22 September 2008

Our Split Personalities Are Showing

Friday, 19 September 2008

After sailing through the night, we reached the port of Split, Croatia, sometime in the early morning hours.  We were supposed to be able to disembark the ship after 8:30 AM, but that didn't seem to be happening.  Since we were anchored off-shore, we had to take tenders over to the city of Split.  Most of our group (Bob and Emma were sleeping in) met for breakfast and we were waiting for our tender tickets by 10, we were on our way by 10:30, and we were on shore by about 10:50.  We had chosen not to do a shore excursion here, but once ashore we were met with offers for tours of different varieties.  We had been led to believe that one of the most beautiful beaches in the world was about 15 km away, so we were hoping to find a tour that would take us there.  We spoke to a young woman who showed us a beach that we would visit that appeared to be some distance from the center of the city, so we were hoping that would be the one.  At any rate, we shelled out our Euros and hopped on board our open-air bus for a tour of Split.  You can check it out at www.visit-split-croatia.com if you're interested.

For today's history/geography lesson, here's a little background info about Split, which is the second largest city in Croatia (Dubrovnik, the capital, is the largest).  Split lies in the heart of the Dalmation coast, and it is most famous for housing the palace of Diocletian, a Roman emperor who founded Split in 293 AD.  Split is sheltered from the wind and experiences 2700 sunny hours per year; it has a population of 200,000 people who believe  Split is “the most beautiful city in the world and beyond.”  But back to Diocletian for a minute – being a rather typical Roman Emperor, he of course needed a palace built in his honor and to be his burial place.  Fascinated as he was by Egyptian culture, Diocletian imported marble from Luxor and even incorporated sphinx (I'm not even going to try to guess the plural) as part of his décor.  Diocletian was a clever man, and started the use of the elevated podium (from whence he addressed his people, who were on their knees in the courtyard below him) and he wore a purple robe to distinguish him from the commoners.  If you've ever been to the Vatican, some of this might sound familiar.  Okay, on with the day's adventures...

It was fairly overcast and a bit chilly for my taste; most of you know that anything under 80 and not sunny is a bit chilly for me, so I'll tell you it was probably in the low 60's and in an open air bus that was speeding through town, I was almost cold.  Here are the stops that we fairly FLEW by: Bacvice, with one of the only sandy beaches around; Gripe and the Maritime Museum and what passed for a shopping mall; Archaeological Museum and a park across the street from a big secondary school; Poljud, home to the huge futbol stadium (Croatia has quite the soccer team!) and another stadium of some indeterminate kind; and then we actually stopped at Bene, a rocky beach (not one of the most beautiful beaches in the world!) and recreation area.  We stayed there for 15 minutes – time for most of the bus to line up for the four toilettes in the small coffee shop there and to get a pictre or two of the swimming area.  Thankfully, no one was swimming, and I was the only one I saw who took off shoes and stuck my feet in the water.  It was WAY too cold for me!  Back on the bus, we backtracked to town and breezed past Kastelet with its Museum of Croatian Archaeological monuments; Zvoncac, with an old cemetery and a marina, and Sv. Frane, the monastery and church of St. Francis.  Whew.  

Our tour guide, Stella, talked almost non-stop and very rapidly throughout this portion of the tour, and most of us missed a lot of what she said, but here are a few things that stood out to me.  You may know that Croatia was once part of Yugoslavia, which was ruled by Marshal Tito and was a Soviet bloc country.  We passed several buildings which were left from the time of the Soviet regime, and they were what you would expect – cold blocks of stone and all business.  Today they house TV and radio stations.  Although Split was not adversely affected by the war (in the early 90's) as far as casualties and bombing goes, they were without electricity for TWO AND A HALF YEARS!!!  Can you imagine?  It is only recently that they have been able to recover and begin growing again.  Because of their location on the Adriatic Sea, their climate is very temperate.  In fact, one of the first things we noticed in Split was the abundance of palm trees, and on our tour we saw lots of bougainvillea and many beautiful potted plants on the balconies of apartments.  Most of the dwellings we passed were apartment buildings that looked like the Soviets had had a hand in them, too.  We saw very few private residences, and most of those were on the waterfront, but nothing like homes that would be on most any waterfront (not counting 'criks') in the States.  

The bus dropped us off at the Riva, which was a gorgeous, wide, new promenade along the beachfront of the marina.  Along the walkway were planted big plots of rosemary, sage, and lavender, so the smell was wonderful.  There were also many colorful flowers, particularly in the city center, as well as on the Riva.  We walked past many sidewalk cafes and shops as we made our way down to the highlight of our tour, the substructure of the palace of Diocletian.  This palace was gigantic, having four entrances – the bronze, iron, silver, and gold, and being surrounded by four towers on each corner and numerous smaller towers along three  sides.  One side, the beachfront side, must have originally gone right up to the waterfront. What's most amazing is that MUCH of this building, built in the 3rd century, is still standing.  Not only that, but most of the palace is being lived in or houses shops and businesses today! After the fall of the Roman Empire, Split has been governed by many peoples – the nearby Venetians, Croatians, Hungarians, French, and Austrio-Hungarian monarchs – who have all added something to the culture of the city.  In one section of the palace, Venetians actually copied a frieze exactly on a part they added to the original palace.  In the middle of the octagonal ruin that was to have been Diocletian's burial place (don't know if he got buried there or not!) is now a tall campanile that took MANY more years to build than it did to build the palace. You will just have to wait to see the incredible pictures of the palace, but in the meantime, it would be worth googling to see what you could learn!  Without the photos, I'll just tell you it is simply amazing to see 'ruins' that old that are still in good shape and being used today.  The four entranceways were gigantic arches that had had actual doors in them, covered in whatever material the gate was named.  We entered through the Bronze Gate, which still had its doors.  The golden gate was the largest and grandest, but you can believe it had no golden doors left on it...The whole downtown of Split has been built in and around this palace - it was really something.  It reminded me very much of being in Rome, where ancient ruins are just in the middle of a modern, bustling city.  Fascinating!

