Few were the empires that did not put their mark on Split. First came the Greeks although little remains of their tiny settlement. The Romans were much more proactive, expanding the settlement until the Emperor Diocletian built his retirement palace here in the third century AD. The Diocletian’s Palace is more like a walled town and it has endured as the centre of Split’s cultural and political life even as the Byzantines, Croatian kings, Venetians, Austrians and Italians planted their flag on the great city.
Today it is Croatia’s second largest city and the pumping heart of the Dalmatian coast. Islanders flock into the city to work even as ferries whisk tourists out to the islands. With the wooded Marjan hill to the west, a bevy of beaches, and a tree-lined harbourside promenade, Split offers plenty of spots to enjoy the mild climate.
Relaxed and informal, the residents of Split are less interested in high culture than they are in sports and the outdoors. The local football team, HNK Hajduk Split, inspires an almost fanatical devotion throughout Dalmatia and has produced a number of world-class players. Try to see a match against their arch-rival Dinamo Zagreb at the Poljud stadium to comprehend the essence of Split. Tennis is another popular sport; the former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanišević and top player Mario Ančić both hail from Split. Locals love to play picigin (the aim is to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible) in the waters of Bačvice beach. All you need is a bunch of guys and a peeled tennis ball!
What to See
The Diocletian’s Palace and the medieval quarter to the west contain most of Split’s museums and galleries. The Palace is not only a historic discovery but it also contains Split’s most interesting shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. Enter through the subterranean area at the seaside and mount the massive steps to the heart of the Palace where you’ll be impressed by the towering cathedral and an assortment of Roman monuments.
What to do
Take a stroll on Split’s seaside promenade and have a leisurely coffee in one of the cafes. Walk up the wooded Marjan hill to the west and enjoy the sweeping views over the town. Rent a bike at the foot of Marjan hill and bike around the coast, exploring the beaches. Explore the Bačvice neighbourhood to the east of the Old Town where there are beaches and nightlife. Wrap up the day at a bar, or dance the night away in one of Split’s throbbing, super-fashionable discos.
Besides sightseeing in Split, the town makes an excellent base for exploring the wonders of Split-Dalmatian county, not to mention the many islands that lie just offshore. From Split, you can easily visit Šolta and Brač by ferry all year round. In summer, it’s possible to make a day trip to Hvar by catamaran. Other day trips from Split include Solin, Omiš, Trogir, Brela Beach, Baška Voda and Makarska, each less than an hour away by car.