman guard and led to a military camp; and
- Copper (southern) gates facing the sea and still retaining their water resistance – provided the emperor with the opportunity to escape by ship in case of an attack on the palace from the mainland.
Having survived 17 centuries, the palace became the historical core of Split and part of the World Heritage. Today, 220 buildings are located within its borders, including residential buildings, bars, hotels, and cafes.
Other parts of the ancient complex are of tourist value. It is worth paying attention to each of them.
Cathedral of St. Domnius
Ironically, the mausoleum of Diocletian – the persecutor of Christians – turned into a Catholic church in the 7th century. The sarcophagus of the emperor was destroyed, and his place was taken by the relics of the martyrs Domnius and Anastasius executed by him.
The octagon of the former mausoleum is surrounded by 24 columns outside. Inside, it has the shape of a cylinder turning into a dome. Niches were made in the walls of the temple, and granite columns tower above them.
Things of particular interest:
- nut-carved gates with gospel scenes;
- portraits of the emperor Diocletian and his wife Prisca;
- 13th-century desk made of precious green porphyry;and
- canopy over the main altar, decorated with Gothic frescoes depicting evangelists.
You will have the opportunity to go up the steps of the ancient bell tower of the 13th century and look at Split from a height of 57 m.
Lobby: Split the city in Croatia
Rectangular on the outside and rounded on the inside, with a “window” instead of a dome, the lobby served as the entrance to the imperial apartment. After walking through the remains of a cryptoporticus, a pedestrian path will direct you to the former chambers of Diocletian, most of which was occupied by the library and therms.
Temple of Jupiter
The rectangular-shaped sanctuary rises on the podium; in front of it, there is a porch with six columns. Particularly impressive are the relief images on the portal and the barrel-shaped lacunar arch.
Scottish architect Robert Adam considered this temple one of the most beautiful European architectural monuments.
At the decline of antiquity, the pagan temple was turned into a baptistery; the tomb of St. Thomas was built under the building. At the beginning of the 13th century, a baptismal font was erected on the site of the former altar. The dominant feature in the interior of the baptistery is the sculpture of St. John the Baptist, whose name the church received after restoration. In front of it, there is one of the granite sphinxes brought by Diocletian from Egypt.
Peristyle is the original Roman courtyard, where Diocletian appeared publicly in front of his subjects. There were gladiatorial fights and theatrical performances. Thanks to its unique beauty and unusual acoustics, the peristyle remains the perfect decoration for opera and dramatic classics even today. Everything happening here is closely watched by two 3,500-year-old sphinxes.
Residents of Split consider peristyle to be the center not only of their city, but of the whole world.
In Roman times, this part of the palace was its warehouse. In the Middle Ages, a part of the imperial apartments was inhabited by the townspeople, and the basements were turned into a garbage bin. Only in the middle of the 19th century were they cleaned and reconstructed.
Being a structurally exact copy of the upper floor, the underground halls of the palace allowed to recreate the chambers of Diocletian.
Today, cultural and social events are held here:
- exhibitions of paintings and sculptures;
- theater performances;
- flower fairs;and
- gastronomic and wine presentations.
The basement of the palace was used in the fourth season of Game of Thrones as the Daenerys throne room.
Sacred structures of Split
In this city, you will find dozens of places of worship. We will name only a few of them that are of the greatest interest from the point of view of cultural value.
Franciscan Church and Monastery of St. Anthony
The religious complex of the beginning of the 11th century is located on the north side of the Marjan Peninsula, in the bay of Polyud. First, the Archbishop of Split Paul built the church of St. Mary. Later it was ruled by Benedictine monks who in the 16th century built a monastery next to it.
Unlike the usual religious buildings, this complex was not only religious, but also defensive.
A square tower rises above the western part of the monastery building – part of the fortification protecting the church and monastery from the Turkish invasion. In the 18th century, a bell tower was added to them, resting on the southern part of the church.
