There's a place I travel when I want to roam, and nobody knows it but me.
The roads don't go there and the signs stay home, and nobody knows it but me.
It's far, far away and way, way afar, it's over the moon and the sea
And wherever you're going that's wherever you are.
And nobody knows it but me.
After staying in Dubrovnik for three weeks, I didn't expect to be as blown away with Split as I was. But yet again, Croatia exceeded my expectations and I fell in love with this eclectic town on the Dalmatian Coast. Split is one of the oldest cities in the region at 2,400 years (!), and it's the second largest city in Croatia. While still a major tourist attraction, I got a more local, lived-in vibe from Split than the country's other top tourist designations. There are more architectural styles here, including Romanesque, Renaissance, Venetian (there is actually a Venetian part of town), and baroque. Split's layout flows more organically than Dubrovnik's more formal grid, and I enjoyed (almost) getting lost in the twisting alleys and tunnels. In 1979, the historic center of Split and Diocletian's Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main attraction in Split is hands-down the Roman palace of the Emperor Diocletian. Before arriving, I imagined this would be a beautifully-preserved manse teeming with tourists, so you can imagine my surprise when I arrived to realize that only the palace walls remain and a vibrant town has sprung up inside. (Our apartment was inside the palace and actually abutted the original walls, so I felt like royalty during my stay.) We arrived at night, and entering the palace walls to see the Roman ruins dramatically lit up took my breath away.
Diocletian (who, as a side note, sounds like a complex and insecure fellow) began building his palace for retirement in 295 BC and completed it in an astonishing ten years. He named each gate's wall after a metal: Golden, Silver, Brass and Iron. In the 1950s, the basement area was discovered and the majority is still being excavated; prior to its discovery, residents had no idea what lay underneath because it had been filled with garbage over time and sealed. The basement acted as supporting walls and was built identical to the emperor's palace upstairs. Also, because the eastern side of the palace (the Brass Gate) originally opened to the water, the basement halls acted as the palace's entrance from the sea.
While there were few tours available during the off-season, we were lucky to come across the amazing Ante Batarelo, who gave us a quick and informative tour of the old town and Diocletian's Palace (he is a Croatian born in Australia, and has a very interesting backstory in addition to running an expansive tour business). Ante knew a ton about Split, and having him point out features in the basement was especially enjoyable.
About half an hour west of Split is this UNESCO World Heritage Site. This small medieval city is remarkably intact and free of cars. It was founded in the 3rd century BC and comprises its own little island surrounded by emerald blue water. It really is a picturesque place, and it looked especially lovely with splashes of fall colors. Unfortunately, the church of St. Lawrence was closed, as were other sights and shops, but there was ample opportunity to meander the quiet alleys and take pictures as the sun set.