SPLIT, CROATIA—If you’re crazy about “Game of Thrones,” then Split is for you. There are plenty of tours, but there is satisfaction in spotting a jib or crane shot from GOT on your own.
If you’re a UNESCO site chaser you must make the pilgrimage.
We landed at the ferry port in Trogir. It’s a short 30-minute drive to Split. Trogir was total chaos. Lorries, panel vans, cars all maneuvering the narrow roads and piazza (trg in Croatian) along with people hauling luggage. This was married with a street festival booming hip-hop and very tall guys playing in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the courtyard of a Kamerlango Fortress specially converted for a 3-city basketball tournament. The next team on the floor was eating ice cream on the sidelines. Pretty laid back! “Expect the unexpected.”
Split is an old city which feels more like a town. An amazing part of the original city still stands with buildings, palaces, and consecrated space. (Which were not originally churches) – all preserved in their original glory. The architecture is dominated by Roman influences, with a Muslim interpretation, but sometimes it’s the other way around. Most professionals describe the architecture by adding “esque,” to let you know no style here meets a pure esthetic, which is exactly what makes you gawk.
Your first impression will be awe of the view of a beautiful blue ocean, the jagged shoreline; the rabbit warren of streets; the view of red tiled roofs all jammed cheek by jowl. Stepping off the boardwalk, the streets are barely wide enough for you and your luggage – cobblestone of course – juxtaposed by super yachts docked along the marina to impress you. The truly rich are here to frolic. Casual or chic, always quietly expensive, you’ll fit right in.
In order to appreciate the old walled city of Split, you need to have a sense of its place in history. It evolved around the role East-meets-West played in Split’s history. East being Muslim and West being Christian. Both empires sought to control this strip of the shoreline. The history of the Balkans was not exactly front and center in our high school history classes.
Split traces its roots back to the second/third century BC, when it was a Greek colony facing the back of Italy’s boot across the Adriatic Sea. Back then, the entire Balkan coast (see Illyrian history), of which Croatia is a small part included small warring fiefdoms. With its deep-water ports and protected harbors it was an important maritime and military port. To survive threats from more powerful empires it guarded its neutrality, cautiously liaising between competing East and West factions. By the second century AD, Roman Emperor Diocletian (whose mission was to crush Christianity), began building the city as his intended palace/military garrison for his retirement.
The extensive physical preservation of Split allows you to imagine what life was like. Yes you can read about the architecture and the practical aspects of designing and building a viable fortress. Yes you can see parts of castles, their furnishings, canons and wall tapestries as exhibited in museums. Split’s walled city pulls it all together and makes you marvel at the genius of their urban planning, military strategy and technical engineering skills of long ago.
When Americans try to imagine 15 centuries ago (1,500 years), we default to our First Nations People. We can play the film back to living on the open plains in harmony with nature which was about 500 years ago. Before that our history is not on the American continent. For Split, we’re talking about the era of Mesopotamia; Carthage and the Hung Dynasty.
The best way to visit this part of Croatia is to book in on a small boat (10-12 people) for a few nights putting into port on the small islands. Make a point of moseying around each town and marvel at what you see and why you see it.