Among the valuable relics in this unusual complex, the following should be noted:
- the altar polyptych, part of which is the oldest image of Split, made by the Venetian master Girolama de Santa Crocea in 1549 and showing the city in the hands of its patron Saint Domnius;and
- a rare image of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (whose appearance, according to the Quran, should not appear in pictures) by the theologian artist Mikhovil Luposignoli.
Church and Monastery of St. Francis
This complex, located in the western part of Riva, was built on the site of the grave and small church of St. Felix – a martyr from the time of Diocletian. In the 13th century, the younger brothers of St. Francis settled here.
The most valuable of the works of church art are:
- Gothic crucifix, painted by Blaz Jurjev Trogiranin at the beginning of the 15th century; and
- A sarcophagus depicting the passage through the Red Sea as part of the sacred art of the Roman era.
Near the church, there is a Franciscan monastery with a library that stores more than 3,000 books, among which there are copies of the 16th century.
In the church and monastery, you will find the graves of prominent citizens of Split:
- father of Croatian literature, Marco Marulic;and
- Croatian politician Ante Trumbich, whose sarcophagus is the creation of Ivan Mestrovic.
Church of the Holy Trinity
This picturesque church is located near the Split shipyard. It is a medieval architectural monument, created between the 8th and 11th centuries as a six- story building with semicircular arches.
The Church of the Holy Trinity is included in the register of the most outstanding objects of the Croatian cultural heritage.
During the 1948 restoration, priceless artefacts were discovered:
- the remains of an earlier building; and
- several fragments of the altar partition, the arc of which is a sample of pre-Roman stone sculpture with geometric webbed ornaments and carved text.
The second finding is on display today at the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments in Split.
Church of St. Martin
In the northern part of Diocletian’s Palace, above the Golden Gate, there was a small room for the guards. In the 6th century, the early Christian church of St. Martin settled in it. The temple, located today on this site, is an exact copy of it with the 11th-century pre-Roman altar partition.
It is the smallest and one of the oldest churches in Split. It is only 1.64 m wide and 10 m long.
Split the city in Croatia: Marjan Hill
One of the symbols of Split is the 170-meter hill Marjan that rises above its western part. Its popularity is determined by many “bonuses” for visitors:
- dense pine forest;
- countless tourist paths;
- a maze of medieval streets of Varosha;
- an observation deck with a cozy restaurant; and
- a zoo and an amusement park on top of the hill.
The main architectural value of Marjan is the plethora of ancient temples. Among them are:
- Church of St. Nicholas of the 13th century;
- the chapel of Our Lady of the 16th Century Good Council with engravings by Ivan Mestrovich depicting the life and passions of Jesus Christ;
- the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows of the 14th century, keeping the work of the sculptor Yurai Dalmatians – a relief of the Madonna holding the dead body of Christ;
- The Church of St. Jerome of the 15th century, surrounded by hermitic monasteries; and
- The Church of the Blessed Virgin of Bethlehem of the 16th century, where Midnight Mass is held on Christmas Eve.
These temples arose in those distant times when Marjan was a spiritual refuge for many inhabitants of Split. Today, these mini-churches are the most important witnesses to the history of the city.
A tour of this “spiritual ring” is a great opportunity to explore the beauty of Maryan and enjoy the special aura of the “divine” hill.
The main city squares
All the important events in Split take place on its busy squares. They will help you understand the character and soul of the ancient city.
Prokurative: Split the city in Croatia
Residents call this Square Republican. Its construction was initiated by one of the most famous mayors in the history of the city of Antonio Bahamonti in the middle of the 19th century. He wanted to show that Split strongly supported the Italian tradition.
Hence comes the colonnade, reminiscent of the Venetian colonnade, and the reliefs above the windows, inspired by the art of antiquity and the Renaissance. Bahamonti also built the Big Theater on Square, which, unfortunately, was destroyed by fire.
Prokurativa is an ideal venue for cultural events.
Nobody in Split calls this square an official name either. It has long been known as the People’s square. It was first mentioned in the 13th century as St. Lawrence Square. It was the first inhabited part of Split for the outside of the palace of Diocletian.
