What are the most important places to visit in Split?
Split is a truly amazing Mediterranean city located on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. It is the largest city in Dalmatia and the second-largest city in Croatia. Its centre is the old Roman palace of Emperor Diocletian, built in the 3rd century. The Palace is a monument of zero category and has been under UNESCO protection since 1979. This is our guide to the most important places to visit in Split.
Apart from its long and rich past, Split is proud of its world-renowned artists, and numerous successes of its athletes. However, Split is also a world-famous tourist destination. For all these reasons, many visitors from all over the world come to the city every year. It is also clear to me why this is so since I can find here all the splendour and beauty of the Mediterranean way of life. It can be felt here every step of the way.
How did Split get its name?
There are two theories about how Split got its name. The first, the so-called flower theory, says that even the ancient Greeks, when for the first time sailed into this gentle cove, saw endless fields full of tiny yellow flowers of the indigenous Mediterranean broom plant. The ancient Greek name of this plant is Aspalathos by which they named the whole settlement.
Another theory is that Split is named after a Roman palace. Specifically, on the old map of Roman lands (Tabula Peutingeriani), the location of Spalato is visible. Over the centuries the name was gradually changed to Spalatium then Spalatum, and eventually gets its present name Split.
When it was founded?
The origin of Split date back to 400 BC. Then it was a small Illyrian settlement of fishermen and seamen and Greek colonialists. They lived in stone houses at the foot of the hill Marjan. When the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian was built in the 4th century, together with it the water supply and sewerage system were built too. In the centuries that followed the city of Split was developed around the palace.
Diocletian’s Palace is the largest and best-preserved late antique palace in the world. It was built by Roman Emperor Diocletian in the late 3rd century AD as his palace and mansion when he retired from imperial duties.
Diocletian has been noted in history as the great reformer of the Roman Empire. He introduced a system of simultaneous rule by four rulers known as a tetrarchy.
Outstanding geographical accommodation, strategically safe position and favourable climate were the main reasons why Emperor Diocletian raised his magnificent palace right there.
A beautiful square in the centre of Diocletian’s Palace, where the Roman Emperor Diocletian used to receive numerous high-level envoys from all over the world. The ancient Egyptian granite columns along with the 3600 years old Egyptian sphinx are well preserved today. Definitely, one of the places to visit in Split.
In the centuries that followed, palaces of the noble families of Split were erected there. It brings to this ancient square all the beauty of the architecture of the Gothic and Renaissance. Peristyle is certainly the most important square in the palace and a favourite place to start visiting the palace and city.
On the Peristyle, some of the scenes for the Game of Thrones series were filmed. Therefore, Split is popular among fans of the series and they are frequently visiting the city.
Also, numerous cultural events are held here throughout the year. For example, concerts of jazz, blues and rock music are held here every night in the summer.
Every year from May 17 to September 27, the days of Diocletian are held here. The actors costumed as Emperor Diocletian, his wife and the Imperial Guard soldiers hold a staging of a guard shift, the establishment of a Roman legion. Finally, Emperor Diocletian address to the regiment. This event is a real attraction and if you are in Split during that time, do not miss it.
Split Cathedral with the bell tower of St. Duje
Split Cathedral is the only cathedral in the world, located in 17 centuries-old Roman imperial mausoleum. It was named after St. Domnius, patron of Split, who was born in Syria. He came as a missionary to Salon, which was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. Here he has later ordained the first Bishop of Salona. At the behest of the Roman emperor Diocletian, the governor of the province of Dalmatia, Marko Aurelius of Junius, tortured and executed St. Domnius along with 45 other martyrs in 304 AD, in the Salona amphitheatre. The remains of St. Domnius are still in the cathedral of Split today.
In addition to the cathedral, in 1100, construction started of the impressive bell tower. It is one of the most original church bell towers on the Adriatic coast. Due to its extremely long construction period, it is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
The bell tower is remarkable for its slenderness and transparency, for its steps narrowing towards the top and for its incorporation into the ancient architectural environment. The bell tower of St. Duje has remained a recognizable symbol of the city of Split since its construction.
From the top of it, there is a magnificent view of the city centre, nearby Marjan Hill and the islands around Split.
Cellars of the Palace
Diocletian’s cellars or substructures were built because of the irregular configuration of the soil where the palace was built. With the later development and expansion of Split, the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace were gradually buried.
In the second part of the 20th century, archaeological research has been systematically conducted around cellars. Archaeologists revealed the basic remains of the walls of the Early Roman period and the remains of the cult site. Among others, nymphaeum and a marble table (Mensa) from the Diocletian’s dining room.
The western basement halls were opened to the public in 1959. Those in the eastern part received their first visitors in 1996. A smaller part of the eastern part of the basement has not yet been explored as it is located below the erected buildings and continued excavation could lead to their collapse. Today, the basements are filming series and films, and certainly the most famous is Game of Thrones. Cellars served as a place where dragons were kept, and for filming scenes of the famous slave revolt.
