As I mentioned before, the main pleasure in Split, Croatia, is just wandering around the Old City, especially inside the old palace walls and close by. In this way, you’ll see the four main gates; walk through the connecting passageway to Vestibule and the Peristyle with the Cathedral; pass by the former Jupiter Temple, now St John’s Baptistry; and likely end up in People’s Square.
But there are other great sights: walking the seafront Riva; the Ethnographic Museum; St Martin’s Church; the craft markets along the outside of the walls by the Silver Gate; the Small Green Market nearby. It’s also one of the main ferry ports in Croatia so it’s easy to get to the islands or other ports.
I suggest you start your visit to this fascinating city at the Tourist Office, either on Riva or in the Peristyle by the Cathedral, to get a map and a copy of the “Discover Split” paper.
If you come in through the Brass Gate (Riva side) you can start with a visit to the old palace cellars (see an upcoming article), then walk through the passageway to Peristyle. From the Brass Gate, the huge arcaded passageway (formerly the central palace hall) is now an important urban communication passage as it connects the waterfront to the Peristyle, via the Vestible. It is home to many little souvenir/curio/craft stalls. It’s very crowded and a bit tacky actually, we thought.
The Cathedral is on one side of the Peristyle, the former central courtyard of the palace, and still a central meeting place today. Here is the entrance to the Cathedral and its Crypt, and the stairs up into the circular Vestibule, and access to the Baptistry through a narrow alley. Here too locals dressed up as Roman soldiers obligingly pose for photos, and around noon each day there’s a re-enactment of the Emperor and his wife standing on the Vestibule steps giving a speech, led in by a procession of drummers. A lot of fun—we saw the tail-end of it one day.
At various times during the day, also in the Vestibule, a group of a cappella male singers entertains an enthusiastic crowd (and sells CDs). They are good, but actually we preferred an ethnic folk group that seems to perform at one of the outdoor cafes on the narrow Kresimirova Street leading to the Iron Gate and the Bell Tower with a 14th century clock.
It’s well worth buying a ticket (25 kn per adult) to visit the Cathedral, Crypt and Baptistry (former Temple of Jupiter). Emperor Diocletian had a mausoleum for himself built in 295-305—a magnificent octagonal structure. In the 7th century, Bishop John of Ravenna transformed it into a cathedral, dedicated to St Dominus. This is an ironic twist, as Diocletian persecuted his Christian subjects and had Bishop Dominus of nearby Salona killed.
The cathedral is not a large structure inside but is interesting, as it’s probably the oldest building used as a cathedral and it has various relics of St Dominus, including his sarcophagus. But, no vestiges of Diocletian, except for a few red marble pillars around the top of the pulpit, which were taken from his sarcophagus. No photos are allowed in the Cathedral. You can climb the bell tower (13th-16th century) too, but we didn’t do that.
The crypt honors St Lucia, who helps people with sight problems (see more details and pictures in next post).
St John’s Baptistry/Jupiter’s Temple is close by, accessed via a very narrow alley. At about the same time that the mausoleum became a cathedral, this Roman temple was converted into a baptistry. You’ll notice a huge 12th century baptismal font, big enough to immerse someone. The half-barrel vaulted ceiling is interesting, as every face and patterned box in it is different. Some faces are happy, some sad, some shouting or calling out in apparent agony!