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The pretty city of Split has a rich history. Since ancient times, it has served in various guises as the economic and administrative centre of the beautiful Croatian Adriatic coastal region, today called Dalmatia.
The city sits mainly on a peninsula on the eastern part of the island of Ciovo, although it has nowadays spread onto the mainland and encompasses the mouth of the River Cetina. From the 5th to the 2nd century BC Greek colonists settled the mainland and adjacent islands.
Later came the Romans, in particular the Emperor Diocletian. Being of Dalmatian origin, he elected to build a huge palace at a spot then called Salona in the year 303. A town grew up around the palace and eventually, by the Middle Ages, the city of Split had begun to develop.
Diocletian's Palace still stands in the very heart of the old part of Split, which charms visitors with its cobbled streets and classical architecture. The greater region is characterised by its lush vegetation and green areas, particularly Marjan Hill on the west of the peninsula with its ancient indigenous forest.
The city makes an ideal base from which to explore the islands, beautiful locations, and historic villages in central Dalmatia. Split is also world renowned among seafarers for the quality and quantity of its marinas. There are about 44 of them in the city area altogether, drawing yachts and catamarans from all over Europe and making it a great cruising destination in the Adriatic.
Roman Emperor Diocletian, having abdicated his throne in AD 305, decided to spend the last years of his life in Dalmatia and built a palace for that purpose on the bay of Aspalathos, on the south side of a peninsula extending into the Adriatic Sea.
The spot he chose is now the very heart of the city of Split and the palace is still one of the city's main tourist attractions. The building and the entire historic Split inner city area around it have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Within the palace walls are a network of narrow cobblestone alleyways that house a mixture of residential apartments, modern shops, cafes and restaurants, ancient Roman relics, and a magnificent cathedral.
The palace is interesting in that it was designed to combine a luxurious residence with the defences of a military camp, having towers and fortifications on its landward sides with three monumental gates.
Originally situated on the water, the palace is now fronted by the city's popular waterfront promenade and faces onto the harbour. The buildings are made from local white limestone, quarried on the nearby island of Brac.
Founded in 1820, the Archaeological Museum in Split is the oldest museum in Croatia. Its displays include artefacts from prehistoric times, the Greek colonial period, and from the Roman, early Christian, and Medieval ages.
Most of the relics found in excavations of the Roman city of Salona are displayed here, and there is an interesting collection of submarine archaeology. The museum also contains a large collection of antique coins and a prominent library. Outside the museum there is a lovely garden with a covered walkway and a number of statues on display, which makes for a good opportunity to wander a bit and take some photographs.
Those who have smartphones can make use of the free wifi audio guide, which is informative and enhances the experience. Although this museum is not extensive, it remains very interesting and a great place to get familiar with Croatian history.
Brac's main claim to fame is the strip of beach near the resort of Bol that stretches out like a finger into the sea, featuring on almost all Croatian tourist brochures. Brac is the largest of the central Dalmatian group of islands and its major agricultural products are wine, olive oil, and fruit. The island is also known for its exported white stone, which was even used to build Washington DC's White House.
Bol and Supetar are the two main resorts on Brac, with attractive old towns and a laidback charm. Bol is the windsurfing capital of Croatia, and Brac is a great destination for a number of watersports. The rest of the island boasts numerous villages and dramatic coastal scenery.
Like much of Croatia, the beaches on Brac Island are mainly rocky, boasting stunningly clear blue water and calm seas. If you are desperate to find a sandy beach head down to Lovrecina, which has its own beach bar and restaurant and is a lovely spot to spend the day. Brac is generally less crowded than Split and other popular areas on Croatia's mainland, but can get very busy during the peak summer months.
A popular tourist destination, Split provides travellers with a number of effective ways to get around town. Travellers in Split should find it easy to move seamlessly from one form of transport to the next, as the ferry, bus, and train stations are all in close proximity to each other.
The primary form of public transportation in Split is the city's bus network, which is fairly extensive and covers all areas of the city of interest to travellers. Buses usually run from about 5am until around midnight, and have their destinations clearly laid out in route maps at most stops. Visitors will find most of their travel needs attended to by the bus stop near the ferry harbour, as it is a meeting point of the most popular lines.
However, many travellers in Split may find it easiest and most enjoyable to simply get around on foot. The layout of the city is very accommodating to pedestrians, with key attractions and shopping centres within walking distance and a scenic promenade along the water between the port and marina.
Visitors in Split also have the option of renting a car. This can be especially useful for those wanting to explore the surrounding area, as it provides a freedom to roam. Thankfully, the Croatian roads are famously good. Although renting a car is ideal for exploring the wider region, prospective drivers should note that there is not much parking in the city centre, with none whatsoever in Split's old town.
Split is an ancient and attractive city with centuries of history bolstering its modern appeal. As with many Croatian cities, the richest concentration of tourist attractions in Split can be found in the oldest part of the city around the famous Diocletian's Palace. This magnificent palace was built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD and it is a privilege to explore.
