Split is the most beautiful city on the Dalmatian Coast and the second largest city in Croatia. Split is quite large, but the historical part of the city which is actually the one of interest, is very compact and easy to explore.
Discovering Split was quite a revelation. It’s a remarkable city with a vibrant life, a rich history and a very welcoming atmosphere. A typical Mediterranean town with an idyllic seaside promenade, swaying palm trees and a colorful harbor.
Aside from the unsophisticated urban neighborhoods built during communism, Split managed to preserve its historical aspect quite well. But what fascinated me about this city wasn’t just its rich history or beautiful location, near the deep blue waters of the Adriatic.
Split was built on the remains of a 4th-century fortress (Emperor Diocletian’s Palace) whose massive walls surround a mesh of Roman ruins, hotels, apartments, shops, cafés and restaurants, and even an ancient cathedral. Observing the dynamic life that has been happening within these ancient walls for almost 1700 years is simply amazing!
Riva, Split’s Waterfront Promenade
No one visiting Split can avoid seeing the Riva. There is an energetic and spirited pulse on Split’s waterfront. There is always action on the Riva: boats fill its lovely harbor, tourists crowd its shaded cafés, stalls with local crafts and souvenirs line up its shores. Riva is a popular gathering spot both during the day and after dark. It’s the place for meeting, walking, hosting public events and enjoying the sea. It’s no doubt the most popular and most important public place in Split.
The Old Town’s most important landmark is Diocletian’s Palace and the Peristyle (the central square of the palace). What becomes immediately clear is that Diocletian’s Palace is not a museum, but rather a walled village populated with hotels, shops, cafés and restaurants.
Discovering Split’s Historic Center
For the most part, Split’s attractions are concentrated in the historic center, so every visit usually starts here. Once you pass the palace walls, you find yourself in a maze of narrow streets paved with wide marble slabs. Wandering through the colorful alleys lined up with boutiques and restaurants I couldn’t help thinking that these were literally the Diocletian’s corridors at one point in time. The narrow streets are intersected by many attractive squares, like Narodni Trg (People’s Square), Prokurative (Republic Square), or Voćni Trg (Fruit Square)
Aside from Diocletian’s Palace and some other landmarks that you can’t miss when visiting the Old Town area (like Diocletian’s Mausoleum which is today Saint Domnius Cathedral, the Bell Tower, the Temple of Jupiter) it’s amazing to discover that many of the ordinary buildings within these walls are actually as old and beautiful as the palace itself.
Discovering Split’s History in its Walls
Few things are as excting as stumbling upon a sight that very few people seem to know about. Unknowingly and through a fortunate accident, we happened to reserve a room at Split’s oldest hotel – Hotel Slavija. The hotel is located in the southern area of Diocletian’s Palace, above the part where the spas were. You can still see parts of the ancient walls in several places today. In more recent history, the building of the hotel can be traced back to the 16th century, when a Renaissance-Baroque palace complex was erected above the 4th century spas of Diocletian.
A history buff and an excellent local guide, our hotel manager Mirjana gave us a lot of useful information about some of Split’s less known attractions. This is how we ended up visiting the Fortress of Klis, Marjan Hill and its surrounding area.
The Marjan Hill
Until you climb up Marjan Hill you don’t realize how big Split really is. The people of Split are very proud of their forest-park and for a good reason. They nicknamed it the “lungs of Split” because of its pine-forest fresh air. This verdant peninsula covered in dense vegetation, offers some of the most spectacular views of the harbor and the old town. There are lots of hiking trails, and some very nice restaurants. During the hot summer months, this is a great escape from the city’s bustling life.
How to Get to Marjan Hill
The fastest route to Marjan Hill is a 1.5 hours hike from the Riva waterfront via a stepped stairway. However, climbing up some 300+ steps is very tiring. We took the advice of our hotel manager and hired a local guide from who drove us to the very top of the hill in his golf cart.
From there we walked down a scenic path to the lookout point at Telegrin, stopping on the way to visit the Hermitage Caves above St.Jerome Church and St. Nicholas Church.
There is also a bus that takes you half way to the top of Marjan Hill. However, you’ll have to walk the rest of the way if you want to see the Hermitage Caves. The advantage of hiring a local guide is that they get access to a private road on which they can drive you all the way to the top. That will you some blisters and a lot of sweat. It pays off to know a local!
The Jewish Cemetery
Also on the slopes of the Marjan Hill, you’ll find the oldest Jewish Cemetery in Split. The cemetery is next to popular Café Vidilica, a former funeral home that still has inscribed above the door a Jewish prayer. The cemetery is usually open but if locked ask at Vidilica for the key.
The Jewish Cemetery was established in 1573 and has about 700 graves. Some of the graves go as far back as to the 16th century. The rest of the graves are from the 18th to the 20th century. The last burial took place in 1945 when when the cemetery was closed and declared a monument.
Split is one of Croatia’s most thought after destinations and a great place for family vacations. It’s also a great base for many beautiful day trips from Split. There is a wide range of accommodations in Split to fit every budget and traveling style. You should be planning to spend at least 2-3 days in this picturesque sea-side town.