Before our Royal Caribbean cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean last August, the only thing I knew about Split, Croatia was that it is the home of former professional tennis star Goran Ivanisevic. But I had not yet seen the ruins of Salona or walked through the streets of the Medieval island town of Trogir not far from Split. Nor had I yet wandered through the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace or eaten on a shady fourth century patio at Restaurant Tifani. Now that I have done all those things, Split means much more to me. With its warm sun and the placid waters of the Adriatic Sea on its doorstep, I can see why Diocletian would’ve wanted to leave his post as Emperor in 405 A.D. and retire to this seaside town.
Our day in Split began with an excursion by bus to Salona and Trogir. First was the ruins of Salona, an ancient Roman settlement. Unfortunately, our guide was really inexperienced (and English was not even her SECOND best language) AND we hardly spent any time at Salona – maybe an hour in total. So we got to see a ruined church, which granted was pretty amazing, and a garden created from pieces of the ruins (pretty nice). But then it was back on the bus. As we stood there, a tour group walked by that had been to the amphitheater, which apparently is amazing. But no amphitheater or anything else for us.
The next stop on our excursion was the preserved Medieval island town of Trogir. I’m so glad that we had a chance to see Trogir, but again, my complaint is that our stay there was so unbelievably short. I would have loved to have spent a whole day there, rather than climbing back on the tour bus after just 90 minutes. Unfortunately, that was not possible. I loved what I saw and wish I could’ve seen more. Walking through the streets of Trogir gave me the same sort of feeling I get when I explore other preserved Medieval towns like Toledo, Spain – the feeling of walking right into the remote past, a rich intriguing, mysterious past.
When we entered Trogir, the first building we passed was the monumental Cathedral of St. Lawrence. I had read about the Cathedral and its facade, carved by Master Radovan in the 13th century, but I was still awed when I saw it in person. Not only is Radovan’s facade extraordinary – a plethora of figures and allegory and beauty. But also, it is so well preserved! It looks like it could’ve been carved a generation ago or less, not many hundreds of years ago! The interior of the church is less well-known but equally impressive. Without question, this cathedral is the highlight of a visit to Trogir.
After leaving the Cathedral, we were given some free time to wander. So, first we stopped for a refreshing beverage (the day was blisteringly hot), and then we visited the Monastery of St. Dominic, which was halfway down the quay between us and the southern tip of the island. We entered the unassuming door to the church, and were met by a quiet woman who spoke completely no English. Looking around us, we felt like we had chosen well – a lovely medieval cloister was decorated with local art in the aisles around it. Compared to some of the other places we visited during our cruise, this may have been a modest display of art, but nevertheless, there were some beautiful things.
To this point, the day had followed the pattern of many of our days on our cruise. We had had an active morning of sightseeing, and were now hungry and thirsty and hot, hoping to find a restaurant where we could revive ourselves, before squeezing in a couple more hours of sightseeing and then scrambling back to the boat.
Luckily, our excursion bus dropped us off across the street from old Split, and we didn’t fumble around too much before finding the Silver Gate. Then we felt like we had hit the jackpocket, with the white stones of the Diocletian Palace ruins before us. But we still had our priority: we needed to eat. Fortunately, just inside the Silver Gate, just to the left, was Restaurant Tifani, so nicely nestled into a section of the old Roman stone.
Sitting on the restaurant’s terrace, surrounded by some of the ancient ruins, was incredible! The little enclave kept us out of the sun and gave us a chance to cool off a bit. And the food and drink, filling and reasonably priced, capped everything off perfectly.
A ruin preserved by adaptation, Diocletian’s Palace is a delight. In so many historic places around the world, there are stories of older structures that were torn down to make room for the new. Here in Split, on the contrary, pieces of the ancient Palace have been kept in place and built onto, a process that has been going on for a millennium or more. Having now eaten and drunk, we were refreshed and ready to spend a bit of time exploring what is left of the Palace and just how these ruins have been re-purposed.
We visited the Cathedral of St. Domnius, a unique and curious structure to be sure. First of all, it’s odd that you enter the church by the back and from underneath, coming up into the sacristy and only then emerging into the sanctuary. Second, the sanctuary itself is odd, circular in shape and rather dark. And there is no photography allowed inside, not even without flash, which always puts me off a bit.
When we bought our tickets to see the Cathedral, we were told that for a small amount more we could add on some other sites to see. One of these was the small Temple of Jupiter. It is interesting, but so compact that you hardly need a minute to see the whole thing. And it’s hard to believe that it is really as old as Diocletian’s Palace. It was turned into a baptistery during Medieval times, and now feels a mix of Middle Age Christian temple and classical Roman shrine.
After seeing the Temple of Jupiter, our time in Split was at an end. We went back the way we had come, crossed the street, and there was the port and our ship in front of us. Split would be our last destination on our cruise before heading back to Venice and leaving our boat behind. For Eileen that would mean flying home to Florida, while for us that meant moving on to Istanbul, Turkey for a few more days of traveling on our own.