Why to choose the region of Split ?
The largest tourist region in Dalmatia is the part around Split , its largest city, a region which covers only one county, the County of Split-Dalmatia . This is the centre and the true heart of Dalmatia , where the majority of its inhabitants live, where the main Dalmatian islands are located, where the beaches are the most beautiful. Here is where most of the precious cultural monuments are to be found as well as two of a total of five Croatian localities included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage: the historical nucleus of Split , with Diocletian's Palace, and the historical city of Trogir . If Dalmatia is indeed, as many say, the true, primeval Mediterranean, then its central part around Split is, in itself, the heart of the entire Mediterranean.
Historically the Split part of Dalmatia shared the destiny of other parts of the entire region, but its central position, and the protection its hinterland provided, ensured that its exposure to devastation was much less than its neighbouring areas. That is why so many people live here and why the original spirit of the Mediterranean has been so well preserved. This applies especially to Split , the second largest Croatian city after Zagreb , and the cultural centre of Dalmatia . Located close to Split are other large coastal towns of Central Dalmatia : Trogir and Omiš. While extending further south is the Makarska Riviera. Lined in front of Split , one after the other, are almost all the larger Dalmatian islands: Brač, Šolta, Čiovo, Hvar, and Vis. The major part of the Dalmatian hinterland, with the towns of Sinj, Imotski, Vrlika, and Vrgorac, are also oriented towards Split .
Although the whole of this wide area abounds in cultural heritage, ranging from the prehistoric to recent times, what makes the central part of Dalmatia so special is its well preserved heritage dating from Antiquity. Two of the most outstanding ancient settlements of Dalmatia are located here: early Greek Issa and Roman Salona, not to forget the greatest pearl of antiquity in Croatia - the very CENTRE OF SPLIT AND ITS DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE.
The popular local song which tells us that the Roman Emperor Diocletian built his palace in "the most beautiful part of the world, right in the middle of Split", is not all that far from the truth. At the end of the 3rd century that Roman emperor chose for his abode the location in a protected and tranquil bay beneath the wooded Mount of Marjan, in front of which islands extend one after the other, and alongside which medicinal waters still flow. The palace is almost exactly square in shape, its side walls being about 200 metres in length, and in Diocletian's time it was actually surrounded by high walls. The value of that location is best proven by the fact that its space has been inhabited almost continuously from his time onwards, and that it is still the centre of life of the largest town in Dalmatia .
The present-day cathedral of St Domnius, patron saint of Split , built in the 7th century, is located in Emperor Diocletian's Mausoleum, and due to this function its interior has been furnished with a valuable sacral inventory. In front of the entrance a grand Romanesque bell tower was built in the 12th century. Its splendid interior is still a place of worship for the faithful, and a place of attraction for tourists. In front of the cathedral is the Peristyle where the populace once demonstrated their loyalty to Diocletian, while today it is a popular gathering place for the faithful and tourists alike.
Diocletian's Palace is now a venue for theatre productions, for Dalmatian klapas, and this is also where the people of Split live their everyday lives. In its immediate vicinity are monuments to famous Croats, such as the protector of the Croatian language, Bishop Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin), and "Father of Croatian literature" Marko Marulić. One can depart the walls of the palace through any one of four gates: the Iron Gate, Golden Gate, Silver Gate - leading towards the Split Pjaca (the main square), or the Brass Gate, which take one through palace cellars to the Split waterfront. It is here, by the sea, that the citizens of Split and their guests best like to congregate.
Numerous valuable cultural monuments are also to be found beyond the palace walls. A special place among them belongs to Prokurative, the neo-Renaissance square alongside the western wall of the palace. This is where the annual festival of Dalmatian chansons, lauding the love that the citizens of Split have for beautiful songs takes place. There are, of course, other beautiful buildings and churches to be seen in Split , but also on Mount Marjan , known as the city's green lungs.
Split is renowned for being a TOWN OF MUSEUMS , the most prestigious of these being the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments which contains the most precious remains of the material and spiritual culture of Croats, particularly from the period of the early medieval Croatian state from the 9th to the 12th century. Split is also home to the most important of the three galleries dedicated to Ivan Meštrović, the greatest Croatian sculptor. Numerous galleries of fine arts possess a wealth of exhibits, and the holdings of the Museum of the City of Split include many valuable paintings.
The importance of Split as the largest coastal town in Croatia , and the third-largest passenger port in the Mediterranean can best be seen through the wealth of exhibits in the Croatian Maritime Museum . Its holdings include models of ships that sailed the seas from the early Middle Ages and the days of great sailing ships, right up to modern times. The department devoted to the navies of the 19th and 20th centuries is particularly rich, while in front of the museum is a spacious courtyard area where original ships can be seen.
