Croatia, Split and an emperor’s retirement home


Arriving late from Zagreb the night before, we woke up to a splendid morning in Split with not a cloud in the sky. Heading out to breakfast early, the Riva was already stirring. Split is the second largest city in Croatia so taking advantage of the quiet morning, we went for a stroll along the promenade. Due to where we stayed, a splendidly refurbished apartment, (we’ll happily recommend it), within minutes, we were at Diocletian’s Palace.

Riva Promenade

Originally a military fortress, this is an imposing Roman ruin which made Split famous when Roman emperor Diocletian decided to have a sea change and built his retirement palace here. As with any Emperor worth his salt, he spared no expenses with his beach shack. Marble from Italy and Greece, columns from Egypt, white stone from the nearby island of Brac, he even had a couple of sphinxes thrown in for good measure. As he liked the place so much, he actually called it time on his reign and spent the rest of his years here at his seaside home. (An interesting fact, the famous white stone from the island of Brac was also supplied to build the White House in the US!)

Central Square Peristil. Just to the far end on the left, you can see one of the two black sphinxes.

Surrounded by four walls, each wall of the Palace has a gate named after an element. The Northern end is the Golden gate from which the emperor entered the palace. The eastern gate is the Silver gate and westward lies the Iron gate. The Southern gate which faces the Adriatic Sea is the Bronze gate.

However, this is no abandoned ruin converted into a museum. It is in fact a living thriving community packed with cafés, shops and restaurants and home to 3,000 people. In summer, the number can easily double with visitors!

market split
Saturday morning market just outside the walls of Diocletians Palace
garlic split
Garlic sellers at the market – what an interesting sight!

We signed up for the One Penny Split Walking tour which if you are so inclined is a fantastic introduction by one of the local guides to everything Diocletian.You can’t miss them in Peristil square. They carry bright blue umbrellas.

penny walking tour
One Penny Split Walking Tour (it used to be free but now by law they have to charge one Euro or 7.50 Kuna)

Our walk was for an hour and a half except for the unexpected ringing of the church bells (due to a local church service ordaining new priests) that stopped just about everything for twenty minutes. Even our guide who has a pretty strong voice decided to wait rather than trying to speak over the deafening bells! They just rang what seemed like forever.

Split Diocletians
Cathedral of St Domnius with its bell tower. One reason to choose your hotel location wisely.
Split romans
Dressed up to welcome visitors to Diocletians Palace.

Even a brief performance of Roman soldiers had to wait until the church bells stopped ringing.

One of the many residences that still call the buildings within the Palace their home


Due to our late finish with the tour, we popped into the first restaurant we could find as you can guess, the troops were hungry. Thankfully, (maybe rubbing the golden toe did work*), there was room for all twelve of us and we enjoyed our first good meal of local Dalmation fare.

From Split, we then transferred to our boat, Gullet Libra, for our week long tour of the Croatian islands.


* more about that in a separate blog


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