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Its heart comprised of the major historical sight of Diocletian’s Palace, Split contains a scattering of mainly old-school museums. You’ll also find striking statuary by Ivan Meštrović, whose villa is a must-see gallery. Other attractions include two busy markets, a hidden synagogue and a cathedral once built for a Roman emperor.
The cathedral baptistery, down a narrow passageway opposite the church itself, is worth investigating for the ornate carvings you’ll find within. Originally a Roman temple to Jupiter, with a likeness of Apollo still visible above one portal, the baptistery contains an 11th-century font that displays a relief of Croatian King Zvonimir.
Created by Ivan Meštrović, the statue of Split-born Renaissance poet Marko Marulić centrepieces Trg Braće Radić, the square known as Voćni trg as it once housed the fruit market. Captured mid-stanza, Marulić is known for his Latin-language treatise on psychology but more revered for his Croatian poetry.
Built by Franciscan monks on the site of an early Christian church, Sv Frane contains the tomb of the St Felicia from the time of Diocletian and a crucifix by 15th-century master Blaž Jurjev Trogiranin. In the adjoining cloister, a library is lined with 3,000 works dating back to the 1500s.
Running between the Diocletian’s Palace and the sea, the café-lined Riva is the city’s communal meeting place. Officially named Obala Hrvatskog narodnog preporoda (‘Waterfront of the Croatian National Revival’), the Riva was landscaped by Napoleonic ruler Marshal Marmont. Revamped in 2007, the Riva hosts prominent cultural events and celebrations.
Built in the early fourth century as a fortified retirement home for a Roman emperor, Diocletian’s Palace is a grandiose construction of white stone transported from Brač. A labyrinthine complex of courtyards and alleyways, it’s a hive of activity. Many live and run businesses within, even around focal Peristil, with its sphinx from 1,500BC.
Purchased by Ivan Meštrović in 1939 as a ruined 16th-century residence, Kaštelet houses his great work The Life of Christ, a series of 28 reliefs in wood guarded over by the Crucifixion. Exiled to America, Meštrović returned to continue his work here 20 years later, his last visit to Croatia.
Kaštelet, Šetalište Ivana Meštrovića 39, Split, Croatia, +385 21 340 800
Designed by Ivan Meštrović, the statue of Grgur Ninski stands outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. With his finger pointing and clasping a book, this dramatic figure is part of the urban fabric. No-one knows why, but touching the big toe of this early medieval cleric is said to bring good luck.
Near the Cathedral, the Ethnographic Museum is of modest interest to the layman, its old-school collection focusing on Dalmatian peasant life of 150 years ago. But part of the museum extends into what were Diocletian’s imperial bedchambers, where a Roman-era staircase leads up for superb views over Split and the sea beyond.
Ethnographic Museum, Iza Vestibula 4, 21000, Split, Croatia, +385 21 343 108
A bright, contemporary space with an attractive café, the Gallery of Fine Arts displays around 400 works from its permanent collection of 5,000. The upper level concentrates on Venetian Masters while downstairs is more modern and localised, with paintings by Vlaho Bukovac and a bronze statue of Leo Tolstoy by Ivan Meštrović.
Gallery of Fine Arts, Kralja Tomislava 15, Split, Croatia, +385 21 350 110
This stand-out collection of sculptures, plans, drawings and furniture by Ivan Meštrović are ranged across two floors and the garden of a property he built himself as a family villa, studio and exhibition space. Meštrović Gallery was bequeathed to the nation after the artist’s death.
Meštrović Gallery, Šetalište Ivana Meštrovića 46, Split, Croatia, +385 21 340 800
An impressive example of fin-de-siècle architecture, the former Split Municipal Theatre, now the Croatian National, was created by Split architects Ante Bezić and Emil Vecchietti at the behest of city mayor Gaj Bulat. Opened in 1893, it stages some 300 productions a year, music as well as mainly Croatian-language drama.
Croatian National Theatre, Trg Gaje Bulata 1, Split, Croatia, +385 21 585 999
Once housed in a monastery in Knin, the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments occupies a former barracks near the Meštrović Gallery. Only a quarter of the 20,000-strong collection is on display, focusing mainly on ecclesiastical carvings, jewellery and weapons, created by and for Croats around 800-1100AD.