Monday, September 9, 2013

Split & Diocletian's Palace (Croatia)

The drive from Plitvice to Split was via rugged mountainous terrain. We had chosen to forego the highway and drove down along the eastern border of the country. The mountains basically reach all the way to the coast so likely the highway also passes through mountains, it just likely passes through more developed area as well.  We passed through a number of small, deserted towns with very plain architecture. We had two distinct impressions: The buildings were likely built under the communist reign. The territory likely experienced "action" in the more recent "conflict".  

With this move we are now officially touring what is called the Dalmatian Coast. With all the columns at the various Roman ruins, we particularly liked this post card. (From what we've read, there is no clear connection of the dog to the coast, but it's still a great card.)

We arrived in Split not quite knowing what to expect. The city started as the palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian (built at the beginning of 4C). Our room was in the old Palace somewhere, as is about 1/3 of the full UNESCO Heritage site (which also includes the "Old Town" that grew up around the Palace as well as other area within the Walls later built to protect the city).  Looking at a map, we could not decide if one could drive in the Palace area or not.  The answer is "not". Garmin knew that. But Garmin led us on a very convoluted walk through little alleyways, up and down MANY steps, from the pay parking through the old Palace.  Note: From a map of the city, you can't really distinguish an alley, from a hallway from a street.

Fortunately we had left the luggage in the car.  Upon arrival, our innkeeper provided a much simpler route to the inn, one with only 3 small steps…perfect for wheeling luggage.

Diocletian's Palace in its heyday
A bit of Diocletian's Palace (bottom left) & the surrounding "Old Town" Today
A view of current buildings on top of the Palace Foundation...
The typical truck for "Old Cities".
That's the driver standing on front.

As with so many Roman places, the palace was rediscovered in the middle ages and the materials were used to build a "new" city on top of and within the ruins.  Over time, those who could afford to do so moved to the west of the "Old Town" where the breezes and views make a lovely place to live. And the palace was populated by the poor. Now, in the summer, the Palace is populated by: lodging, shops (souvenirs, clothing & shoes), pizza places, coffee & gelato bars, some nice restaurants (with tables squeezed into any available space inside or out), the fish market, and even fine remnants of the old palace. The most impressive being the bell-tower.

The bell-tower is quite beautiful from inside and out. There are many "cutouts", giving it an almost lacy feeling. It also means that you feel more exposed and at "risk" if you have a fear of heights. It was amazing to see so many people, bordering on sheer terror that continued to climb to the top for the view. Bill was one of the ones dealing with the terror. His draft content for this posting included the phrase: "with metal stairs clinging to the walls". Actually the stairs were pretty well anchored to the walls. A lot of climbers were "clinging" to the walls. And yes, it was worth the top, great views over Split.

Looking up the stairway in the Belltower. If you look closely you can see
6 levels of stairs. Notice how open it is. For contrast, Pat recalls feeling
very claustrophobic climbing Giotto's Tower in Florence.
In the winter, we were told, the Palace is basically deserted. The same stone walls that make it cool and comfortable in the summer, make it cold and maybe even dreary in the winter. But it's a delightful place to wander on a summer day…if you don't mind the touristic developments. We don't as long as they are suitably camouflaged to fit with the backdrop.  We enjoy having the dining & shopping options available when needed and can ignore them otherwise.

Our room was near the Peristyle (the central courtyard of the Palace) and right next to the "Temple of Jupiter".  All of which means we were directly on the tour route which includes an alleyway only wide enough for one person at a time…leaving a bottleneck in front of our inn.  The Innkeeper takes advantage of this by having a shop at the ground level. Smart. (Fortunately the windows were great. Open you heard everything. Closed, almost nothing.)

Two wine bars provided four of our meals here.  We can't eat full meals constantly, at least not without buying new, larger clothes. ;-)   We enjoyed both the Zinfandel Wine Bar & the Wine & Cheese Bar where we tasted a variety of Croatian wines along with local snacks.

Bill perusing the dessert wine options
Interesting but so little Croatian wine is exported,
it's only relevant for travelers. It does show the outline of the country though.

We ventured out of Split one day and visited the remains of Klis Fortress, a renovation in progress, located high on a hill with views over the surrounding countryside. The initial mountaintop Klis Fortress was constructed by Illyrians several hundred years BC and conquered by the Romans in 9 AD.  The castle evolved over the centuries, withstood the 12C siege by the Mongols but fell to the Ottoman forces in 16C. A century later it was seized by the Venetians. Despite all this, it is in pretty good shape for a "ruin".  Of course it's tourism draw has been recognized, hence renovations are in progress.

Tower at Klis
The nearby Roman Ruins of Salona are indeed ruins, the best being the amphitheater which is truly only a shadow of it's former glory. Still, the tourism draw of the ruins has helped present day Solin expand it's economy beyond oil and cement.

The Amphitheater - not very impressive...

This gets points for recycling.  The picnic table top is from an old sarcophagus
and the seats are bases of columns
We later stopped in Trogir for lunch and a look around. Trogir is basically a small island, connected to the mainland by a short bridge. Fortunately you can easily park nearby and walk to the island, thereby avoiding the traffic bottleneck at the bridge. The island has (drumroll…) many shops and restaurants to pass the time.

Trogir Castle


Our last day in Split was spent climbing the hill at the end of the peninsula, after climbing around 178 steps they finally advise you that there are 318 yet to go, all of which is made longer with some pathways between. However there was a little shade and the views over the water and back to the mountains were worth the effort. Besides, as you might guess, we also needed the exercise.

The beaches in Split, as in much of the surrounding area in Italy & Croatia, are concrete decks, stones, or VERY coarse "sand" where the beachers lounge, play games, and enjoy the water.  The water is indeed beautiful and appealing but we've grown use to avoiding the sun so we relax and watch others treating their skin the way we use to treat ours. Pat is at least envious of them.  Bill was never much for swimming.

We left Split for Hvar Island (pronounce this without the "h"; 
it's not quite accurate but you'll be close) on one of the many Jadrolinija ferries and took our final photos of the city and its mountainous backdrop.

View of Split from the Ferry to Hvar

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