Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 2.27.18
Just Outside Washington

All photos courtesy the authors


Split to Hvar to Korcula and Beyond
Sunday, October 29, 2017

La Perla cruised through the night along the Dalmatian Coast in the channel between Pasman Island and the mainland. Pasman Island is about 17 miles long and two miles wide and home to 2,700 people. After Pasman we passed Mutter, Zirje, and Salta and at least 20 more islands as we cruised south and east. Many of the islands are uninhabited and many have no vegetation, due to the Bura winds coming down from the mountains. The digital chart located in La Perla's saloon so we could follow our course; the number, upper right is the heading in degrees, upper left is the boat's speed in knots and the numbers in the water show the depth in meters.



The picture shows the same island that is on the chart.

La Perla arrived at the dock in downtown Split around AM and tied up for the day. Split is the second-largest city of Croatia with a population of about 180,000. It is situated on a peninsula between the eastern Gulf of Katela and the Split Channel, which we came in.

The Greeks established Solona, about two miles from Split, as a colony in the 2nd Century BCE. Salona became the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia because it sided with Julius Caesar in the civil war against Pompius and Crassus in 54 BCE. Salona was largely destroyed in the invasions of the Slavs in the seventh century CE, and the refugees from Salona settled inside Diocletian's Palace in what is now Split.

We started our walking tour of Split about 30 minutes after docking. As we had come to expect, we had an excellent local guide. He had a voice that projected enough that the "quiet box", a listening device that allows the guide to be heard through an ear piece, was not really needed. His voice was like a radio or TV news reporter. His English was perfect even though he had never been outside of Croatia.

Split is noted for its Roman ruins, especially Diocletian's Palace (as mentioned, the original town was inside the palace walls). Diocletian had the palace built in 305 CE for his retirement; palace is a misnomer, it was a fortress. He was one of the very few Roman emperors who lived to retire.

The palace was built so his personal area had direct access to the water so he could escape by ship if necessary. Because the natural terrain slopes down to the water, an incredible underground area was built to keep the main the palace level; maybe Diocletian didn't like stairs.

Since the water at the shore was not deep, the builders dug the foundation and blocked out the water, let the ground dry, and then build the support structure. This support structure was built of stone, cement and brick and had vaulted ceilings for rooms that matched the area above in the palace.

A short walk on the promenade and behold, the Palace. Where, you ask? It forms the backbone of downtown Split.


The entire wall above with the café and shops is the Palace. This wall of the Palace is 525 feet long; the Palace extends back 624 feet. We entered through the shopping area/support structure.


Frank (above) stands in one of the underground rooms that were not used as anything but to provide support and level the structure above.

Diocletian initiated the empire's last, largest, and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity from 304 to 311 CE. This failed to eliminate Christianity in the empire, which may explain his retirement in 305. His successor, Constantine, in 324, made Christianity the empire's preferred religion.

After Diocletian's death, he was buried in the Palace -- ultimately, it was abandoned by the Romans and remained empty until the Slav invasion. Over the centuries the area above, which had been his personal space, was turned into shops and residencies. To get rid of waste during the Middle Ages, holes were dug in the floors, and the waste dropped into the underground space until it filled up. It wasn't until the 1950's that they started to excavate that part of the structure. It was fortunate it was not excavated for a long time because it was not modified and we now have a better idea of what the palace looked like in Diocletian's time.

The Palace covered an area of seven and a half acres, and had three sections: Diocletian's personal quarters, areas for temples to Venus, Sybil, and Jupiter; and the third part closest to the outer wall, the bodyguards' quarters. Diocletian chose this area for his retirement because he was originally from Salona and was, sort of, returning home. As was the case with all Roman emperors, Diocletian claimed to be a descendent of Jupiter. Here is what researchers think the palace looked like; the gate to the water and boat dock can also be seen in the picture above, between the two palm trees.


Split was very busy, perhaps because it was Sunday and the weather was nice. There were many people sitting in the cafes, visiting the market, and of course, in preparation for All Saints Day, chrysanthemums were being sold. Our guide said that chrysanthemums are only grown for use only on All Saints Day and at funerals, as they associate the plant with death. When La Perla entered the harbor, we noticed two large cruise ships or Croatian ferries, which could account for some of the people.


The Peristyle is the central square of the palace surrounded by a colonnade, shown in the drawing above, left of the hexagonal roof. The left picture of the Peristyle, below, shows the main entrance to Diocletian's quarters with the colonnades visible on both sides.


Diocletian's mausoleum was repurposed as a church to the Virgin Mary, which is the right picture. A chorus was added to its eastern side, the bell tower was added behind in the 12th Century under the Venetians and the Temple of Jupiter became the baptistery; all of which form the Cathedral of Saint Domnius. It was fun to see the two young men dressed as Roman soldiers, and for a fee you could have your picture taken with them. We did not bother; besides there were too many young women wanting to have their picture taken with them. They are in the left picture below in the lower left corner.

The Romans used several construction methods, which are reflected in the Palace. In one, large limestone blocks wereprecision cut and stacked up with no mortar. They are joined by iron pins set in lead, which keep them in place but allows for small movements.


The picture of the doorway, above, shows the Roman construction method, which uses fired brick, stone and cement with a veneer, marble or other stone. The Romans invented concrete about the time of Augustus. There is a temple just to the west of the Peristyle called The Temple of the Aesculapius to the west of the Peristyle has a semi cylindrical roof made out of hand carved stone blocks, which did not leak until the 1940s; it was then covered.


In the temple, we were treated to an acapella group singing Croatian songs.

We continued our tour and as we walked through the small alleys and squares, we were surprise by all the flowers.


This house had purple bougainvillea blooming; purple bougainvillea seems to be the most prolific flowering plant at this time of the year. Our walk took us all through the palace to see how the Roman, Medieval, and Modern were all mixed. A recent bank building was required, by the City of Split, to leave some Roman half walls in its construction blocking direct access to the tellers.


We went all through the palace and exited from the northern or Golden Gate. Our guide is in the plaid shirt and Dave is looking up at the statue of bishop Gregory of Nin, in the Giardin Park behind the camera. The construction of the gates to the palace is interesting; there are two gates joined by a room, the arch to the second one can be seen just below the exterior arch. The room between is very strong, the strategy was to lure attackers into the room, close both gate; they would drop from above, and kill them. Roman legions were very efficient.

After the tour, we were on our own to wander through Split and return to La Perla. We looked at a couple of jewelry stores at some Adriatic coral jewelry, which is a specialty of the area. The good stuff was very expensive. So we returned to the boat empty handed, to relax for a while before Zoran’s (our overall tour guide) talk about the history of Croatia.

Croatians feel that this country has had to wait centuries to have its own identity and not be part of some confederation of countries or controlled by another country.  Zoran noted that the break-up of Yugoslavia was a time of great celebration despite the problems caused by the Yugoslav Civil War and the establishment of a new government.

Croatia was helped by being the most homogeneous of the six ex-Yugoslav countries; it is mostly Croats (90.3 percent) and includes Serbs (4.4 percent), Bosniaks, Hungarians, Italians, Slovenes, Germans, Czechs, Romani people and others (5.3 percent).