It is worth noting that the Game of Thrones Museum has been opened in the heart of downtown. There, you can see many of the props used to record the series and buy original souvenirs.
In addition, numerous cultural events and gastronomic fairs and flower exhibitions are held here.
The doors of the palace
Diocletian’s palace has preserved until today three land entrances called Golden, Silver and Iron doors. The South, Brass or Sea Doors are simple and smaller in size but also well preserved.
The northern entrance, or Golden Gate, was the main access from Salona. This door was once extremely decorated, and there were statues of tetrarchs: Diocletian, Maximian, Gallery and Constantius Chlorus.
The door was defended by two octagonal towers, which were destroyed by the Venetian Providence Alvise Zorzi around 1630. The stone material from the demolished towers was transported by ships to Venice. That stone was used as the main building material for the Church of St. Santa Madonna Della Salute.
The silver door was more modestly decorated than the Golden Gate. From the Middle Ages until 1952 it was closed since the Church of the Holy Spirit was built there. After the demolition of the Baroque Church of the Holy Spirit, the Silver Gate was thoroughly reconstructed.
Passing through that door, passers-by still can walk on the original ancient sidewalk on the decumanus. The same sidewalk used Diocletian’s subjects. In 2000, Pope John Paul II passed through the Silver Gate, during his visit to Split.
An iron door was used to enter Diocletian’s sulphur spas and to execute punished legionnaires for flogging or stoning. These are the only four doors in operation from the moment of construction to the present day. They are the best-preserved doors of the Imperial complex.
The brass or sea gates led from the seaside, through the basements to the imperial palace. They were used for direct access to the sea and escape in the event of an attack on the Palace. Today visitors are passing them when walking from the waterfront through the cellars and come to Peristyle.
Statue of Gregory of Ninski
In the immediate vicinity of the Golden Gate is a statue of Gregory of Nin. He was the bishop who stood in Nin around 900-929 AD. In history, he remained known as a proponent of the Old Slavonic language and national Glagolitic alphabet in the liturgy. At the time, it was an extremely revolutionary stance, since the liturgy was in Latin.
At a church assembly held in Split in 925, he fought with Croatian King Tomislav for worship in Old Slavic language. The conclusions of the council were to be confirmed by the Pope John X., but this did not happen. The Pope and the bishops of Dalmatia imposed their conclusions. Thus, Grgur Ninski remained without a diocese and a metropolis. The ecclesiastical authority over the whole of Croatia and Dalmatia was handed over to the Archbishop of Split. Consequently, it was forbidden to ordain priests who served masses in Old Croatian, and the liturgical language officially became Latin.
The bronze statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin was made by Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. Gregory of Nin monumental sculpture was erected in front of Split Cathedral on Peristyle in 1929. During World War II it was abolished but was re-erected after the war in front of the Golden Gate where it is today. Sculptor Ivan Mestrovic made a total of three bronze statues of Gregory of Nin. Apart from Split, statues of Gregory of Nin can be seen in the towns of Varazdin and Nin. Gregory’s toe supposedly brings good luck to anyone who touches it, so this is a favourite spot for all visitors to the city.
In proximity is the flea market, where you can find valuable items and antiques for extremely reasonable prices. Therefore, I recommend that you take a look at it.
Pazar (Green Market)
Split green market, or belly of the city, is located along the eastern wall of the palace. It is just a step away from the city centre. The avenues of the ancient plane trees create natural shade. It enables a pleasant visit and purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables and various specialities of naturally dried meat even during the summer heat. When you come to Pazar you will feel the scent of freshly harvested fruits, vegetables and herbs. Merchants shouting product prices to attract customers and bargaining customers is an important feature of the Split market. All that colour and scent will create an image of the Mediterranean that still retains its original beauty here.
From the Split fish market, it is possible to buy all kinds of fresh fish, crabs and shellfish from early morning. There you can feel the temperament of local people who loudly comment a fish offer and bargain with the traders. Several seagulls are regular guests at the fish market and traders often feed them as if they were pets. Prices are highest when the fish market opens at 7 am, and as the 12 hours approach, prices drop, because traders want to sell the remaining quantities of fish, crabs and shellfish before the fish market closes. So, if you want a good price, and you are ready to accept a narrow offer, late morning is great.
A special feature of the Split fish market is that there are no flies there. The fish market is erected at a place below which there are sources of sulphur water, the smell of which drives flies and other parasites away.
Only a step away from the city centre there are beautiful sandy beaches, Bačvice, Ovčice and Firule. They’re an ideal place for summer refreshments in the crystal clear sea. Whether you decide to visit Split on your own or with your family those beaches will fulfil your needs. There are numerous catering establishments around, so you can have a carefree all-day stay by the sea.
Jezinac, Kasuni and Bene beaches are pebbly beaches located on the Marjan peninsula. They are a little further from the city centre. It is advisable to use public urban transport or rent a bicycle to reach them within a reasonable time.
Jezinac and Kasuni beaches are located on the south side of the Marjan Peninsula and face south. They allow their visitors to enjoy the sunshine until the evening hours. However, the lack of natural shade is not acceptable for some visitors, so they choose the Bene Beach which is located in a thick pine forest on the north side of Marjan. It is an ideal place to enjoy the sea without all-day sun exposure.
