HERZEGOVINA & CROATIAN ISLANDS - 12 DAY GUIDED TOUR ITINERARY
DAY 9 - Croatia - Split, medieval village of Ston, Pelješac Peninsula
An early morning rise to catch a Ferry for Split at sunrise.
Split’s seaside promenade, known informally as the Riva. It’s the place where people go to enjoy coffee and be seen. The cafés and shops here are built onto the south side of the old palace walls.
Split’s seaside promenade.
Split’s seaside promenade.
Diocletian Palace, Split.
Peristyle, as the central square of the Palace, intended for the Emperor Diocletian celebrated as the living son of Jupiter, finds its place among many temples. The Emperor would appear under the architrave of the central part of Protyron, and his subjects would approach him, kneeling down, kissing the hem of his scarlet cloak, or they would fall in front of him, their entire body to the ground.
The red colour of the granite columns emphasises the ceremonial function. Namely, ever since the Emperor Diocletian the colour purple became the imperial colour. With the construction of a new city square with the town hall (Pjaca) in the 13th/14th century, Peristyle became a religious centre. Today it boarders from the West with Palaces of Split noble families Grisogono, Cipci and Skočibušić, as they lean on its authentic columns and arches. With their Renaissance and Gothic architecture they themselves became monuments.
Owing to its unique beauty and unusual acoustics, Peistyle became the ideal theatre scenery, perfect for opera classics and works of ancient literature, but also the stage where abundant urban life continues. Having your coffee on the steps circling Peristyle is a unique experience, one of the closest touches of a modern man with the ancient heritage, not only Roman, but also Egyptian, as the Peristyle is closely watched over by a 3500 old and perfectly preserved sphinx, the witness of Split's history in making. This is why John Paul the II in amazement said "Dear God, how many feet have stepped through here", and this is why citizens of Split think of Peristyle as the centre of Split and the entire world.
A lion clutching a lamb at the entrance to the Cathedral of St. Domnius. One legend has the martyr St. Domnius executed on the order of Diocletian, whose mausoleum was converted into this cathedral in the 7th century. The figures above the lion's haunches may be Diocletian and Domnius.
Diocletian, born Diocles, was a Roman emperor from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in Dalmatia, Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become Roman cavalry commander to Emperor Carus. After the deaths of Carus and his son Numerian on campaign in Persia, Diocletian was proclaimed emperor. The title was also claimed by Carus' other surviving son, Carinus, but Diocletian defeated him in the Battle of the Margus. Diocletian's reign stabilized the empire and marks the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. He appointed fellow officer Maximian as Augustus, co-emperor, in 286. Diocletian reigned in the Eastern Empire, and Maximian reigned in the Western Empire.
About 1,700 years ago, Roman Emperor Diocletian spirited away a set of granite sphinxes from Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Twelve sphinxes were brought to Split after Diocletian put down a rebellion in Egypt somewhere around the year 297.
Unfortunately, only one survived and it is now standing at the Peristyle. The sphinx on the Peristyle is made of black granite. It dates back to the period of pharaoh Tuthmosis III (died 1426 BC), the king (reigned 1479–26 BC). She holds a vessel for offerings in her hands. Just like a major part of the palace itself, the sphinxes were decapitated and destroyed with the arrival of Christianity. Why this one still stands, it remains a mystery. She has been standing here since the 3rd century watching generations pass by. Please have respect for this old lady.
Emperor Diocletian persecuted Christians, and had thousands of them killed. After Diocletian’s death, Christians expressed their revenge by destroying pagan symbols within his palace, decapitating most of the sphinx sculptures that Diocletian had brought back from Egypt.
The Temple of Jupiter.
One of the major landmarks within Diocletian’s Palace in the heart of Split, Croatia, is the Temple of Jupiter. The fairly small building is in close proximity to the Peristyle, the palace’s courtyard, and stands opposite the emperor’s mausoleum. The temple has been excellently preserved both on the inside and out and modern-day tourists can see it in all its glory.
Historians have dated the building of the Temple of Jupiter between 295 and 305 AD. It was built as part of the imperial palace’s complex right across the mausoleum – the final resting place of Diocletian. The location was purposefully chosen to signify the divine connection between the emperor and Jupiter, the Ancient Roman god of the sky and thunder and king of the gods.
The Temple of Jupiter in Diocletian’s Palace is believed to have had a six-column portico (four columns in the front and one on each side) just like the Temple of Augustus in Pula, but the entryway is now completely open. Still, there is a lot to see. Don’t be scared of the decapitated black granite sphinx that seems to guard the entryway to the temple. It was one of the several made during the time of the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III and brought to the palace by the Romans. Later the Christians destroyed the sphinx’s head because they believed it was a pagan symbol.
