Split is the second largest city in Croatia and a largest city in the Dalmatia region. City was originally built around the Diocletian’s Palace (a fortress-like palace built for the retired Roman emperor Diocletian), where the locals sought refuge many centuries ago. However, despite initial appearance, the city is not a small tourist town. It extends over a large area, well beyond the ancient city center. Modern Split is a city with 180 000 inhabitants. It represents economic hub of the Eastern Adriatic shoreline (an unofficial “capital” of Dalmatia).
While wandering through the historic centre of Split, you will notice the Roman walls, squares and temples. Because of its ideal climate, with 2,800 hours of sunlight per year, locals have other names for Split: ”The most beautiful city in the world” and “Mediterranean flower”. A lot of famous Croatian sportsmen were born in Split. In their honor, locals called their city “The sportiest city in the world”. The most popular sport institution is the football club “Hajduk”. All over the city, you will notice Hajduk’s colors and logo. It is a work of Torcida, the oldest fan group in Europe, established in 1950. Beside the bell tower of St. Domnius, important city symbols are the Dalmatian dog and a donkey. Locals have a great respect for donkey for its indispensable place in hard labor and transport in Dalmatian mountains in the past.
In general, winter in Split is mild, with average temperature above 0°C. Despite the popular story that city has snowfall once in every 30 years, there is actually at least one snowy day during every winter (usually in January or at the beginning of the February). If you happen to be in Split on a day with significant snowfall, expect serious traffic difficulties.
Almost everything worth seeing is concentrated in the old town behind the seafront Riva, built around various remains and conversions of Diocletian’s Palace itself, as well as its medieval additional buildings, situated on the Western side of the palace. You can take a walk through this area in approximately ten minutes, although it would take you a lifetime to explore all its nooks and crannies. On both sides, the old town fades into low-rise suburbs of stone houses, jammed around narrow alleys – Veli Varos, on the Western side of the old town, and Manus, on the Eastern. They are very well preserved, and although there are not highlights, they’re worth a brief walk.
On the Western side of the city centre, the wooded Marjan peninsula offers fine views over the coast and islands from its heights. The best beaches are on the Northern side of the Marjan, or Eastern side of ferry dock at the Bacvice.
Officially, Split is 1700 years old city, but newest archaeological researches reveal that origins of this city are several centuries older. In its place, in IV c. B.C. there was a Greek colony called Aspálathos or Spálathos. Roman Empire reached Adriatic coast for the first time in 229 y. B.C. and, in next decades, Romans conquered all Greek colonies and Illyrian kingdom. This area became part of the Roman Empire. The Split time line formed between 295. and 305. A.C, when famous Roman Diocletian began the construction of his residential palace for his retirement. The Roman Emperor Diocletian (who ruled from 284. to 305 C.E.) reformed the government in the late Roman Empire and established the Tetrarchy. This new system presupposed that Diocletian would retire in favor of Galerius at some point. Therefore, in 293. C.E, he began the construction of an opulent and heavily fortified palace on the site of Spálathos (or Spalatum in Latin), near his home town Salona. The palace was directly fronting the sea, so that its occupants could escape in a case of urgency (in an era plagued by civil wars). The site was most likely chosen because of its proximity to Salona, but also for a secure port and a more immediate access to the open sea, in the case of an attack.
After his illness in 303 C.E, Diocletian announced that he would retire as soon as his Palace, scheduled for completion in 305 C.E, was ready. The Palace was built as a massive structure, much like a Roman military fortress. It faces the sea on its Southern side, with walls 170 to 200 meters (570 to 700 feet) long, and 15 to 20 meters (50 to 70 feet) high, enclosing an area of 38,000 m² (9½ acres). The palace water supply was substantial, fed by an aqueduct from Jadro spring, which supplies the city to this day. The palace and the city of Spalatum, which formed its surroundings, were at times inhabited by a population as large as 8,000 to 10,000 people.
