First impressions of Split weren’t great. It was raining, gloomy and the location of the bus station was in an ugly part of town. There were few backpackers about – luckily I had my pal Rob (who I met in Dubrovnik) for company – we were the only two staying in the hostel.
After hastily dumping our bags, we headed out to explore. The main hub of ‘historic Split’ is basically within the walls of a Roman ruin – ‘Diocletian’s Palace’. Diocletian had the palace built in preparation for his retirement in 305 AD, where he lived until his death in 311 AD. The Mausoleum of Diocletian lies in what is now the Cathedral of St Dominus, next to the main square in the Palace – a bell tower that was constructed in 1100 AD stands adjacent to the Cathedral and dominates the Split skyline. The views from this are quite fantastic – overlooking the rest of the Palace, the mountains and the Dalmatian Coastline. Despite the grey skies, it was still worth the hike up.
At the top of the tower we met a Serbian who told us how he was afraid to talk in public because he knew he would be the centre of ridicule – his accent easily recognisable as Serbian by the Croats. He mentioned his sadness at the Yugoslavian divide, as he used to be able to come freely to Split, where he holidayed for many years. But now whenever he comes has has to remain silent. He still lives and works in Sarajevo, which he said used to be a beautiful city – he now it’s a shadow of its former self. (I wanted to visit, but sadly couldn’t – maybe another time). I really felt for him, he seemed so forlorn at the whole situation, but also happy to be able to talk to people in peace – where no one else was listening.
Split is quite a strange place. Homes, restaurants and shops have been built into the Palace walls, the streets are tiny and you can easily find yourself getting lost. People have taken parts of statues and columns from the Palace and made them into all kinds of things in their gardens. Our guide the next day agreed that this kind of architectural gem is not being looked after the way it should be – the people living in Split have defaced so much of it so it’s rapidly degrading. It needs to start being cared for properly if it wants to survive another 1,000 years.
The next day was hugely contrasting. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and it was actually rather hot! We enjoyed a penny tour of the Palace – which was intriguing – and sat for a relaxing coffee overlooking the harbour before catching the ferry to Hvar. Bliss.