Upon entering the temple, stop for a minute or two to explore the relief above the door. It is made of white limestone which was quarried on the nearby Island of Brac.
Among the intricate decorative motifs including flowers and leaves, you will notice the carved images of various Roman gods and heroes. These include Jupiter, who the temple is dedicated to, Apollo, the god of truth and prophecy, Helios, representing the sun, Victoria, the goddess of Victory, Triton, the son and messenger of the god of the sea, and Hercules.
One of the most striking things inside the temple is the modern bronze statue of St. John the Baptist created by one of the most famous Croatian sculptors of the 20th century – Ivan Meštrović. It is standing right where the statue of Jupiter must have been placed at the time of Diocletian. The baptistery is the place where the sarcophagi of two archbishops of Split are laid.
A Renaissance sarcophagus of Jakov Selembrije from the 16th century is placed in front of the baptistery.
The scoffed vaulted ceiling of the Temple of Jupiter is another one of the decorative marvels which will leave you breathless. The barrel-like structure consists of 64 individual panels, each with richly decorated sides and a face representing a particular emotion in the center. It is still a mystery why faces expressing human emotions were used for decorating the temple’s ceiling. It is possible that they played part in religious rituals which took place inside the temple. Alternatively, they might have been an artistic representation of the emperor’s moods emphasizing on this descent from Jupiter.
The temple is also home to the oldest image of a Croatian king remaining intact to this day. It is on one of the marble rood screens and depicts either Peter Krešimir IV or Demetrius Zvonimir with his subjects. It is amazing how much history there is inside this small building.
A geometric floor mosaic, made by the mosaic workshop from Salona in late 4th and early 5th century, was found in 1905 during the demolition of the building east of the Vestibule and south of the temenos wall. The mosaic adorned the courtyard and porch of a Roman building on the north, west and south sides. The unique mosaic was interrupted by a medieval road (today Arhidakonova street) and a medieval house (today Ethnographic Museum). The north and southwest part of the mosaic are in the open, and the south part of the mosaic is located on the ground floor of the Ethnographic Museum.
Pjaca (People's Square, another square nobody in Split calls by its real name), is first mentioned in 13th century as St Lawrence's Square, and it was the first inhabited part of Split outside the Diocletian Palace, leaning to its western wall. Already for centuries the Pjaca is the central stage of the city life, there in the Gothic building of the Old Town Hall, today an exhibition centre, was the seat of the city's authority, and in still beautiful and preserved Palaces on the outskirts of the Pjaca lived the noble families Cambi, Pavlović, Nakić, Ciprianis, Karepić... Still open is one of the oldest book shops in the world, Morpurgo, to this day it looks almost the same as it looked in 1861, and in the Café Central where the intellectuals of Split gathered is where the tourism of Split begun with the former hotel Troccoli.
The Iron Gates are the original western gates of the ancient palace of Emperor Diocletian. They are the only of the three land-locked gates that have remained open throughout its seventeenth century-long history, which is reflected in their medieval name, porta franca, literally "the Open Gates".
After the expansion of the city of Split towards the west in the High Middle Ages, the Iron Gates lost their original defensive purpose becoming essentially a vaulted passageway that connected the old city core around the Peristyle Square with the new medieval city built around the Pjaca Square.
On the facade of the Iron Gates, traces of wins of the Roman goddess of victory, Nike, can still be seen, hidding behind a Christian cross that was carved over the relief sometime during the early Middle Ages.
In the eleventh century, a picturesque early Romanesque bell tower, one of the oldest surviving bell towers in the country, was added on top of a chapel built in the original guard corridors of the inner section of the Iron Gates.
Later on, in the Middle Ages, once the Iron Gates lost their original purpose, their inner courtyard, known as the propugnaculum, was transformed into a public courthouse, according to the customs of the communal law.
Dominating People's Square, Pjaca Clock Tower imposes its figure with its impressive 1700 years of history. The tower's impressive height can be walked up a steep stairway, that culminates in a breath-taking view of the Old Town and its vibrant flow of people. The tower features a 24-hour clock face signed with Roman numerals.
In the Middle Ages the area inside the gate was used as a courthouse.
The Silver Gate - Porta orientalis is their Roman name. These gates were used to enter the palace from the east towards the west, through the main street, decumanus, all the way to the Iron Gate and to Pjaca, the central city square.
