20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

October 09, 2017
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

A city a day keeps the wanderlust at bay...
20 DAYS. 20 CITIES. 6 COUNTRIES.
AUSTRIA • SLOVENIA • CROATIA • BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA • MONTENEGRO • ITALY

PART 7, DAY 10: CATCHING FEELS IN CROATIA - 
A SENTIMENTAL RETURN TO SPLIT

Even before I embarked on my epic 20 Days in 20 Cities and 6 Countries road trip across Austria, the Balkans, Tuscany, and the Italian Riviera there was one particular city in my itinerary that filled me with equal parts trepidation and anticipation. As the calendar inched ever closer to Croatia, the butterflies fluttered more rapidly in my stomach at the thought of Split. Not because it was a hitherto unknown destination to me; but because I have, had, and have had strong feelings for this Dalmatian coastal city. It was a little over a year ago in this very city where two people reunited then parted (not for the first nor last time, in many cities across the world) - or should I say, split. A summer later, I returned to the stage where last summer's love story played but the leading man was thousands of miles away. Despite my solo encore, the other star was there in spirit, which made my return to Split, Croatia, all the more bittersweet. 💔




I arrived late in the evening after a drizzly day in TrogirAn early night of rest gave me the strength I needed for the next long day in Split, which began with climbing Marjan Hill.

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia


FROM MARJAN HILL...


A gasp, followed by a deep breath - for both the fresh air and for the breathtaking view from 178 metres above sea level. Laid out before me was the entire city of Split framed by the surrounding islands, the sparkling Adriatic sea, and fringed with mountains covered in dense Mediterranean pine forest. It was my first ever visit to Marjan Hill - the "green lung" of Split. The atmosphere here couldn't be more different than that of the Old Town: tranquil, verdant, and with a romantic ruggedness; it was easy to see how this little sliver of wilderness inspired the popular Partisan song "Marjane, Marjane" sung by the Dalmatian anti-fascist resistance. 


Marjan Hill is a symbol of Split, reclaimed by the locals when they replaced the Yugoslavian flag on the hill with the Croatian banner. As for myself, it was interesting to see the bigger picture - both literally and figuratively - a much-needed new perspective on a city that I had attached so much sentimentality to. It was a shame that I didn't have a chance to visit the nearby Museum of Croatian Archeological Monuments and Mestrovic Gallery (the latter being closed on Mondays), but I already felt satisfied and at peace simply sipping an iced coffee at the cafe on the hill, contemplating while overlooking the Old Town.


20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia


...TO DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE


Prior to this trip I hadn't been to Marjan Hill because I mistakenly thought that it was a huge effort to get to from where I was staying in the heart of Split's 4th century Old Town, also known as Diocletian's Palace

We all know by now the remarkable story of Diocletian - one of the few Roman emperors who managed to live to a (reasonably) old age and died of natural (allegedly) causes - who built a vast retirement home on the coast of Split, and how not long after his death in 311AD his palace was appropriated by thousands of locals, turning the former royal residence into what is now Old Town. 


What I did not know was that the distance between Marjan Hill and Diocletian's Palace was a mere half hour walk. The leisurely downhill route took me through residential neighbourhoods, flanked by glances of houses and gardens beyond low stone walls; and ahead, the bell tower of St Domnius Cathedral rising high above the city like the landmark it is. A short jaunt later and I found myself at the end of the Riva (promenade). Once I entered into the city centre from that corner, the previous languid mood from Marjan Hill to its neighbourhoods  immediately transformed into the riot of colour, crowds, and cacophony typical of Dalmatia's largest city. What a long way Diocletian's Palace has come...




20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia


20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia


RIVA


I once described Riva - the promenade waterfront of Split - as "the main artery where the blood of the city ebbs and flows" from the heart that is Old Town, and I stand by that. The all-important city artery carries a constant flow of foot traffic, and it's hard to imagine that this long pedestrianised stretch bordering Diocletian's Palace is landfill - the Riva simply didn't exist in Diocletian's day, it was just the Adriatic Sea all the way up to the South wall of his palace. Although in Summer the artery is more congested than an obese man's aorta, navigating the Riva on this occassion was far less daunting than my first visit. Like a seasoned pro (despite this being only my second visit to Split) I easily spotted - amongst the thick cluster of outdoor cafe seats, stands selling excursions to other islands, and souvenir stalls - the Bronze Gate leading through the underground passage that connected the Riva to Diocletian's Palace.



PROKURATIVE


The allure of the shops in the underground of  Diocletian's Palace's notwithstanding (the evening before I spotted the most darling jewellery shop selling rings made from sliced agate - I bought two in green and blue, you can see me wearing both in these photos) I had a more pressing destination at hand. 

Prokurative - officially known as Republic Square - was built to resemble St Marks Square in Venice to demonstrate Split's then-unwavering support of Italian tradition. The Venetian colonnade and its Renaissance influences is a pretty pink backdrop for cultural events, music festivals, local bars and restaurants, and naturally, for photographers and Instagrammers (shoutout to the two ladies doing matching yoga poses in Prokurative while their Instagram Husbands patiently squatted in the sun). 

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia
PRETTY IN PINK - PROKURATIVE'S ITALIAN-INSPIRED ARCHITECTURE
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia
I'M JUST GLAD I WORE MY PINK DOLCE & GABBANA PURSE THAT DAY.
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia



BAJAMONTI


Myself, I was eager to revisit one of my favourite restaurants and culinary highlights of last summer. Named after Antonio Bajamonti, one of the most renowned mayors in the history of the city who initiated the building of ProkurativeBajamonti is one of my 3 favourite restaurants in Split.

