The historic walled city at the southernmost tip of Croatia is as exceptional from the ground as it is from the sky. Massive stone walls run high and low, encircling the Old Town of Dubrovnik and framing an uninterrupted course on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Dotted with turrets and towers, the two kilometre-long climb reaches its peak at 25m, overlooking terracotta rooftops as far as the eye can see.
Though built during the Middle Ages, the Great Wall has been reinforced throughout its history, and remains remarkably intact. Some of its fortresses and defensive towers serve as jumping off points for bathers and are even used as bars. Having a nighttime drink on the cascading rock edge is a delightful sensory experience. It’s pitch black – just moonlight, candlelight, and the constant rhythm of the waves.
Marjan is a quasi wilderness on the peninsula of the Croatian city of Split. Towering over the municipality, it looks out to the sea, the neighbouring islands, and the far-off mountain ranges of Mosor and Kozjak.
In ancient times, Emperor Diocletian established a recreational space on Marjan Hill near his palace in the city centre because, well, even emperors need a place to stretch their legs. But due to its rocky and difficult terrain, the site was never significantly developed and grew freely over the centuries. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the hill was tamed of its wild ways and transformed into a park: re-forested and planned with amenities. Trails winding through the dense, Mediterranean pines are used daily by citizens for walking, jogging, and biking. And various pathways encircling Marjan’s entire perimeter give panoramic views of Split and the Adriatic.
But picnic areas, rock climbing, and beachfront aside, some of the few facilities on Marjan Hill such as the weather station, botanical garden, and tiny Split Science Museum and Zoo have since fallen into disrepair or been abandoned altogether. However, built into the cliff, a small rustic church from the 13th century AD still holds strong. It remains to be seen what will become of the historic hill.
A walking tour of the inner city of Split will have you weaving in and out of the walls of an ancient construction dating back to the end of the third century A.D. Built by Roman Emperor Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, the imperial palace is rectangular in shape; its two main streets run N-S and E-W, creating 4 quarters and 4 fortified gates. Intended to be his ‘retirement home,’ it was spared no expense: it is constructed of white limestone, tufa rock, imported marble, and massive granite columns and sphinxes from Egypt. As settlements emerged around it and buildings of succeeding historical periods were built within its walls, Diocletian’s Palace gradually transformed into the town of Split.
Split’s historic section is included in UNESCO’s register of World Cultural Heritage. A few thousand people currently live in buildings constructed within the imposing Roman ruin’s boundaries.
Split is now the second largest city in Croatia and a popular tourist hub. The wide maritime promenade, Riva, is lined with bars, palms, and plenty of benches. The city has an active port, with regular ferry service for exploration of the Dalmatian coast and the Adriatic islands of Hvar, Vis, Brač and Šolta.
The Peristil is a partially-colonnaded central courtyard whose original purpose was to allow access to the Emperor’s living quarters, mausoleum and temples. Now people gather day and night in the open space for walking tours, musical performances and dancing. On a ceremonial loggia under the central arch where Diocletian was long ago viewed and worshipped, actors re-enacting the emperor and his entourage stage a daily appearance at noon to the delight of tourists.
Eight kilometres of gentle pathways and wooden walking trails lead visitors through central Croatia’s Plitvička Jezera National Park. Natural dams of travertine form upper and lower levels with a total of sixteen lakes, each encircled by forest and dotted with waterfalls. Working their way down the mountain, hikers take in the waters’ shifting colours of green and azure, just one beautiful phenomenon of this lush landscape – a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site north of Zadar.
In the littoral city, families gather on a series of long marble steps along Zadar’s Nova Riva to swim and watch the sunset. While children launch themselves off the pier in convoluted dives and titanic cruise ships leave the nearby port, musical notes emanate from below the stone boardwalk in concert with the ebb and flow of the tide. Each lapping of the waves strikes lengths of pipe hidden underneath the stairs, their energy pushing an air column and emitting different chords through perforations in the ground. The resulting Sea Organ, as part of the overall design of the coastal promenade, is one of two art installations on the waterfront by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić. You can hear it here.
The other installation, immediately adjacent, is a solar art display in the form of a 22-metre diameter circle, entitled Greeting to the Sun (Istarska Obala). Embedded under glass that is flush with the stone promenade, photo-voltage solar modules absorb the sun’s energy and transform it into electrical energy, creating a dynamic play of lights. The synergy of both projects makes this urban public space even more successful when charged with its nightly performance.