In Need of Imagination: Split
January 4, 2011 1 Comment
By Rob Packer
Split, Croatia’s second-largest city, has one of the best stories of any city that I know: the city’s location was originally the site of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s retirement palace until he died in 313. It was conveniently close to the Roman Empire’s declining heartland in Italy and was near Salona, one of the most important cities of Rome’s province of Dalmatia. As a result of “barbarian” invasions that caused the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, life in Dalmatia became more and more dangerous and by the 7th century Salona’s inhabitants had abandoned the city to take refuge on Croatia’s islands or within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace: out of the palace came Split’s historic ore with inhabitants using the original palace structure as the basis for their houses.
I’ve wanted to visit Split since I first heard the story of its founding, but I have to say I was slightly disappointed by the city. This isn’t to say that the peristyle, an palatial patio turned town square, isn’t beautiful; that the empty underground vaults by the palace’s seaside entrance aren’t impressive on the scale that Roman ruins excel; or that wandering around this palace-town isn’t interesting, discovering Roman stairways that lead into apartments or to nowhere, shops and cafés buried within Roman ruins and then emerging onto the neoclassical seaside promenade from the Austro-Hungarian era. It’s not Pompeii though, and I genuinely think that a tourist who didn’t know the history of the town would see Split as just another typical Dalmatian town. At the end of the day, Split’s a pretty and relaxing town—with an extremely oversold story.