A Few Days in Split, Croatia

Ever since I can remember, I have wondered about my last name. It was more than a desire to understand what it meant and where it came from, I wanted to know the history behind it and how that impacted me. I remember asking my father about it as a child and all I ever was able to get from him was that he thought his family had emigrated from what was at the time that I had posed my question, the country of Yugoslavia.

As I am sure many know, “Yugoslavia” only existed as a somewhat cohesive unit when several states of the former Ottoman Empire were joined together in a kingdom following World War I. Then, after World War II, the king was deplaced and Yugoslavia became a socialist state headed by the dictator Josip Tito.

When Tito died in 1980, the country began to quickly unravel as the different factions began to move towards self-governance and independence. It was under this backdrop that I visited the country for the first time in 1986. I was studying in France and at the first opportunity (Christmas break) I grabbed my Eurail pass and headed to Yugoslavia. I visited all the major cities: Ljubljana (Slovenia), Zagreb (Croatia), Belgrade (Serbia), and Sarajevo (Bosnia).

Using my limited Russian (I had studied it for two and a half years) and the locals limited English, I was able to determine that I was likely Serbian and that my last name meant “rabbit hunter for the king” (at least that is what I think the soldier said who had checked my passport as we crossed the border on the way to Zagreb at 3:00 in the morning right before another pressed his Kalashnikov firmly against my forehead).

For the next few years, I proudly professed my Serbian heritage whenever given the chance (particularly to those who actually had heard of the region).

Then came Slobodan Milošević, a Serb who subjugated the region to years of war as one by one the former provinces declared their independence. Among other lowlights, he oversaw the senseless bombing of Croatia and he was accused (but later acquitted) of the attempted genocide of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.

I decided it was no longer all that “cool” to be Serbian and, still not knowing for sure where my family actually came from, I switched to being Croatian, which seemed much more hip and welcoming.

One of my biggest regrets during that trip so many years ago to the region, was that I never made it to the Croatian coast. In the decades since, I have longed to see Split, Dubrovnik, and the rest of the Dalmatian Coast (which has long since been rebuilt after the bombing). Last month, I finally got there as my family spent nearly a week in the wonderful town of Split.

Here are a few of the hundreds of pictures I took…

Our apartment was within the old walls of Diocletian’s Palace, which we entered for the first time through the Golden Gate, just as Diocletian did over 1700 years ago.

A huge statue of Grgur Ninski stands just outside the Golden Gate. He was a Croatian bishop in the 10th Century who strongly opposed the pope and introduced the local language into religious services (previously they were all held in incomprehensible Latin), which contributed to the rapid acceptance of Christianity across Croatia.

Apparently it is good luck to rub Grgur’s big toe. Um. OK?

Our apartment was just a few meters from the Iron Gate and the clock tower.

The Silver Gate lies on the Eastern edge of the palace and is perhaps my favorite (despite the bozo in the Kyrie Irving jersey). It leads to the…

…Stari Pazar, or Green Market, which operates every day in Split and has some lovely vegetables (which are weighed using a rather antiquated method).

In the center of the old town is the Peristyle (the original center of the palace) and the bell tower of St. Dominus Cathedral. The tower dates from the 12th Century and took over 300 years to complete.

The palace, really a defensive fortification, was abandoned about 150 years after the death of Diocletian (311 A.D.). Eventually, local populations moved in behind the walls for protection, building residences and businesses. I do not know how long this pizza shop has been here, but it was quite popular.

Perhaps due to the rather large slices.

Split is replete with great photo opportunities. Here is what is claimed to be the narrowest street in the world.

The palace still contains evidence of the pre-Christian era. This is the door to the Temple of Jupiter in the middle of the old town.

The Vestibule was the entrance to the residential area of the palace.

A statue of Marko Marulić, perhaps the most famous Croatian poet, is in the center square.

It absolutely poured one afternoon, but luckily we brought Diplomacy (and a bottle of local bubbly).

Above all else, perhaps, Split is a beach town and despite not really being “beach people” we headed there one afternoon.

More on our trip to the “homeland” next week!


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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1 Response to A Few Days in Split, Croatia

  1. What a great read! I’m looking forward to your upcoming updates on the visit. We will be making our next trip to Croatia in the spring, with about 10 master sommeliers, to try and pump up the wine region and bring more awareness back to the states.


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