Last summer I couldn't get enough of the scallops baked in cheese and the handmade black noodles with lobster. This time round I walloped a fresh-to-death (literally) mouth-watering seafood platter piled with langoustine, crayfish, mussels, and prawns; followed by their signature dessert, Ferrero Cake, naturally. Honestly, Bajamonti was the best meal I had on that trip thus far; and I'm chuffed to bits that the quality of the menu and the service remains as excellent as I remember it. Now that's the good kind of emotional walk down memory lane.

BAJAMONTI 
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia
WHETHER IT'S WATCHING BOATS FROM THE RIVA OR WATCHING PEOPLE 
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia
FROM PROKURATIVE, SPLIT IS ALL ABOUT OUTDOOR CAFE CULTURE.
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

Put down the fork: it's time for a stomach-churning story, as told to me* on a guided tour... 


After the Roman Emperor Diocletian died, the Christian community he persecuted got their revenge by moving into his palace, turning it into their homes and what would eventually become the Old Town of Split. Being designed for just the emperor, his family, plus retinue of servants and soldiers; the palace was ill-equipped to handle the plumbing needs of 2,000 residents. Noticing that the Adriatic Sea floods the basement flats at high tide, the residents ran pipes carrying toilet waste into the basement rooms. Turns out the Adriatic Sea didn't just take all that crap away, and tonnes of proletariat poop and pee piled up over hundreds of years...

In the '70s, the city started a clean up operation - forcing schoolchildren to scoop sh*t out of the rooms with a plastic spoon for 12 years. "What did you do at school today, son?" "Scooped poop..." 12 years later: "What did you do at school today, son?" "Same sh*t, different year...". After a decade of doody-digging, the basement flats were finally cleared even if the walls are permanently stained green. Homeowners then sued the city, claiming that the removal of all that waste has weakened the foundations of their homes. The city countersued, and to this day the courts are still deciding just how sh*tty this whole spectacle is. In the meantime, faeces are still being piped down to the basement flats of Diocletian's Palace - except that now it's been pumped toward the Italian coast on a daily basis. 💩

*I COULDN'T FIND ANY EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS STORY. TAKE IT WITH A PINCH OF SALT 

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

A 60 metre tall-middle finger to Emperor Diocletian (as if having one's palace turned into a septic tank wasn't enough revenge): his mausoleum was ransacked and his body moved. Built over his tomb is a church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the bell tower to Saint Domnius, one of the martyrs executed by Diocletian. Collectively the buildings form the icon of Split: The Cathedral of St. Domnius.

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia


KLAPA - TRADITIONAL DALMATIAN SINGING


While exploring the winding warren of Diocletian's Palace, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a Dalmatian specialty that I had somehow missed on my previous trip (despite staying in the heart of the Old Town itself) - Klapa. Klapa (Croatian for 'a group of friends') is a form of acapella singing unique to the Dalmatian region. With roots in littoral church singing, Klapa joined the ranks of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2012. Klapa songs are usually about love, death, the homeland, and the sea. In other words, everyday life in Croatia.


The group I watched, Klapa Cambi, were performing traditional songs done the old-fashioned way: acapella with four singers - a first tenor, a second tenor, a baritone, and a bass - performing standing in a semicircle. I bought a CD so I could bring their voices back with me. Klapa Cambi were performing in the vestibule to the right of St Domnius Cathedral, and if you're visiting I highly recommend seeking them out: their exceptional voices are elevated by the acoustics of the vestibule, and the tradition of their singing further enhanced by the rich history of their surroundings.



20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia


LET ME PASS! STREET


Despite not being part of Diocletian's Palace original design, 'Pusti me proc' or Let Me Pass!  Street gets as much if not more attention than the adjacent 1,700 year old temple. Or maybe it just seems that way as it's the width of a single person, which means that on a busy day there can be quite a pile up. Let Me Pass!  Street was created when some genius decided to build a large residential building as close as humanely possible to the foundation of the Temple of Jupiter



A sliver was cut into the stone wall to make a path, and an icon was born: creating not just the narrowest street in Europe but also the coolest in the city, as the Let Me Pass!  Street doesn't get any direct sun. In past centuries, ladies would wriggle their way through the street in the hope of bumping into suitors and slipping them notes, but these days it's a hilarious setting to watch bemused locals and lingering tourists literally bump heads.


20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia


20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 7: Split, Croatia
TEMPLE OF JUPITER  

My stroll down the labyrinth of stone streets and emotions came full circle at the Temple of Jupiter. Last summer, my city base was in an apartment just above the 4th century shrine. Standing at street level, I looked up into the apartment through its two green shuttered-windows (left) and right on cue, a wave of memories hit me right in the feels. From the Good to the Bad and Ugly (being woken up every morning at 7am sharp by the voice of the same tour guide: "...And here we have the famous Headless Sphinx guarding the  Temple of Jupiter!"). I took more than a minute to let the feelings wash over me and to allow myself gratitude for everything that transpired last summer in Split. 

My sentimental return to Split having come to an end, I readied myself for the next leg of my trip: Bosnia, where a very different kind of strong feeling awaited me...
FOR MORE OF MY RECOMMENDATIONS READ:
10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SPLIT, CROATIA: PART 1 AND PART 2

CROATIA FULL OF LIFE  VISIT SPLIT

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