The Silver Gate was more modest in its decorations than the Golden one, and it was closed from the Middle Ages till 1952, only to be thoroughly reconstructed during the destruction of the Baroque church Dušica. On each side of the gate the remains of the octagonal towers are visible, hence making it easy to imagine the beauty of the construction and the strength of the control over the entrances from the north, east and west. Entering through those gates the passersby, even today, have the opportunity to walk the original ancient pavement on decumanus, walked also, so many years ago, by the Diocletians subjects.
The Golden Gate - Porta septemtrionalis is their Roman name. Emperor Diocletian walked through them as he entered the Palace on the 1st of June 305. They were built in the shape of a rectangle, with double doors, as part of the defensive military tactics (propugnaculum).
The facade was decorated with niches containing figure sculptures of the four tetrarchs (Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus). These doors, starting from Peristyle, and then through Cardo street, led directly towards Salona as the capital city of the Roman Province Dalmatia, and could only be used by the emperor and the members of his family.
Today they are, together with the nearby monument to the Bishop Gregius of Nin (Grgur Ninski), the work of a great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, one of the favourite Split tourist spots.
Under the influence of Venice, in the 16th century, the gates change their name to Porta Aurea or Golden Gates, and this name stayed with them to this day.
You’ll find yourself regularly craning your neck while exploring Split’s Old Town, because the buildings are adorned with so many wonderful details! This is what you see while passing through the Golden Gate.
The bronze statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin, made by Ivan Meštrović, a celebrated Croatian sculptor and architect. It overlooks the palace wall’s Golden Gate (northern entrance). Local legend says that if you rub the statue’s big toe, it’ll bring you good luck.
Gregory of Nin strongly opposed the church establishment. In the 10th Century, he called for religious services to be delivered in Croatian, and not in Latin. This move helped make Christianity flourish in the Croatian Kingdom. This statue was originally placed in the Peristyle, but was moved to its current location during World War II.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius
Among the European cathedrals the one in Split finds its seat in the oldest building - the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Inside the cathedral, at the end of the second millennium, the history reconciles ancient pagan, Christian Medieval and modern heritage. Mausoleum of the Emperor - persecutor of Christians becomes a cathedral in the 7th century where altars with relics of St Domnius and St Anastasius, martyrs executed in the nearby Solin, take an honorary place.
Outer octagon of the mausoleum is enclosed by an aisle (peripter) formed of 24 columns. In its interior it has a circular form with four semicircular and four rectangular niches. In the middle stood the Diocletian's sarcophagus, later destroyed. Above the niches rise eight red granite Corinthian pillars, and above them another eight smaller ones.
The cornice circling above shows a relief of erots hunting, masks and human heads. Two medallions with bows are specially interesting as the archaeologists and Split's tradition recognise in them the portraits of Emperor Diocletian and his wife Prisca.
Of particular interest is also the construction of the cupola with its fan-like arrangement of bricks in the lower part and a circular arrangement in its upper third. The cupola gleamed with glittering mosaics just like the one in the Vestibule.
Left of the entrance is a hexagonal pulpit from the 13th century, made of precious green porphyry, once gilded in its entirety. The Altar on the right was dedicated to the Salona's Bishop and martyr St Domnius.
The altar's ciborium was erected by Bonino da Milano in 1427 in the late Gothic style, while the decoration of frescoes of four evangelists was down to the late Gothic painter Dujam Vušković from Split in 1429.
Left side altar of the second patron of Split, the Solin martyr craftsman Anastasius of Aquileia, was made in 1448 by the greatest Croatian architect and sculptor of his time Juraj Dalmatinac. Especially impressive is the central relief on the sarcophagus depicting the Flagellation of Christ, where Dalmatinac shows Christ twisted by the torment and pain.
The main altar was built from 1685 till 1689. The altar, in the northern niche, with St Domnius's remains from the Bonino's altar(since 1770), was built by the Venetian sculptor Morlaiter in 1767. The most important work in the Baroque choir of the Cathedral are the wooden bench-rests which originally stood in front of the main altar, carved in the first half of the 13th century.
The remains of Saint Domnius (the late 3rd century martyr behaded during the Diocletianic persecutions) were once kept in this early 15th century altar at Split’s cathedral. This ornately carved sarcophagus by Bonino da Milano now contains the body of Saint Arnir. He was Split’s bishop when he was martyred in 1180.
Cellars of Diocletian's Palace
In Roman times, the main function of these 60 halls was to elevate the imperial residence above, as the palace was built into a slope. In fact, what we call the basements are in reality the ground floor. According to some theories, the basements served as a storage space. An interesting feature of the basements is that their floor plan mirrors that of the buildings and chambers above. So they make it possible to reconstruct the original layout of the imperial residence, despite that fact that much of it has disappeared, due to more recent construction.
