Split, the second-largest city in Croatia, is fast cementing its reputation as the Adriatic’s hottest beach destination. However, even now, it is the grand palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian that most travelling to Split want to tick off first. And for good reason. However, that’s not all — the UNESCO World Heritage Site has quite a few historical landmarks to offer. Here’s a look.
The Diocletian’s Palace complex
The labour of love of the ambitious Roman emperor Diocletian was built over a period of ten years in the 4th century, using white stone from Brac, marble from Greece and Italy, and sphinxes and columns from Egypt. A fascinating maze of alleyways and courtyards, the vast palace precincts are a cauldron of human activity, today, teeming with locals and tourists and its streets buzzing with music from restaurants and bars.
Close to the northern entrance, known as the Golden Gate, is Ivan Meštrovic’s dramatically done statue of Gregory Nin. Touching Nin’s big toe is said to bring good fortune. The Vestibule leads to Diocletian’s personal residence, and the bountiful sunshine streaming in from above is where there used to be a domed ceiling. An archway leads right into the peristyle, where commoners would come in hordes to worship their god-like emperor.
The Cathedral of Saint Domnius, formerly Diocletian’s mausoleum, has seldom been reconstructed except for the addition of a Romanesque bell tower that provides a view of the city and the vast, turquoise Adriatic stretching far away. Do not miss the Corinthian capitals and the original brickwork and reliefs. A granite sphinx sculpture sits at the bell tower’s foot; the rest were all vandalized by the Christians, like the one that sits guarding the Temple of Jupiter. The cellars, where Game of Thrones was shot, are also worth a visit.
Brace Radic Square
This is another excellent spot for a bit of sauntering for history buffs, located in the southwest of Diocletian’s Palace. Marvel at the 15th-century-built Marina Tower or walk towards the centre to take a closer look at the grand bronze statue of scholar Marko Marulic, again by Ivan Mestrovic. Also gracing the Brace Radic Square is one of the best Baroque structures in all of Dalmatia, the Milesi Palace, built-in the 17th century after the expulsion of the Turks.
First, hit the stately Mestrovic Gallery, the stunning mansion of Croatian sculptor extraordinaire Ivan Mestrovic. Prepared to be awed by drawings, plans and sculptures by Mestrovic, spread across two floors. The ticket also allows you to visit the Kastilac, a nearby 16th-century fortress that is home to the artist’s other notable works, including his wood relief series called The Life of Christ.
The Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments is close by, too, and houses ecclesiastical carvings, weaponry and jewellery dating to the 800-1100 AD. The Gripe Fortress has a maritime museum that deserves a visit. For suckers for art, the National Art Gallery offers a great chance to discover Croatian art from the 14th to the 20th centuries. Housed inside a splendid Gothic building inside Diocletian’s Palace is the Split City Museum.
Church of St Francis
Situated at Republic Square, the church is known for its 15th-century crucifix and unique Baroque furnishings. The structure of this church has seen constant rebuilding, except for the Romanesque-Gothic cloister.