Here is some information about the palace from  http://w3.mrki.info/split/diokl.html:  “The ground plan of the palace is an irregular rectangle with towers projecting from the western, northern, and eastern facades. It combines qualities of a luxurious villa with those of a military camp. Only the southern facade, which rose directly from, or very near to, the sea, was unfortified. The elaborate architectural composition of the arcaded gallery on its upper floor differs from the more severe treatment of the three shore facades. A monumental gate in the middle of each of these walls led to an enclosed courtyard. The southern Sea Gate was simpler in shape and dimensions than the other three. Perhaps it was originally intended as the emperor's private access to boats, or as a service entrance for supplies.  The dual nature of the architectural scheme, derived from both villa and castrum types, is also evident in the arrangement of the interior. The transverse road (decumanus) linking the east and west gates divided the complex into two halves. In the southern half were the more luxurious structures; that is, the emperor's apartment, both public and private, and cult buildings. The emperor's apartment formed a block along the sea front. Because the sloping terrain created large differences in level, this block was situated above a substructure. Although for many centuries almost completely filled with refuse, most of the substructure is well preserved, giving us evidence as to the original shape and disposition of the rooms above.  A monumental court, called the Perystile, formed the northern access to the imperial apartments. It also gave access to Diocletian's Mausoleum on the east, and to three temples on the west.  The northern half of the palace, which was divided in two parts by the main longitudinal street (cardo) leading from the North Gate to the Perystile, is less well preserved. It is usually supposed that each of these parts formed a large residential complex, housing soldiers, servants, and possibly some other facilities. Both parts were apparently surrounded on all sides by streets. Leading to perimeter walls there were rectangular buildings, possibly storage magazines.  The Palace is built of white local limestone of high quality, most of which was from quarries on the island of Brac (Stella told us this is where the limestone used in building the White House was from); tuffa taken from the nearby river beds; and brick made in Salonitan and other workshops. Some material for decoration was imported: Egyptian granite columns and sphinxes, fine marble for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops in the Proconnesos.”

Stella showed us a few statues, the largest one being a celebrated bronze monument to Bishop Grgur of Nin by the famous sculptor, Meštrović, which is located at the north portal to Diocletian's palace. Legend has it that wishes are fulfilled if one touches the big toe of his foot, which now looks gold while the rest of the sculpture still looks bronze.  Bishop Grgur was the adored by the people of Split because he was brave enough to stand up to the Pope and disagree with him about some issue.  At the end of our tour, we came to another statue, which was of a writer who wrote the first book in the Croatian language, and it was in a square near an apartment that had a plaque on it honoring Sigmund Freud, who evidently used to spend time there.  

At this point, Rex and I decided that we would stay in Split for lunch, while the Woodys and the Youngs were going to go back to the ship for lunch, so we split up.  We all found our way down to the city's fresh air market, which was a beehive of activity.  Temporary and permanent stalls lined the street and filled the square, and vendors were selling everything from cured meats (those big pigs' feet were something!) to gorgeous flowers (the Gerbera daisies were big and beautiful – all colors!) to fresh fruits and vegetables, figs, olive oil, nuts, dried beans, dried fruits, buttons of all colors and shapes, zippers, soccer shirts, touristy T-shirts, flip-flops, fresh herbs, eggs, cheeses, postcards, hats, purses – it was the place to be if you had kuna to spend!  After seeing all of that food, we were pretty hungry, so we took a seat at one of the tables on the Riva.  The menu was written in Croatian, English, Italian, and German and was pretty extensive, so we made our choices and then waited for our server to come by.  And waited, and waited...we are not in the States, that's for sure!  When he finally came to take our order (and clear our table from its previous guests), the things we had chosen weren't available.  He suggested we have the 'filet mignon' and split a salad and an order of pommes frite, so we did.  In the meantime, we struck up a conversation with the couple at the next table, who were from Denver and were also on our ship.  They were enjoying fresh calamari and told us that they had waited a good while for service, too, so we just sat back and enjoyed people watching and the yummy bread that we were served.  Before too long, our salad arrived and then our meal.  The 'filet mignon' was really more like three medallions of beef, which were tasty and served with sides of chopped raw onions and Dalmatian sauce, which was delicious.  The fries were good, too, although no ketchup was to be found (the Dalmatian sauce worked for me, though).  Carafes of red wine were all we needed to complete our meal, and we had seen gelato stands that we had to walk right past to get back to the ship.  Alas, the gelatarias only took the Croatian kuna, and we had none and didn't feel like getting any since we were leaving town.

We tendered back to the ship, where we promptly took a nap!  All too soon, it was time for dinner (didn't we just eat?) so we got dressed and met the rest of our group.  We had a table to ourselves this time, and again, the food was plentiful and tasty and the conversation was great.  After dinner, everyone but me took in the evening show – I came back to blog and download photos.  That's what happens when I get so behind!  

Trying to keep it together,


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