Split became the capital of Dalmatia only after W.W.I, when Zadar - then the capital - temporarily came under Italian rule. The centre of Dalmatia in the times of Antiquity was Salona, its remains being located in the immediate vicinity of Split , in what today is Solin. ANCIENT SALONA was the metropolis of the large Roman province of Dalmatia which encompassed an area on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea larger than contemporary Croatia .
The one-time importance of Salona is evident in the expanse of its ruins, which often surprises visitors bearing in mind that the location is in the predominantly industrial suburb of Split . In places the entire ground plan of individual buildings and the preserved arches of what once were Roman palaces are still visible. But the most valuable finds from Salona are secured in the most treasured of all museums in Split , the Archaeological Museum , which is also the oldest Croatian museum, having been founded in 1820.
The Museum building is adorned by a beautiful atrium, and a finely appointed interior with 150,000 different exhibits. In addition to the finds from Salona and other Roman localities, the museum houses numerous objects from ancient Greece and the early medieval period. Among the displays some collections deserve special attention, like the collection of ancient sarcophagi, stone plastic, ancient clay oil lamps and Roman glass, objects made of bone and metal, and precious stones.
Located along the shores of Kaštela Bay in addition to Split and ancient Salona is yet another striking jewel of Croatia 's cultural heritage which also enjoys the protection of the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage: the HISTORICAL CITY OF TROGIR. Situated on a tiny isle between the mainland and the island of Čiovo, with which it is linked by bridges, it has retained an almost unchanged appearance since the Middle Ages. What makes Trogir so special is the continuity of its existence that reaches back to the times of the ancient Greeks. Consequently, side by side there stand monuments from the Hellenistic period, Antiquity, the early Middle Ages and the late Middle Ages.
The most important of all monuments is the Cathedral of St Lawrence, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, famous for its monumental Romanesque portal built by Master carver Radovan, and the altar with a monumental ciborium. In the cathedral's north nave is the 15th -century chapel of Blessed Ivan Ursini, and the magnificent plastic art on walls and the ceiling is regarded as the pinnacle of Renaissance architecture in Dalmatia. Next to the cathedral is the Town Loggia which dates from the 15th century, as does the Kamerlengo Tower at the western end of the city, much celebrated in the melodious songs of Trogir.
The majority of finds from the rich history of Trogir is held in the City Museum situated in the Garagnin-Fanfogna Palace . The Museum also possesses a valuable collection of paintings and sculptural works, as well as a rich and well appointed library. The 11th -century Benedictine convent of St Nicholas also houses a rich collection, the most important exhibit, and a symbol of Trogir, is the Greek relief depicting Kairos, Greek god of the lucky moment, dating from the 3rd century BC.
There are also many preserved cultural monuments in the near surroundings of Trogir. Of particular significance is a mill dating from the 16th century in the locality of Puntana, not far from Split International Airport , and the 15th-century tower in the village of Marina .
Leaving the shores of the Split region of Dalmatia and heading towards the islands of Central Dalmatia , the abundance of monuments dating from Antiquity and from the Middle Ages is evident, and so is the greenery of the landscape and the picturesque towns and villages. A special place among those islands belongs to HVAR, which Traveller, the popular American magazine, declared one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world. Visitors are drawn mostly to the beauty and charm of the main urban centre on the island, the town of Hvar , encircled by mighty medieval walls. From its Španjol Fortress, rising high above the town magnificent views open towards the group of green islands known as Pakleni otoci (Hell's islands) and the open sea.
The island of Hvar is also known for the agricultural system known as ager of Stari Grad, known as Pharos in ancient times, i.e. the division of fields into plots, a system preserved from Hellenistic times. Hvar has a number of picturesque villages with preserved, old architecture, such as Velo Grablje, numerous churches and tiny chapels, while small museums in the urban settlements on the island, Hvar and Stari Grad, house extremely valuable works of art, the most important being the Last Supper which can be viewed in the refectory of the 15th-century Franciscan monastery in Hvar itself. Tourists who come to the town spend most of their time on the main square, in front of the cathedral, and by the old Arsenal and the oldest Croatian theatre. They also love visiting the Benedictine convent, where nuns are famous for the production of unique lace made from agave fibres.
The town of Stari Grad , once the main island centre, the heir to the Greek Pharos, after which the island was named, boasts a rich cultural heritage. In the local museum there is a special collection dedicated to ancient Pharos, maritime and ethnographic collections, and the Juraj Plančić picture gallery. The most valuable part of the cultural heritage of Stari Grad is Tvrdalj, the fortified Renaissance castle dating from the beginning of the 16th century, built by the great Croatian poet Petar Hektorović, who lived and worked in it. The beauty of other parts of the island, adorned with lavender fields, old dry-stone walls and shepherds' huts, are no less captivating: the village of Jelsa , with its Renaissance-Baroque St John's Square ; Vrboska, with its unique 16th-century church-come-fortress of St Mary of Mercy.