Under Venetian rule, Split was a part of Venetian Republic. The city lost all of its autonomy. Venetians introduced Italian language and a Western Latin culture to the Split. City was important part of Venetia as a trading post for Southeast Europe and city itself also grow culturally. Famous citizen Marko Marulic was born here and his poem Judith was written both in Latin and Croatian language. In those times, only aristocracy (mostly Italian) was literate and educated, and the rest of citizens (mostly Croatians, who were majority) were illiterate.
As Turks gain power, Split became endangered. Most of Dalmatia (as well as large portions of Eastern, Southern and Central Europe) was conquered by Turks. In wars between Turks and Venetians, from 1645. to 1669, the city itself was besieged several times by Turks. But, defenders from joined Croatian–Italian forces defended the city. Venetians helped during building of Fort Gripe for citys defense. Fort Gripe is well preserved to this day and it is used as tourist attraction, as one of many city museums, concerts and other events arenas.
In 1806. Split fell under the Napoleon rule and became part of so-called Illyrian Provinces, after Napoleon’s victory against Venetia and Austrian Empire. That period was relatively short (1806. -1813.), but Split underwent huge rebuilding and reorganizations in that short time. Today, there is a Marmont Street in the old part of city. After Napoleon’s defeat, Split fell under the rule of the Austrian Empire and it remained so until end of WW I in 1918. Split continued to develop economically and culturally under Habsburg Monarchy, although Dalmatia was one of least developed provinces of empire. After WW I and dissolution of Austro-Hungarian Empire, city was united with the rest of Croatia and newly formed state joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later renamed into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. As cities Rijeka and Zadar were annexed by Italy as part of WW I agreement between Entente powers, Split became most important coastal city in the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia. As WW II spread over Croatia and Yugoslavia, Split and most of Adriatic Croatia were annexed by the Fascist Italy. Croatian population of the Split joined anti-fascist resistance. About one third of the population was involved in active resistance against fascists. Split football club “Hajduk” was official football team in the Partisan movement. In period when city was occupied by Axis powers, Allied forces bombed the city, killing hundreds of civilians. In October 26th, 1944. Split was finally liberated by anti-fascist communist guerrilla and city became part of Socialist Republic of Croatia, one of the Republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Diocletian’s Palace (UNESCO’s World Heritage Site) – The historic center of Split is built around remains of this Roman palace. The palace has well preserved main street cardo and decumanus. Roman palace is enriched with some Gothic and Renaissance buildings, that make a perfect match. Palace has four monumental gates: Porta Aurea (Zlatna vrata, Golden gate), Porta Argenta (Srebrna vrata, Silver gate), Porta Ferrea (Željezna vrata, Iron gate) and Porta Aenea (Mjedena vrata. Bronze gate). It is one of the best preserved Roman palaces in the world.
Cathedral of St. Dominus – Originally, it was built around 305 A.D. as a mausoleum for the Roman emperor Diocletian (the oldest cathedral in the world). The Cathedral is a very beautiful mixture of Roman temple and Catholic church. It also has a beautiful bell tower, that offers a great panoramic view of Split, nearby islands and Marjan hill.
Peristil square – Split’s main square, the former entry hall into the Diocletian’s Palace. It is derived from a Roman architectural term called “a peristyle”, an open colonnade surrounding a court. The spacious central courtyard is flanked by marble columns, topped with Corinthian capitals and richly ornamented cornices, which are linked by arches. There are six columns on the both Eastern and Western sides, and four more at the Southern end, which mark the monumental entrance to the Vestibule. Most of the structure is made of white stone from the nearby island Brac; however, the columns are made of Italian marble and Egyptian siennite marble.
Temple of Jupiter – The Temple of Jupiter is located on the Western side of the peristil, at the end of a narrow passageway called St. John’s end, accessible between the Skocibucic-Lukaris and the Grisogono-Cipci Palace. Originally, there were three temples to the right of the peristil – Kibel, Venus and Jupiter. However, only the latter was preserved till today. The Temple of Jupiter was built around the III c, about the same time as the palace itself. Jupiter was the name of Diocletian’s father, as well as the highest Roman god – god of the sky and thunder. This god was highly worshiped during the Imperial era, until the Roman Empire came under the Christian rule. Emperor Diocletian believed he was Jupiter’s reincarnation and thus positioned this temple directly adjacent to his mausoleum, instead of Cathedral of St. Domnius.
