Destination Dalmatian Riviera:
Diocletian's Seaside Digs
Story and photos by Tom Weber
"splitsville" for the intrepid "band of merry media"
18 travel writers and photographers invited by Insight
Vacations to sample a portion of its Bosnia and Dalmatian Riviera
itinerary as Sasha, the Zagrebian pilot of our sleek, business-class
legroom Mercedes motor coach, puts Mostar
and the rocky terrain of Bosnia in the rearview mirror and the bluest
of Croatian blues smack dab on the windshield as we gun it for, you
guessed it, Split.
Croatia's second largest city, Split is
a true jewel fronting the turqoise-to-sapphire-colored Adriatic Sea
along the sun-drenched Dalmatian Coast, where once upon a time sandal-clad
legions of the Roman Empire ruled the day and those money-mad merchants
of the Most Serene Republic of Venice wheeled and dealed.
With no time on our schedule to grab a
few rays, we're greeted by Damir, a local-area expert, and fast-tracked
there's no waiting in line when you travel with Insight, by the
way down into the bowels of Split's main attraction: Roman Emperor
Diocletian's massive, 4th century A.D. retirement palace.
"The ancient complex of Split, including
this palace," notes Damir, "was awarded UNESCO World Heritage
status back in 1979."
In rapid-fire cadence, Damir adds, "It
was a military fortress, an imperial residence and a fortified town
all rolled into one, and measures 215 meters from east to west and 181
meters wide at its southernmost point. All together, Diocletian's retirement
home covers 31,000 square meters."
Visible to the camera lens down here, where
it's nice and cool, are the substructure's massive stone supports
easily recognizable as the throne room set for Daenerys Targaryen and
her cuddly dragons in the Game of Thrones, the hit U.S. fantasy-drama
TV series some original wooden beams, and the remains of the
palace's, ahem, sewage system.
Following our underground primer, Damir
leads us out of the dark and into the bright sunlight via a steep, ancient
stone staircase, similar to that climbed by Roman general-turned-gladiator
Maximus Decimus Meridus when he entered the Colosseum of Rome. The only
difference, this "band of merry media" didn't sign up for
MAXIMUS! MAXIMUS! MAXIMUS!
Diocletian didn't hold back with the ducats,
as he spared no expense in the building of his "pad for a pensioner."
White stone from the nearby island of Brač,
the very same kind used in the construction of the U.S. White House,
changes color constantly with the passage of the sun. Marble was imported
from Italy and Greece, while twin sphinxes were shipped over from Egypt.
And oodles of columns dot the intimate labyrinth of narrow alleyways
of this ancient, atmospheric town within a palace.
But wait, there's more!
Four massive, monumental gates provide
entry/exit into the palace complex, all named after a metal: Porta Aurea
(Golden), Porta Argenta (Silver), Porta Ferrea (Iron) and Porta Aenea
And, just beyond the palace's walls stands
a city landmark: a statue of Medieval bishop Grgur Ninski (Gregory of
Nin) by celebrated Croat sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. Be sure and rub Greg's
big left toe for guaranteed good luck.
More than just a transport hub for ferry
hopping out to the islands of the Dalmatian Archipelago, Split is undergoing
a major nip and tuck to keep the tourists closer to its cobble.
Noteworthy is the lengthy, palm tree-lined
old Riva (seafront) that's replaced worn-out slabs of concrete with
more elegant-looking, feet-friendly stone pavers.
The promenade is dotted with plenty of
bars and eateries. Just grab a table under one of the large umbrellas
fronting the palace, order an aperitif and sit back and enjoy the views
of that turquoise-to-sapphire-colored Adriatic Sea. And, don't forget
to raise your glass and give thanks to Emperor Diocletian. He deserves
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Join me and the rest of the "band
of merry media" tomorrow morning when we head for Dalmatia's Peljeac
Peninsula, hop on a fishing tug moored in Mali Ston and roust a few
oysters fast asleep in their beds out in the cool Adriatic.
Daredevil Divers of the Stari Most; Inside
Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope; My
Kup Runneth Over with Kafa; Sarajevo's
Storied Bridge to World War I; Dinner
in Sarajevo with Mrs. Safija