Without doubt, the premier attraction in Split is Diocletian’s Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Cruise tenders dock at the ferry terminal, and from there it’s an easy walk to the Palace.
To familiarize yourself with the Palace complex in advance, here’s an excellent map. Clicking on the map makes it larger: http://viewfromtheriva.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/inside-of-map.jpg
You may also be able to find a copy of a free English-language newspaper for tourists called Discover Split, which is supposed to have a terrific detailed map of the Palace inside it.
The Palace was erected as a retirement residence for the Roman Emperor Diocletian (ruled 284-305), a native of nearby Aspalthos. After Diocletian’s death, the Palace was a refuge for exiled imperial family members; in the 7th century, it became a refuge for citizens fleeing the destruction of the nearby Roman town of Salona, who adapted it to their needs. Over time, Diocletian’s Mausoleum became a cathedral, the peristyle (the courtyard in front of the Emperor’s apartments) became a public square, and the Imperial Apartments were converted to residences.
The original 10-acre Palace was a combination imperial villa, Hellenistic town and military camp, all enclosed by walls. The east/west decumanus extended from the Porta Argentea (Silver Gate) to the Porta Ferrea (Iron Gate) and bisected the complex. The southern half housed the more luxurious buildings, and provided direct access to the Imperial Apartments from the seaside via the southern Porta Aena (Bronze Gate). A northern peristyle, or courtyard, gave access not only to the Apartments to the south of it, but to Diocletian’s Mausoleum to the east and the Temple of Jupiter to the west. The section of the complex north of the decumanus – the castrum – was bisected by the cardo, which led north from the peristyle to the Porta Aurea (Golden Gate). More than likely, these two northern sections formed a large residential complex for soldiers and servants.
If you enter the Palace through the Porta Argentea, Poljana Kraljige Jelene (Decumanus) leads directly to the Peristyle. (A Tourist Office occupies the Church of St. Roche at the left at the intersection. Stop there to pick up a map and other information.) Colonnades line the east and west sides of the Peristyle; the one on the eastern side is still an open arcade, while that on the western side has been closed off by Gothic and Renaissance houses built into it. On the south side of the Peristyle is the Prothyron, a monumental portico that leads into the vestibule of the old Imperial Apartments. The ceremonial loggia under the central arch was where Diocletian was viewed and worshipped as a deity.
The Peristyle recently underwent a 10-year restoration to clean, conserve and repair it. This link will take you to an article on the restoration: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Diocletians-palace-gets-laser-facelift/30058
On the eastern side of the Peristyle is Diocletian’s Mausoleum, now the Cathedral of St. Domnius (Sv. Duje), the 3rd century bishop martyred during Diocletian’s reign. The original Mausoleum is an octagonal building made of white limestone and marble and dates from the end of the 3rd century. The domed interior is round with two rows of Corinthian columns surmounted by a frieze of Diocletian and his wife, Prisca. In the 17th century, the eastern wall of the mausoleum was torn down so that a choir could be added. The Bell Tower was built in 1100, and the view from the top is said to be stunning. Many of the Tower’s original Romanesque sculptures were removed during rebuilding in 1908, but the Cathedral still retains the 13th century wooden doors, which are considered one of the best examples of Romanesque sculpture in Croatia. The Cathedral’s Treasury holds the relics of Saint Duje, as well as vestments, reliquaries, icons and illuminated manuscripts.
A comprehensive ticket costs 45 KN – about $8 US – and gives admission to the Cathedral, Bell Tower, Treasury, Crypt and Baptistery.
This link takes you to photos of the Cathedral’s interior: http://totalsplit.blogspot.com/2012/12/split-through-eyes-of-romulic-and.html
Just west of the Peristyle, at the end of Kraj Sv. Ivana, is the Temple of Jupiter. Like the Mausoleum, the Temple was repurposed during the early Middle Ages, when it became the Baptistery of the Cathedral. The Temple sits on an elevated platform, and has a crypt below. Outside, a headless sphinx – brought from Luxor by Diocletian – guards the door; inside, an elaborate frieze is topped by a coffered vault, while a 12th century baptismal fountain stands in the center.