There are numerous walking tours on offer for the palace complex and the surrounding old area of the city, which can be very informative and entertaining. The impressive Cathedral of St Domnius and a climb up its rather scary bell tower, which earns you spectacular views of the area, will often feature on these tours. Another attraction not to be missed is the remarkable clock by West Gate which has been keeping time in the city for more than a century.
There are lots of other things to see and do in Split, with highlights including the Archaeological Museum, the oldest museum in Croatia. This museum collects and displays artefacts from Split's long history and is a joy for history buffs. On a more contemporary note, travellers will enjoy a stroll along Riva Harbour which has a pretty promenade lined with bars. It's a great place to meet locals who favour the spot for evening walks and recreation.
Split is also a convenient base for excursions to myriad beautiful islands and villages, and visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to daytrips. The nearby islands of Brac and Hvar offer stunning beaches and charming little towns, and the coastal villages of Makarska and Sibenik are enduring Croatian favourites. The magical walled town of Trogir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated on a tiny island between Ciovo and the mainland, and tops the list of many a Croatian travel itinerary.
Off the coast of Split, just 15 nautical miles (24km) from Baska Voda and accessible by ferry, is the island of Hvar, which abounds with Romanesque and Renaissance buildings and a true Mediterranean atmosphere.
Hvar has been populated since prehistoric times, with archaeologists finding evidence of life on the island dating back to 3500 BC. The island is noted for its fertile soil and was the site of the world's first parcelling out of arable land by the ancient Greeks, who farmed here.
It is now mainly a wine-growing area, with the island's main towns of Vrboska and Jelsa famed for their Dalmatian vintages. Hvar is dotted with picturesque villages, many of which remain fairly untouched by time and tourism, and are well worth a visit for a glimpse into rural island life in Croatia.
Must-see attractions in Hvar include the incredible Hvar Fortress which can't be missed by history buffs and anybody who appreciates a great view. It is a bit of a climb to get to the old fortress but from the site you can see the whole town and harbour. No visit to Hvar would be complete without a visit to Dubovica Beach, which is often delightfully free of the usual crowds.
Trakoscan is a legendary 13th-century Gothic castle that was home to various influential families for centuries before finally falling into abandoned disrepair in the second half of the 18th century, when it belonged to the Draskovic family.
In the 1950s, the castle was taken over by the state and turned into a living museum, reconstructing life in a medieval castle. Visitors can explore four levels, including the dungeon, and finish their tour with a stroll through the surrounding parklands.
Trakoscan Castle is a spectacular journey for the imagination as it feels so authentic. Guests can wander with freedom through the stone corridors, up and down the winding staircases, and into the various rooms. It is also a great attraction for the younger children as the castle, lake, and forest settings transport the little ones to a fairytale world.
The castle features original artefacts from its history, including furniture and weaponry, and displays are informative and well laid out. As wandering through the castle and its beautiful grounds can be somewhat tiring, visitors often stop for a break at the restaurant by the lake.
Sibenik is an historic town, located in central Dalmatia. A notable feature about the town's history is the number of civilizations which have laid claim to the territory: Between the 11th and 12th centuries, Sibenik was claimed by Venice, Byzantium, Hungary, and the Kingdom of Bosnia.
After the First World War, Italy briefly claimed Sibenik, and during World War Two it was occupied by the Germans and the Italians. As one might imagine, the town is the product of diverse influences and has a rich cultural heritage.
Sibenik is home to the crowning glory of the Dalmatian Coast: the Cathedral of St Jacob. The cathedral was the masterpiece of sculptor Juraj Dalmatinac and is reputedly the largest church in the world to be built entirely from stone.
It is unusual for its 71 stone heads on the exterior walls, a beautiful baptistery, the domed roof complex, and various works of art in the interior of the building. The city also makes a good base from which to visit the nearby Krka National Park.
About 30 miles (47km) south of Split is the popular resort town of Makarska, with its cobblestoned streets and natural harbour nestled in the shadow of Mount Biokovo and fringed with the two green peninsulas of Osejava and St Peter.
This beautiful spot offers secluded beaches washed by an azure sea and lies at the heart of the Makarska Riviera, which is characterised by pine forests and a string of white pebble beaches. Makarska was an important trading port throught its history, which spans occupation by the Venetians, Turks, French and Austrians, all of whom left a taste of their culture and tradition behind.
The town boasts a world-renowned collection of sea shells, a Franciscan monastery dating from the 16th century, a Venetian fountain, and several churches and Baroque palaces. However, its main attraction is its splendid natural beauty.
The main tourist area of Makarska is lined with fashionable boutiques, cafes, and bars, all a stone's throw away from the yachts and catamarans docked in the harbour. Popular photo spots include a few beautiful churches and cathedrals dating back to the 13th century, as well as monuments dedicated to Friar Andrija Kaèiæ Miošiæ and Napoleon Bonaparte.
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