Each building here has its own story:
- the city government was located in the Gothic building of the old town hall, which today is the exhibition center;
- the most noble families of Split lived in the exquisite well-preserved palaces;
- the world’s oldest bookstore Morpurgo to this day looks almost the same as at its opening in 1861; and
- the city clock, ticking for many centuries, still amazes with its dial piece with 24 marks instead of 12.
People’s Square is the heart of the Old Town. The surrounding cafes, restaurants and bars are invariable places for recreation and meetings of citizens.
Brace Radic Square is also better known at the unofficial name – Fruit Square (once it was a place for the fruit market). Today, it is famous for its lush fairs, exclusive shops and authentic restaurants.
A number of sights decorate the square:
- Venetian castle with an octagonal tower, built in 1435 to protect the city from Turkish raids;
- Milesi Palace – one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Dalmatia; and
- Statue of Marco Marulic, an outstanding intellectual of the 15th century.
Fruit Square occupies a special place in the heart of Split residents. The reason for that is it was the central location for the shooting of the popular Croatian series, the saga about Split “Velo Misto”.
Riva is a popular place for walking. Tall palm trees and majestic multi-story buildings adorn the 623-meter-high promenade, while mega-yachts and tourist boats line the harbor.
This is a real pedestrian paradise, filled with cafes and restaurants, an ideal place for morning or afternoon coffee, as well as for an evening vacation with friends over a glass of your favorite drink. It is clean and tidy, there are no annoying merchants and beggars.
Riva is the main gathering place for all citizens. There are concerts and festivals, religious parades and political rallies.
Along the western part of Riva you can see white stones with shining bronze tablets. They remind of the Olympic medalists who glorified the city. These commemorative signs are displayed in chronological order, starting with the first Olympic medal.
Bacvice Beach – Split the city in Croatia
Bacvice is a large sandy beach with clean shallow water. It is located in the center of the city, not far from the harbor. More than ten thousand people can fit on this beach.
There are all the attributes of a comfortable beach holiday: umbrellas, changing rooms, food outlets, and attractions. After sunset, bars and clubs turn the main municipal beach into the center of the city’s nightlife.
In spring, during low tides, Bacvice reminds of the Split version of Copacabana. Fans of football, rugby, pitching (volleyball on the water), and other kinds of sports gather here.
Statue of Grgur Ninski
This creation by Ivan Mestrovich is located behind the Golden Gate. The sculpture depicts the national hero of Croatia. He lived in the 10th century and was a bishop who challenged the Pope himself. The priest did not serve in Latin, incomprehensible to ordinary people, but in their native language. Although this strengthened Christianity in Croatia, the impudent Grgur Ninsky lost his episcopacy.
People rub the big toe of the statue – they believe that it will bring them good luck. Years of such “close contact” have made this little piece of bronze completely glossy.
Gallery of Ivan Mestrovich
If you want to get acquainted with other works of the author of the statue of Grgur Ninsky, visit the gallery of Ivan Mestrovich. This artist is called the Croatian Michelangelo.
In the 30s of the last century, he came to Split and built a summer villa on the hill of Marjan. Later on the artist handed over his residence to the city along with 200 works – sculptures, paintings, sketches, and furniture.
In addition to internal exhibits, the artist’s museum has an extensive outdoor sculpture garden.
Split the city in Croatia: Why you should visit Split
It is recommended to visit Split – the city in Croatia – not only for its outstanding sights. There are other, no less compelling reasons:
- in Split restaurants you will be offered one of the healthiest cuisines, including high-quality sea fish, oysters, meat delicacies in combination with fresh vegetables and Mediterranean wines;
- Split is the birthplace of the most charming girls (two of whom won the Miss World contest) and the tallest men (they are the basis of the national basketball team);
- from Split’s marina, you can go on a sea voyage on any boat, whether it be a mega-yacht, a cruise liner, a motorboat or a catamaran;and
- In this city with 2,600 hours of sunshine a year, you can sunbathe even in December.
Spare two or three days to visit Split – and you will fall in love with it forever.