Part 11 - Trogir & Split, Croatia
Part 11 - Trogir & Split
It was a good thing that we had spent such a quiet and relaxing day at sea because this day there was a lot to be discovered again. We had boked a tour with “Private Guides Croatia” (www.private-guides-split.com) and found fellow explorers via CruiseCritic. Judith and Stuart, who had already been with us on the previous tours, were also part of our group again.
As always, we met in the lobby and left the ship together. Split welcomed us with bright sunshine.
At the port gate, we found our guide Peter with a sign in his hand. After a brief introduction we boarded another comfortable van and started our 30-minute trip to Trogir. Time flew, as Peter told us in a very pleasant way a lot about the country and its people – and, of course, about Trogir, our first destination.
The Romanesque town of Trogir dating back to the 3rd century BC represents the best preserved Romanesque-Gothic site not only on the Adriatic but in the whole of Eastern Europe. Its historic medieval center, in part surrounded by city walls, hosts a castle, a tower, approximately ten chruches and a series of houses and palaces. The entire old town of Trogir has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. We didn’t know yet which little gem was awaiting us.
At our destination, our driver dropped us off at a square. We crossed a small bridge, from where we already had a beautiful view, and reached the old town of Trogir through the so-called Town Gate.
We crossed it in a straight line and already enjoyed the old town idyll along the way.
This is how we soon reached the enchanting promenade on the south side of the island of the old town, bounded on one side by the Venetian Kamerlengo fortress.
We loved it immediately. Palm trees on one side, excursion boats on the other, small stalls selling local produce, inviting street cafés, old buldings, the screeching of the seagulls and the reflection of the water on the hulls of the ships .... pure vacation feeling!
Peter took us along the Riva towards the small Sea Gate in the city walls, through which we plunged into the maze of small, narrow streets again.
Unerringly, he navigated us through the narrow medieval alleys towards the market place in the center of the old town, which is framed by the Laurentius Cathedral, the town hall and the urban loggia with its bell tower.
In the loggia we were lucky enough to listen to a Klapa group performing traditional Dalmatian acapella songs.
A group of lay actors was rehearsing a theater play in medieval costumes in front of the town hall, giving us another impression of life in the city at the time.
Here, too, Peter was able to tell us a lot about the history and particularities of the buildings around us and, of course, the cathedral.
His particular focus was on the main portal of the cathedral. The “Radovan’s Portal” is one of the most important medieval portals in the Eastern Adriatic. The particularity of the portal dating back to 1240 are the scenes chosen by Radovan, which were unique for the time and illustrated in this form for the first time.
From the market place we followed more winding alleys back towards the North or Town Gate, kept being amazed at the beautiful old town and delighted in pretty little restaurants hiding in the back courtyards.
Crossing the bridge, we left the old town again and reached the parking lot, where our van was already waiting for us.
On our previous tours we had always got the odd piece of information on the wars between 1991 and 1999. However, they were always marked by distinct national and regional pride of the respective guides. Peter, on the other hand, had a very prudent and factual character with which he conveyed his extensive knowledge to us. This is why we had asked him about the events of that time. He used the time of our return to Split to tell us a bit about the developments that had led to the disputes in former Yugoslavia. To do so, he went far, far afield in history and thereby gave us more background knowledge about the conflicts of interest of the different population groups, without appearing emotional or partisan. Shortened by his very interesting explanations, and despite a traffic jam, our trip went by almost too fast, as we would have loved to listen to him longer.
In Split, our driver dropped us off at the Republic Square and we continued our tour on foot.
We were greeted by another beautifully desigend promenade which captivated us immediately. Deep blue waters, green plants, ancient buildings and palace ruins which seemed to have merged with new buildings, and many people visibly enjoying the sunny surroundings and atmosphere – it was simply wonderful.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and in common parlance called the “capital of Dalmatia”, even though it was never officially attributed this status. The center of tourist Split and of the old town is Deocletian’s Palace. It is a building complex which served as the retirement home for the Roman emperor Diocletian, who was the only Roman emperor to voluntarily leave office in 305 AD. Today, Diocletian’s Palace forms the old and inner city of the Croatian seaport of Split. After the Roman era it was converted into an inhabited fortress and in the following centuries adapted to different cultural influences. Numerous buildings or structural changes from different eras testify the vibrant history of the city of Split. The inner city area of Diocletian’s Palace was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
The promenade as such is actually the southern wall of the palace. We followed it a few steps before entering the vaults of Diocletian’s refuge, where Peter explained us the origins of the palace and its importance at the time with the help of some charts.