BRAČ, the largest and the highest of all Dalmatian islands, does not possess as many monuments from Antiquity as does Hvar, but it delights its visitors with magnificent views, most beautiful beaches and the whiteness of its stone-built houses. For it is from the quarries of Brač that a large number of grand buildings in Dalmatia, Venice , and even a part of the White House in Washington , has been built. The islanders are also known for their quite specific character, demonstrated through the making of monuments of people who have touched them in a special way. Along those lines, in the village of Selca there are monuments to Pope John Paul II, the German politician, Hans Dietrich Genscher, and the Russian writer, Lav Tolstoy.
The most outstanding cultural monument of Brač is the monastery known as Pustinja Blaca ( Blaca " Desert " ), built far up in the hills by Croatian Glagolitic monks in the 15th century. The monastery, where a mystic and contemplative atmosphere prevails, has an old astronomical observatory and a museum collection. The main local museum is also located in the hilly hinterland, in an old tower in the village of Škrip. Visitors to Brač are also drawn by the imposing church bell towers built from the white stone of Brač. The most attractive among them is located in the small village of Ložišće , which dates from the 19th century and is the work of the Croatian sculptor, Ivan Rendić. The attractive museum of the Petrinović family in Supetar, the largest settlement on the island, is also adorned with the pure whiteness of this amazing stone.
Vis, the most far flung of the islands of Central Dalmatia, sitting in the open sea, is renowned for being the most valuable Hellenistic locality in Croatia , and also for the genuine Mediterranean atmosphere, and for the crystal-clear waters washing the shores of its two largest towns, Vis and Komiža. This is partly due to the isolation this island was subjected to until 1991 since, in the time of communist Yugoslavia , it was used as a military base and foreigners were forbidden access.
Authentic quality is especially significant in Komiža, in the south of the island, the centre of which is dominated by the Grimaldi Tower . The most important church in Komiža, dedicated to St Nicholas, is located above the town, and from there views towards the open sea and the most distant of all the Adriatic islands, Biševo, Sveti Andrija and Palagruža, are breathtaking. Even more beautiful is the view from the tiny churches built still higher above Komiža. The sea around Komiža is always teeming with fish, which is why the town is one of the main fishing centres on the Adriatic . The town has a special Museum of Fishing , while its fish restaurants exude a very special atmosphere.
The town of Vis is located in the north of the island, in a wide bay which is a very popular anchorage for yachtsmen. The town has a number of old churches and finely-made stone-built houses, and sits on the site where, in the 4th century BC, rose what was then most important town in Dalmatia : the Greek colony of Issa. Findings from Issa are housed in the Archaeological Museum in Vis , also known for its large collection of amphorae and other pottery items. The most famous exhibit, and practically the symbol of Vis , is a bronze head of the Greek goddess Artemis.
It was close to Vis, an important strategic point in the Mediterranean , that in 1866 one of the greatest naval battles between the Hapsburg and the Italian navies took place, and which is still remembered with commemorative ceremonies. The island also played an important role in W.W.2. In 1944 the headquarters of the partisan forces commanded by Josip Broz Tito was sheltered in a cave in the island's interior.
And now, at the end of our journey through Central Dalmatia , it is time to take a look into its karstic interior, into DALMATINSKA ZAGORA, homeland of proud highlanders and warriors renowned for their dedicated preservation of ancient customs. And pride of place among all those customs lies with the best-known Croatian tourney, the Sinjska alka. It takes place every year in August in the largest town of Damatinska zagora, in Sinj, on the anniversary of the battle fought in 1715, when 500 Croatian soldiers from Sinj repelled an attack by a 60,000-strong Turkish army.
In this tournament a rider, dressed in traditional Alkar costume, riding his horse at full gallop, has three attempts to pierce the middle of a small iron ring (the "alka"), with his lance and to collect the highest number of points for victory. Other participants of Alka are also dressed in traditional costumes, as are the girls of Sinj and its surroundings, who have also preserved their traditional dress. In addition to Alka, Sinj is known as the place of pilgrimage to Our Miraculous Lady of Sinj, the most important in Dalmatia . The town also has an interesting museum.
In the surroundings of Sinj there are many archaeological sites from the period of Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, its very specific feature being the standing tombstones, of medieval origin. Situated on the road from Sinj to Split is the most striking monument in Dalmatinska zagora: the magnificent fortress of Klis, famous for battles fought against the Turks in the 16th century. From its preserved walls and towers it is possible to enjoy one of the most beautiful views of Split . A monumental fortress adorns the second most important town of this region, Imotski, which is situated above the magical Modro jezero (Blue lake). (htz)