Our time in Dubrovnik ended much too soon but we had more to see of this wonderful diverse country. We packed our newly acquired Croatian rent-a-car jamming all the luggage we had accumulated on our trip and headed for Split. The drive from Dubrovnik to Split is one of the best scenic routes of Croatia. The road hugs the mountain as you weave your way along the Adriatic coastline with glistening turquoise waters below. The coastal road is know as Magistrale and the drive takes about five hours. We opted to travel along this way for 50% of our journey and then hot foot it along the new autoput/freeway the rest of the way to Split. The whole journey took just over 3 hours.
We checked into the Hotel Luxe, a small boutique hotel overlooking the harbour of Split, a five minute walk from the perimeter of the old town. A great choice of hotel for us as a family of five as we were able to quite comfortably fit into one Superior room (Parents having privacy, as the room was divided into two separate sections). A rarity in Europe. We dropped our bags and were ready for a quick explore.
Split is the second-largest city of Croatia. It’s quite evident when you enter the Old town that it’s roots go way back to Roman times. The town is overshadowed by the glorious Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian. While it is traditionally considered just over 1,700 years old counting from the construction of Diocletian’s Palace in 305 CE, archaeological research relating to the original founding of the city as the Greek colony of Aspálathos (Aσπάλαθος) date back to the 4th century BC. This establishes the urban history of the area as being several centuries older.
Having made it half way through our 100 day trip, our energy was lagging. We could only manage to take in so much, our brains had become history frazzled (no more history the kids demanded). We managed to convince the kids to do one short walking tour to take in at least some of the history of the Emperor’s Palace. The Palace is such a dominant fixture here we had to leave with some knowledge.
Diocletian was believed to have built the palace as his retirement home. A native of Salona (an ancient town 5km from Split), he governed for 20 years and retired from public life to Split. A very popular Emperor, he rose to power not by birth, as he was the son of a family with low status, but by sheer determination. Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military and was proclaimed Emperor after the death of Emperor Carus during battle.
Diocletian’s reforms fundamentally changed the structure of Roman imperial government and helped stabilize the empire economically and militarily, enabling the empire to remain essentially intact for another hundred years despite being near the brink of collapse in Diocletian’s youth. Weakened by illness, Diocletian left the imperial office and became the first Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate the position. He lived out his retirement in the palace on tending to his vegetable gardens.
The palace in it’s original form was laid out in the same way as a Roman military camp would of been built. Marked by four square towers on each corner and a further four towers set along each of the north, east and south sides, while the side facing the sea had an impressive facade of arches. After the retired Emperor died the palace was used as an administrative centre, but the city was destroyed by conflict and after Rome fell the palace was abandoned.
The Palace remained empty for several centuries. In the 7th century, nearby residents fled to the walled palace in an effort to escape invading Slavs. Since then the palace has been occupied, with residents making their homes and businesses within the palace basement and directly in its walls. it can only be described as a fantastic architectural jumble, as current daily life continues within the Palace walls.
This is a wonderful vibrant town, after our initial tour to grasp the history of this city, we spent the next couple of days strolling through the well worn marble and cobble-stone streets. The city is a labyrinth of atmospheric alleyways with exciting little eateries, old antique shops (Thomas picked up his birthday present here, a 200 year old pocket watch) and cute little boutiques. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the sounds of the male cappella singers performing klapa — the quintessential Dalmatian folk music in the grand courtyards in the walls of the palace. These are songs of seafaring life and of loves lost and loves found. The sounds were simply magical.
We did not fully take in the many different sightseeing options in the area. We had reached our plateau of traveling. This was the mid line of our trip and we were lagging with a touch of exhaustion that comes with living out of a suitcase. Packing and unpacking every few days had, I hate to say it, taken it’s toll on the adults of this group. So while we were here, our days started late, we let the kids sleep in and we ate breakfast at midday. Our time during the day became limited as we would spend a few hours grazing through lunch, enjoying out surroundings. We discovered that by the time we got going everyone was closing down for a siesta.
We regret our initial lack of enthusiasm now in the history of this place, as there is so much we missed. But on the flip side we had amazing leisurely meals. Eating fried sardines and calamari at the market to enjoying a fabulous Croatian meal overlooking the sea at the restaurant “Dvor”.( I can still recall the delicious smokiness of the meat). Maybe our weariness forced us to regroup, it allowed us to slow down, take a breath, catch up with all the day to days chores of everyday life. We all got our haircuts ( found the best hairdresser down a little alleyway who gave me the best hair colour), caught up on a bit of reading and just enjoyed our surroundings, people watching and breathing in century old architecture which for us Australians who are only a few hundred years old is so awe-inspiring. Thank you Split for a bit of down time. We’ll be sure to see you again soon….