Dioklecijanova (the old Roman cardo) runs from the Peristyle north to the Porta Aurea. Just to the right of the first corner (at Papaliceva), is the 15th century Papalic Palace/Split City Museum. The nucleus of the Museum’s collection is Dmine Papalic’s collection of sculptures and monuments taken from nearby Salona. Over time, the collection has grown to include more architectural elements (most notably the Romanesque sculptures from the Bell Tower) as well as paintings, documents, photographs, maps and armor. The permanent exhibit focuses on Split’s history as an autonomous commune (12th-14th centuries). Open Tues to Fri, 9:00 to 9:00; Sat, Sun and Mon, 10 to 4 – Admission 10-20 KN
Continue up Dioklecijanova and pass through the Porta Aurea, the main gate to the Palace. This gate looks much as is did in Roman times. The four empty niches above the portal once held statues of the four tetrarchs – Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus. (Think back to Venice, and you may recall seeing the porphyry statue of the Tetrarchs attached to the façade of St. Mark’s.) Beyond the gate is Ivan Mestrovic’s monumental statue of Gregory of Nin, the 10th century bishop who fought the Pope to hold church services in Croatian.
Walk back down Dioklecijanova and turn right on Dominisova. On the right hand side of the street is Getski Vrtal, the only green space inside the Palace. The building that stood here was bombed in WW II; today the neighbours maintain the plot as a garden. Further along Dominisova is a Fountain that still delivers potable water via an ancient Roman aqueduct. Zig right, left, and left again from Dominisova to Zidovski Prolaz and you will find the oldest continuously used Sephardic Synagogue in the world. Open Mon to Fri, 10 to 2 – Donations appreciated.
Return to the Peristyle and take Kresimirova west, through the Porta Ferrea and into Nardoni Trg. In the 13th and 14th centuries, as Split prospered, the city expanded beyond the western wall of the Palace; Nardoni Trg, located outside the Porta Ferrea, was the center of this medieval commune and is the liveliest square of the modern city. Of the Gothic houses that once formed the northern side of the square, only the Town Hall (1443) and its ground floor loggia remain.
Passing through the Prothyron and the Vestibula beyond it leads to the Porta Aena and the Riva (Seaside). On the left side of Vestibula is the Ethnographic Museum of Split, which showcases arts and crafts of Dalmatia. Please note: Museum caption cards are in Croatian. Open Sept to May, Mon to Fri, 9 to 3, Sat, 9 to 1 – Admission 10 KN
The Cellars, or foundations of the Palace, have been in the process of being excavated since the 19th century. Information is a bit sketchy on entrance and fees, but I believe a portion is open to the public free of charge, since it hosts a market. Access is via the Porta Aena or a staircase in the Peristyle. One site indicated that a 90-minute English language tour starts at the Tourist Information Center at 11 am; please arrive 15 minutes prior to the tour.
Other Points of Interest
A short taxi ride from the Palace is the Galerija Mestrovic, a villa designed and built by Ivan Mestrovic, the foremost Croatian sculptor of the 20th century. In 1952, Mestrovic donated the property and 132 of his works to the Republic of Croatia; in the years since, the collection has grown to include 192 sculptures, 583 drawings, 4 paintings, 291 architectural plans and 2 furniture sets. Open Summer (May thru Sept): Tues to Sun, 9 to 7 – Winter (Oct thru Apr): Tues to Sat, 9 to 4; Sun 10 to 3 – Admission 30 KN
The Archaeological Museum is another attraction that is a short taxi ride from the Palace. Founded in 1820, this is the oldest museum in Croatia, and showcases objects from prehistory through the Early Medieval period, including several artifacts taken from Salona. The Museum also has a large collection of antique and medieval coins. Exhibits are labeled in English and Croatian. Open Mon to Fri, 9 to 1 and 5 to 8; Sat, 9 to 2; Closed Sun and Mon – Admission 10 KN, Free on Monday and Thursday
Marjan Hill has served as an outdoor recreation area since the time of Diocletian. Situated to the west of Split, the park is a great place for walks, bike rides and rock climbing. The peak offers a terrific view of the city, and there are three churches (St. Nicholas, St. Jeronimus and the Church of the Madonna of Bethlehem) on its slopes. Close to the Galerija Mestrovic, and a short taxi ride from the Palace.