Afterwards we visited the imposing and extensive vault, which supported the palace at the time and a large part of the old town these days.
In some vaults, there was an exhibition of antique items, e. g. an olive press, busts of Diocletian or decorated stone blocks.
Other catacombs hosted various light installations as part of an art exhibition. Modern art in a 1700 year old setting.
Game of Thrones fans might recognize these vaults. In the series they served as the place where Daenerys locked up her dragons.
On the other side of the basement we took a flight of stairs to return to daylight and continued our tour above ground. In all places we found it at the same time striking and impressive how buildings used and inhabited today were merged with ancient ruins of the palace.
On our way to the cathedral we crossed the vestibule. It was the “antechamber” to the imperial rooms, so to speak. Once the porch was beautifullly decorated with marble and mosaics. Unfortunately, through the ages and due to the many modifications, none of the pompous decorations have survived. Apparently, this is why the large dome-shpaed building with the square floor plan next to the cathedral doesn’t get much attention – if it weren’t for the light play created by the destroyed dome.
Directly afterwards we entered the Peristyle. When the large square surrounded by columns was designed, the architects wanted to create an imposing setting in which the emperor could step out onto the balcony like in a theater play and, like a god, greet the people gathered below him.
Today, an actor in Caesar’s robe appears on the Peristyle balcony every evening and greets the guests of the surrounding cafés, spectators of the cultural events, passing business people enjoying their evening or tourists who just photographed the facade and may now wave back.
The adjacent Sveti Duje cathedral, former mausoleum of the emperor, is guarded by a Sphinx (formerly four), as Egypt fan Diocletian had wanted for his tomb. Christians left it when they converted the tomb of their former emperor into a church in the 7th century.
Architecturally, the cathedral is a little unusual. An octagonal floor plan is supported by 24 columns. The interior, in turn, is round and the tower looks almost Venetian.
Hidden in a narrow alley opposite the cathedral stands the former temple of Jupiter. Diocletian had the Jupiter temple richly decorated with a breathtaking ceiling fresco. In the 11th century, Christians adopted it as a baptistry and consecrated it to St John. They didn’t want it to be in any way inferior to the splendid pagan representations and, therefore, erected a magnificently decorated baptismal font inside the chapel in the 13th century. The Baptistry of St. John (Sv. Ivan) is only open once a year on the day of the patron saint of John the Baptist.
Like in Trogir, we followed Peter through a maze of small alleys, which he crossed unerringly while pointing out hidden details on the way.
In the course of the centuries, people had little respect for historic relics and finds were arbitrarily distributed as wall decorations.
We left the maze through the Golden Gate (Porta Aurea).
A large tatue of Bishop Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski) watches over the square in front of the gate. Hadn’t it been built in 1929 you would have thougth it was from a Harry Potter film.
Following more narrow streets once again, Peter took us to the popular square with the old town hall, the ancient palace and the town houses of long-deceased rich merchants.
Shortly behind was the square of the Radic brothers (Trg Brace Radica). This square hosts one of the town’s highest fortified towers overlooking the vibrant activity between Milensi Palace and designer shops.
A few steps further on we were back at the promenade, where our tour ended, unfortunately.
This is where we said good-bye to Peter. With his calm, informative and yet entertaining way he had given us a better understanding of Trogir and Split, and we have kept him in very good memory. That’s why we wholehearatedly recommend Peter and the tour with “Private Guides Croatia”
Birgit and I returned to the Republic Square and the winding alleyways behind it with their art galleries and small restaurants.
One of the restaurants had small tables arranged along the steps which seemed to be calling us. After all the sightseeing we thought a small snack was just the right thing.
We followed the promenade one last time on the south side of the palace, which was shining in the afternoon sun, and rounded the harbour to get to our ship.
From the Sunset Bar at the stern we waved good-bye to Split, which we had greeted in the morning without great expectations and which had turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Thinking of Split, we still have great memories of this wonderful day with picturesque places, winding and enchanting alleyways and a colorful atmosphere in this beautiful seaport.
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