Galerija Mestrovic – It is an art museum, dedicated to the work of the XX century sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic. The gallery preserves and presents to the public the most significant works of Mestrovic. The gallery itself represents an art monument. Works of sculpture, drawings, design, furniture and architecture are on constant display. Collection include original plaster models of the artist, as well as finished works in bronze, marble and wood. The gallery building and grounds were based on Mestrovic’s original plans and included living and working areas, as well as exhibition spaces.
Archaeological Museum – Founded in 1820, the Archaeological Museum in Split is the oldest Croatian museum. It has a large collection of archaeological objects from prehistoric times, from the period of the Greek colonization of the Adriatic and from the Roman, Early Christian and early Medieval Ages. Most monuments come from the region of Central Dalmatia, especially from Salona (Solin). Following collections are very important: stone epitaphs from Salona (about 6.000 of them), Greek Hellenistic ceramics, Roman glass, clay lamps, objects made of bone, metal and gems. The Museum has a large collection of Antique and Medieval coins. The Museum also has a large library with about 30.000 books on archeology and history, as well as on Dalmatia (books and journals about Dalmatia’s history).
Poljud stadium – Poljud stadium, better known as “Poljudska Ljepotica” (“Poljud Beauty”) is a second largest stadium in Croatia with a capacity of 36,000 people. The stadium was originally constructed by the Yugoslavian government as part of the facilities for the 1979. Mediterranean Games. It was officially opened by Josip Broz Tito, who was a great fan of the team. Team played their home games in Poljud HNK Hajduk Split. By far, the most important and revered sports team in Dalmatia, a dedicated fans around the world has follow Hajduk throughout the team’s history. There are numerous anecdotes that Hajduk never played without at least some of their loyal fans in the stands, the Torcida. It is the oldest supporters group in Europe. If you plan to go to some match, avoid the Northern part, which is the cheapest one, because that part is reserved for Torcida.
Getski vrtal – is the smallest park in Split, situated in the Diocletian’s palace (THE ONLY GREEN AREA INSIDE THE CITY WALLS), on Dominisova Street (Marko Antonio De Dominis Street). In the park, there are beautiful traditional Dalmatian “tiramolas” (that is a way how the locals dry their clothes). During summer, they are full of clothes drying in the sunshine. You will find pictures from the Getski vrtal in every Split guidebook. It is the location of a 500 year old stone house, that was destroyed during World War II. On the facade facing towards Getski vrtal, you can see two heads made of stones. One belongs to a sphinx and it has a Christian cross on its forehead and the second one is a head of Middle Age thief. Getski (from ghetto) vrtal (garden) is made and maintained by the locals, who live in nearby houses.
Marjan – a hill situated on the West of the Split. Marjan is an oasis for many people, who look for a natural stress relief. It is a great place for long walks, jogging and bike rides. Marjan’s peak, Telegrin is 174 m high and provides a wonderful panoramic view of Split. Its Southern cliffs are popular for alpine climbers. St. Nicholas Church is situated on the Eastern side of Marjan, and along the Southern rim is beautiful church of St. Jerome and “Gospa od Betlema” Church (“Madonna of Betlehem”). House building is strictly forbidden for the preservation of Marjan – the lungs of Split.
Bacvice Beach – the main city center visitor-magnet is Bacvice beach, situated just a few minutes walk to the East from the ferry terminal. This simple sand and shingle beach can’t compare with the beaches farther South, but it remains a popular – and crowded – destination for locals of all ages. Bacvice is also the spiritual home of “picigin”, a game played only in and around Split. It is something like the net-less version of volleyball in the sea, involving a lot of acrobatic hoping around as players try to prevent a small ball from falling into water. Just behind the beach is a chic modern three-tier pavilion, some kind of mixture between an Art Deco seaside building and a high-tech metal tent. With several cafés and a couple of swanky eating places inside, it’s a popular venue for night drinking and feasting throughout the year.