The beaches of Trstenik and Znjan are significantly further away from the city centre. To reach them it is necessary or highly recommended to use public transport or rent a bike. These are also pebbly beaches with clear sea without natural shade. However, due to the lack of showers and the accompanying catering facilities, these beaches do not arouse more interest among visitors to the city.
Marjan is a hill that is connected by stone steps to the Split waterfront. The first station of the ascent is a lookout from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city of Split. When we go from the fork to the highest in a 20-minute walk through the pine forest, we come to the top of Telegrin, which is 178 meters above sea level. In clear weather, from this vantage point, it is possible to see all the Middle Dalmatian islands and even parts of the Italian coast on the other side of the Adriatic.
At the Marjan Forest Park, you can recreate whether you are walking, jogging, cycling, climbing vertical cliffs or otherwise. Pine forest in addition to its healing effects is a true refreshment in the summer when air temperatures are high.
Ivan Mestrovic was the world-famous sculptor, sometimes called Croatian Michelangelo. Among the Mestrovic’s prominent works were statues of Pope Pius XII, USA President Herbert Hoover, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Czechoslovakian President Tomas Masaryk, Nikola Tesla and many others.
At the end of the 20s of the last century, he bought land in Meje, the western part of Split, with the intention to build his future residence.
According to Meštrović’s instructions, the horticulture of the park is regulated, and the Mediterranean plants are planted. The villa on Meje has been a favourite residence of Mestrovic and his family since the summer of 1932. In the mid-1930s, Hitler invited him to hold an exhibition in Berlin, but Mestrovic refused. During World War II, Ivan Mestrovic was arrested and imprisoned, the family left Split and went abroad. Family friends took care of the house.
His works have been exhibited at the Vatican, the National Cathedral in Washington, the United Nations building in New York, the Smithsonian, Florence (Uffizi), London (Tate Gallery), Mayo Clinic. Numerous other works in bronze, stone and wood are in museums, galleries and private collections around the world: Croatia, Italy, USA, France, Hungary, Russia, Germany, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Chile, etc.
In Croatia, four museums (Kaštelet-Crikvine and the Meštrović Gallery in Split, the family mausoleum in Otavice and the Atelier Meštrović in Zagreb) are dedicated to him, with a memorial gallery in Vrpolje. There are two in the US, at the University of Notre Dame and at the Baton Rogue Science and Arts Center, Louisiana.
The gallery contains artist’s masterpieces made in marble (Psychia and Contemplation), bronze (Distant chords, Cyclops, Persephone, Our Lady with a child, Job), wood (Sorrowful angels and Merry angels) and plaster (Roman Pietà). All the exhibits cover all periods of the artist’s rich opus until 1946.
Six kilometres north of Split are the remains of the ancient city of Salona, the metropolis of the Roman province Dalmatia. Salona was originally a coastal stronghold and port of the Illyrian tribe Delmata. Salona was in the immediate vicinity of Tragurion and Epetion, colonies from 3rd century BC founded by antique Greeks. The rapid development of the city occurred during the time of Augustus when it becomes the capital of Dalmatia Province. At the end of the 1st century, a theatre with 3500 seats was erected near the forum. The depiction of the Salona with the theatre can be seen on Trajan’s Pillar in Rome. The most monumental Salonite building is an amphitheatre in which arenas bloody fights gladiators and beasts took place. It was a huge building which could accommodate nearly 19,000 spectators.
Numerous spas have been discovered in Salona and the best preserved are the Great City. A significant period in the development of the city was the reign of Emperor Diocletian. He has built a magnificent palace not far from Salona. During his reign, many monumental buildings were built as well, such as a forum, temples. Even old spas were reconstructed, and an amphitheatre was added.
At that time, Salona and its surrounding area had about 60,000 inhabitants. In addition to the official Roman religion, various Oriental beliefs existed in Salona, such as the cults of Isis and Kibale. Worship of the Asian deity Mithra was especially widespread, whose shrines were found in several places within the city.
Prokurative is known as Split Square in the centre of town, west of the Palace. It was built on the model of old Venetian Procuratie. Today they are known as the stage of all major public and cultural events in the city. For over half a century, the traditional Split Festival and the Summer events have been held there.
One of the most significant city mayors, Dr Bajamonti, wanted to create from Split, as he used to say “città del avvenire” (City of the Future). He put a lot of effort into his vision to create a small, prosperous European city from a neglected provincial town. Guided by the motto “Volrere è potere” (Power of Want) as soon as he took office as mayor, he set about realizing his plans and founded the association “Associazione dalmatica” (Dalmatian association).
The theatre building that was built on the Marmont Field formed the backbone of the future Prokurative assembly. “Teatro Bajamonti” was inaugurated on December 27, 1859. It had 1300 seats and was built entirely with Dr Bajamonti’s money. The Theatre burned in a fire in 1881 and wasn’t restored after.