A brief background & History of Split

Most of Split’s history takes a focus on Diocletian’s Palace built 1700 years ago however, the city was founded before that when it was a Greek settlement named Aspalathos, where Illyrian tribes also lived in the area. The Romans conquered in the Illyrian Wars of 229 BC and 219 BC upon which they named the province Dalmatia and announced nearby Salona (today known as Solin) as the capital and renamed Aspalathos to Spalatum.

The Roman Emperor Diocletian who ruled between AD 284 and AD 305 already started planning his retirement with the massive construction of a retirement palace on the sea near to the province’s capital; this was Split, a peninsula on the shore of the Adriatic, at the foothills of the Kozjak and Mosor mountains. The project began in AD 294 and was completed just in time for the owner to move into his new home in AD 305. Interestingly, Emperor Diocletian was the only Roman Emperor to ever voluntarily step down from office.

This military fortress-like palace measured 170 by 200 meters with walls at 20 meters high, enclosing an area of 38,000m². At times, as many as 10,000 people inhabited the palace and the surrounding areas and Diocletian therefore also initiated the development of recreational spaces on Marjan hill; this is still the case today. Very modern for its time, an impressive aqueduct was constructed to supply the palace with ample water from the Jadro spring. This south-facing palace takes the shape of an irregular rectangle with watchtowers at every corner, and at the centre of each walls are gates that lead down the main street to the Peristyle square where the emperor addresses his people before passing through the vestibule into his imperial quarters. All other buildings in the palace were intended for guests and servants. The sea-facing wall was previously completely by the sea, serving as a private access to the Emperor or service boats. Today, the Riva harbour promenade is now constructed, and this entrance takes you into the basement halls of the palace.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, the palace was left mainly abandoned during the Byzantine rule for almost two centuries until Salona was invaded by Avars and Slavs in AD 639. Here, citizens fled to the islands and to the palace where they built a city within its walls with markets and shops, much like today.

In the Middle Ages, Split changed hands quite a few times from the Byzentine Empire, Venetian Republic, Kingdom of Hungary, to the Kingdom of Croatia and a few back and forth in between. This can clearly be felt when you walk through the palace with the many influences of architecture present. Although the majority spoke Croatian in Split during the Venetian Republic’s long rule from 1420 to 1797, the city’s dialect is still influenced by the Venetian language with many Italian words in their vocabulary.

Split started getting recognized, mainly as a port with important trade routes to the Ottoman-held interior and then for Marko Marulic, known to have written the first Croatian literature with the poem, Judita in 1501. After another few rules by Napoleon, Empire of Austria, Kingdom of Dalmatia and subsequent break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 at the end of World War I, Split became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later named Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

When Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, Italy occupied Split, making the city the centre of anti-fascist sentiment in Yugoslavia, much to the unlinking of the Croats. At this time, Tito’s brigades controlled the city making a start to the Partisan movement. After World War II, Split became part of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and saw great industrial and economic growth as thousands from the hinterland migrated to this important city to find employment, particularly in ship-building. Split also headquartered the Yugoslav Navy and continued to be an important port city.

During the war of independence, only a small number of shells were fired at the city and its surroundings; in the old city centre, Split Airport and a rural area. Croatia declared independence in 1991. An economic recession followed however, the city has vastly improved its infrastructure with a successful upkeeping of the old centre, and constant development in the tourism sector, shifting Split from being a transit zone to the islands, to be an attractive holiday destination.