The Vestibule (The Rotonda), (The Atrium), is the first section of the imperial corridor in Diocletian's Palace that led from the Peristyle, which was once the formal entrance to the imperial apartments.
From the outside rectangular, and from the inside circular ground plan of this old imperial court, Vestibule leaves a monumental impression even to this day. And how fascinating was it in its original entirety: semicircular niches with statues; a large cupola with colourful glittery mosaic, witnessed by Marko Marulić in his manuscript from the 16th century; the whiteness of the round wall. Vestibule was used to enter the residential part of the palace.
After Split, we continue our journey south to Pelješac peninsula.
The destiny of the Pelješac Peninsula has always been linked to its position. Sprawling out towards the sun of the Adriatic and the central Dalmatian islands, some 30 miles north west of Dubrovnik, it was for its Illyrian, Roman and Slavic masters a link between the Balkan hinterland and Korčula and Mljet islands.
Later on, at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, it was important for the French troops for the same reason. Apart from bequeathing it the still-existing Napoleon Road, which runs along sheltered areas from the isthmus to Orebić, they left it the secret of producing Pelješac champagne, an excellent sparkling wine bottled in old siphons. Before that, the people of Dubrovnik had endowed it with stone-girt cities and skill in farming shellfish, the people of Zahumlje with ancient little chapels, and the Greeks and Romans with the viticulture, the production of wine and sea salt, urbanity and a cultivated estate lifestyle. And yet, in spite of the rich history and pristine beauty, Pelješac is one of the least known facets of the Croatian coastline.
Located in Hodilje, a small coastal village just few kilometers north of Ston, on the Pelješac peninsula, Ficović is a no-frills eatery by the sea, and with its own small beach.
At Ficović, if you wish, you can have a swim between two courses, and simply come at the table in your swimming suit without feeling impolite or weird. This is what summer dining should actually be about, isn't it?! Nothing can beat dipping your feet in the sea while you wait for your food.
In a relaxed atmosphere we will enjoy local specialities, prepared and served by the owners. The menu is simple, but composed of truly fresh and the highest quality local ingredients, whilst the wine list offers the best of the Pelješac vineyard.
Ston in southern Dalmatia is by and large known for three things – its very well preserved town walls, its salt works, and its mussels!
The city of Ston with its famed salt fields and defensive walls.
The small medieval town of Ston, with its narrow streets and the second largest city walls in the world.
The public fountain, built in 1581.
After the Republic of Dubrovnik acquired the Pelješac in 1334, it required the protection of Ston. First, in thirty years, one of the longest defense walls in Europe was erected on one side of the peninsula, and according to a unique project, two new towns were planned: southern Ston and northern Little Ston with the aim of encompassing people to preserve the boundaries and work in solanas the state had acquired. Between 1461 and 1464, the Florentine architect Michelozzo commissioned the building of the wall by the order of the Dubrovnik Republic. The Great Wall is 1200 m long, and was built to ensure protection from neighbours. The chronicles state that the construction of the wall lasted for 18 months and cost 12,000 ducats.
The fortress of Ston was one of the largest construction projects of the time, with an original length of 7000 m, consisting of the walls of Ston and Little Ston. The Great Wall consists of three fortresses, and the walls and fortresses are flanked by 10 rounds of 31 squares and 6 semi-circular bastions. The complex defense corps has been shaped over the course of four centuries, due to the development of weapons.
The walls were of great importance because they were defending the saltworks that gave 15,900 ducats every year to the Dubrovnik Republic, the shellfish farm and the city itself.
In 1667, about 0.5 km of walls were destroyed in a catastrophic earthquake.
The saltworks were established as far back as the 13th century (although the harvesting of salt in the area is thought to go back much further).
The production of salt contributed to the wealth of the Republic of Dubrovnik. These days, the harvesting of salt from the sea is still done in a traditional manner.
Ston salt pans - Traditional salt harvesting.
Pelješac peninsula is well-known for its pristine nature and its coast lined with beautiful beaches. Far from roads and traffic, and yet easily accessible by car.
Orebić - our base for next 3 days.
Snoozing on the southside of the Pelješac Peninsula, Orebić is a stunning resort that exudes charm. Historic buildings and rugged mountains dot the striking skyline, creating dramatic scenes for some sensational holiday snaps.
We will stay two nights at Aminess Casa Bellevue Hotel.
Room in Aminess Casa Bellevue Hotel.