Split, Croatia, 16 June
My apologies for the title of this post. I couldn’t help myself!
We sailed overnight from Zadar to Split. I woke up early, and enjoyed a view of the coastline while watching the sunrise. We docked early, and had a great view of the pretty foreshore area of Split, Croatia’s second largest city (pop 200,000). Split is a modern city but our interest lay in the old city, which is quite unique. Split was the site of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian, who has the distinction of being the only Roman emperor to abdicate from office. He built himself a magnificent palace in Split, (which was part of the Roman empire at that time – 305 A.D. – and close to his birthplace) as his retirement home. He lived there for 11 years until his death. The palace was a large complex of buildings including Diocletian’s residence, a temple, barracks for soldiers and slaves, public rooms, even Diocletian’s own mausoleum which he built himself. It is the only structure from ancient Rome that remains inhabited today – some 2,000 people live or work inside the palace walls. After Diocletian’s death the palace was abandoned for a few hundred years, but in the 7th century the Slavic invaders moved in and built a medieval city from the ruins, and today it is a bustling centre of shops, cafes, houses, hotels, apartments, churches and museums. We had a walking tour throughout the palace, and it was quite fascinating to see.
Diocletian was notorious as a persecutor of Christians, and devised creative and bizarre means of torturing anyone who believed in the new religion. He even had his own wife and daughter beheaded because he suspected them. Diocletian’s successor, by the way, was Constantine, making Diocletian the last pagan emperor of Rome. The mausoleum he built himself was converted into a cathedral after the fall of Rome, and the body of “Saint Dominus” is interred there, as is “Saint Anastasius”, whose sarcophagus shows him lying on the millstone which was tied around his neck – you guessed it – Diocletian had him drowned. Diocletian’s remains, it is believed, were thrown to the fishes. Poetic justice? The temple to Jupiter (Diocletian proclaimed himself the son of Jupiter, and ordered that everyone should worship him as a god) is now the baptistry for the cathedral.
In the afternoon we ventured a little further afield, taking a bus to the nearby island of Trogir. We had a particularly good guide, who had a great sense of humour and filled us in on the medieval churches and other buildings of this old city. He told us to call him Harry, because his name was quite unpronounceable (by non-Croatians), and is able to trace his ancestry back to the 15th century in Trogir. We had a tour, and then about an hour to stroll on our own, which was very pleasant. The most interesting place we visited was the Cathedral of St Lawrence (built between the 13th & 17th centuries). The portal to the cathedral was covered in fantastic carvings with all sorts of symbolism, from ottoman Turks cowing under the weight of the building, to humbled lions (the symbol of Venice) to camel and elephants and even mermaids. As well as tiny cobbled streets and old churches with fascinating stone decoration, Trogir is a popular place for the very rich to park their yachts – we saw a number of seriously shiny, large and clearly very expensive boats.
This evening we received a note saying we had been in the wrong tour group all this time. We are grouped by colours, and there’s a sticker on our security card. Our group is red, but the sticker sure looks orange to me!! As we are in ‘Balcony’ class, the red group’s privilege is that they are always the first group to disembark, and therefore less likely to encounter other groups on the tours. I have to admit I have found some of the tours a little frustrating, just because of the number of people, making it hard to take photos or easily see sometimes. It remains to be seen whether being red makes a difference!