Ultra Europe – featuring the World’s best DJs, unparalleled production is set to return for its third year to Split, Croatia. It promises to expand and become even bigger and better. Over 150,000 people enjoyed its incredible all-star line-up and epic light-shows in 2014. Also, expect daily sailing boat parties in the Adriatic and an insane beach party on Hvar Island to round things up.
Night of the Museums – important cultural event of Croatian Museums – “Night of the Museums” is organized by the Croatian Museum Society in cooperation with approximately 70 Croatian Museums. It is organized annually at the end of the January. This manifestation confirms the importance of Croatian Museums in the entire cultural tourist offer. During the “Night of the Museums”, the entrance to all museums is free of charge!
Diocletian ‘s Days – takes Split back to the times, when famous Roman emperor Diocletian walked the city. Roman legions align on the city streets and squares, the emperor Diocletian in carriage followed by his legions passes down the Promenade to the peristyle, where Diocletian’s co-rulers with their families greet the gathered crowd. The sounds of fanfare, drums and Roman music will be heard throughout the city.
World Championship in Picigin – Picigin was born in Split, and it is considered the Split’s sport. Championship is organized in the June. The so-called “World Championship in Picigin” has become a tradition since 2005. Until 2008, the Championship was graded according to given forms of the player’s jumps, but since 2008, the overall artistic impression is also part of the grade. The Picigin game rules are established by the members of the Eco-association “Picigin Bacvice”.
By plane – The nearest international and local airport is Split. Split’s airport is approximately 20km to the Northwest of the town between Kastela and Trogir. Croatia Airlines buses (ticket price is 20kn) connect city with scheduled flights, dropping passengers on the waterfront Riva, near the Croatia Airlines office; alternatively, the #37 Trogir-Split bus (ticket price is 13.50kn) goes from the airport to the suburban bus station od Domovinskog rata, twenty minutes to the North of the city center. A taxi from the airport costs between 160 and 200kn.
By train – Croatia is directly connected to Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia and Montenegro and with almost every other European country. Regular lines from numerous European cities lead to Split via Zagreb. Train station is five minutes walk away to the Southeast of the city center on the main harbor front road, Obala kneza Domagoja. All the ferry and hydrofoil berths are situated on the same street. There are two daily trains to Zagreb, that stop at Knin and Karlovac on the way (2 per day, 6.5 hours; 1 direct night train, 9 hours); in Zagreb, you can transfer to Ljubljana (4 per day, 9 hours total).
By ferry/boat – Split is Dalmatian coast Jadrolinija main terminal, with regular local ferries rides to the islands of Brac, Vis, Lastovo, Hvar and Korcula; it’s also a major stop in the summer coastal ferry service, which connects Split with Rijeka, Rab, Zadar and Dubrovnik. In summer, the coastal ferry goes to Bari, Italy (1-2 weekly) and Igoumenitsa, Greece (1 weekly), while from June to September there are almost every day ferries rides to Ancona, Italy. For the main coastal ferry, pre-booking is recommended.
By bus – All mentioned routes are provided by multiple companies, that charge slightly different. Always ask about the fastest option in order to save time. It’s smart to arrive about 30 minutes before departure and buy ticket (better yet, during peak season, it is recommended to buy them earlier in the day). Ask English-speaking staff at Split’s bus station for handy little schedules of popular journeys.
By car – Split is well connected with rest of Croatia by recently built highways and you can reach it easily and fast once you reach highway. To come from Zagreb to Split (by A-1 super expressway) you will need to drive approximately 380 km for 3h and pay toll of 20 to 25 euro. There could be traffic delays during summer season on the Croatian border. Laws regulating traffic in Croatia are similar to those in majority of European countries. You can also reach Split by driving on Adriatic Coastal Road free of charge, but you will drive slowly and it could take you about 5 hours to reach Split.