Split – a Dalmatian Day

Oct 26,2013

Another day another palace. Spent the day wandering around the retirement home of the Roman Emperor Diocletian which forms the core of the Croatian city of Split. Diocletian spent his sunset years in this place at the end of the 3rd Century. It took only twelve years to build this 600 x 600 foot beach front villa. Of course he had a little help to build this pile of stone. The bay where the palace is located is near his inland birthplace. His family and a thousand servants and a garrison managed to keep the riffraff at a distance. Not so for long.

Actually Diocletian had it all wrong but I need to wait until my last comments to prove this.

Diocletian is primarily known for his persecution of Christians as the last Emperor before they became the established religion of the Roman Empire. There was cause for celebration among Christians when he was placed in his palace mausoleum in 305. After a short civil war, his successor Constantine credited the Christian God with his victory over rivals and surrendered to the will of his Christian wife, Helen. Constantine is the guy who splits the Empire in two and moves to Byzantium and renames it after himself as Constantinople. We will be there in a few days.

Meanwhile in Split, the sun is shining and I got a bit of a sunburn. The ship docked offshore a bit and we rode the lifeboats (known as tendering in cruise parlance) to the back door of the palace. There is a model of the complex near the gate to help with your orientation. The palace is now a jumble with almost two millennia of additions by non-Imperial residents. The place used to be by itself on the shore. During the Slavic barbarian invasions the 60,000 residents of Diocletian’s inland home town sought shelter in the palace complex. They never left.

Diocletian’s mausoleum was repurposed into a Christian cathedral and claims to be the oldest cathedral building in Christendom. It is a bit funky for a cathedral and no one can say where Diocletian’s remains are placed or scattered. He was unlikely to win any popularity contests by the Christian residents. His tomb provided many building materials for the pulpit and other necessary items. The crypt contained a wishing well with plenty of coins. None of the kids there were reaching for the coinage. Must have heard the stories about what happens. Also visited the Baptistry with a cool cross shaped tank under the watchful eye of John the Baptist. There was an interesting 5th Century bas relief on the front. True Dark Ages style and easily dates the font. The bell tower with 250+ steps was bypassed today. Not sure why. Peggy must have heard that they used no mortar and took pity on me.

Split is the second largest city in today’s Croatia. Not sure how many reside in the old palace complex. It was divided up and built up without any planning commission. The buildings are best described as jumbled with little rhyme or reason except around the mausoleum-cathedral and the peristyle entrance. It was not until the basement was excavated in the last century that the actual palace floor plan was understood by archeologists. During most of its history, the basement was used as a dump for all sorts of human refuse. Kind of like having a combo dung heap and compost pile downstairs.

Today the basement is the best place to see the actual palace floor plan as the walls there provided the foundation for the main floors. Thankfully, the compost became somewhat petrified and has mostly been removed by archeologists. The caverns provide display place for all sorts of exhibitions. You can see the holes used by earlier residents for disposal in the ceiling. Smells a bit musty but not too bad. The tour groups seem to make quite a few shortcuts. We did find the Roman plumbing that was poorly maintained by earlier residents.

Wandered through the old city gate less gates. Exiting the Silver Gate placed us in an extensive market with many strange produce items and some that were quite beautiful. There were the usual discount clothiers and strange black market cigarette vendors with their goods in dark satchels. Did not see many stinky fish vendors. We returned to the center and exited the Gold Gate and the Mestrovic statue of Bishop Nim who wanted to use Croatian in the 10th century mass. The Vatican turned him down just like what would happen for the next five hundred years.

A few steps out the Iron Gate placed us in the large public square with its clock tower. A few more yards got us to modern Split on the Riva or harbor walk. Today was Saturday and there were sign ups for all the youth activities like soccer, rugby, rock climbing, folk dancing, etc. Loved the Uncle Sam wants you for Croatian folk dancing poster. We watched the local Croatia Has Talent Show on an outdoor stage with plenty of cute kids. The Riva was packed with locals. Tourists were outnumbered by a bunch. Very nice for a change.

We returned to the ship for lunch and went back for more. Found a couple of useful souvenirs and received a lesson in Croatian wines. The wine merchants to not provide tastings so it is a bit tough to know what you are getting. I plan to find out soon what Zlatan Babic tastes like. We were briefly entertained by a group of guys singing a Capella in the vestibule dome of the palace. The place had an oculus like the Roman Pantheon.

The day was pleasant as we could easily walk to the sights. The palace was naturally touristy but the city itself was a real place for real people. Returned to the ship. Took a brief nap and went up on deck to watch us sail out of the harbor. That is when I discovered that Diocletian was a screw up.

As we sailed out of the tranquil bay, we sailed by a number of villages and remote places within an easy driving distance of Split. We enjoyed the Zlatan whatever that had a nice cherry aftertaste and reminded me of a Syrah-Grenache blend. As we passed a seaside home that sat by itself next to a bay that was probably over run with mussels and lobsters, I realized that Diocletian had it all wrong. He should have retired and lived like Zorba the Greek with few decisions and not too many neighbors.

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2 thoughts on “Split – a Dalmatian Day

  1. Fantastic pictures….you guys must be so excited….all new territory you are exploring. Just maybe you’ll go back to Split, hire a car and find some wonderful little village by the sea to spend some time at.

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