• Ivica Profaca

In Search of Soul of Split

Some would say that there wouldn't be Split, if there wasn't Diocletian. However, would there be a Diocletian's Palace if there wasn't scenery that attracted retired Roman emperor to build his Palace here?

Sometimes a hill, valley, river or other similar point can be so much more than just a geographical fact. Marjan is exactly such a case. After all, one of the most common descriptions of Split is "a city under Marjan". No matter which direction the one is coming from, this small - barely 180 meters high - green hill is a main orientation point. However, Marjan is more than just a nature. On its eastern slopes the first out-of-Palace neighbourhoods were created. Dozens of Marjan small churches and chapels - or records about ancient Greek or Roman temples - witness a millennial spirituality. In early 20th century Marjan became a unique public recreational space through forestation, and construction of kilometres of paths, stairs and viewing points all around. Writing about Marjan is writing about Split history, its spirit and its people, who find their peace in its woods, or paths, or beaches. Recently it's been also discovered by tourists, as a proof of simple tourism industry rule: guests always enjoy same things or places that locals enjoy.

Enjoying Marjan is possible in so many ways. Literally only minutes from traffic, noise and city fuss you can let yourself float in a silence, completely preserved nature and - yes - spirituality. Just watch what locals do, and follow their steps. Hiking, biking, climbing, jogging, sightseeing, or just enjoying in a view is possible pretty much year round, even if it's raining you can find a beauty. When weather allows, there is also swimming, kayaking, or just plain sunbathing.

How to do it? There are guides, there are guidebooks available, several agencies are doing tours, or offer different activities, but why not do it by yourself? One of the possible ways is to stroll from one small church to another, and on your way discover all the Marjan's secrets. This map will help you. One of the possible tours begins at the church and monastery of Saint Francis at Riva. From there go uphill through a labyrinth-like Veli Varoš, and stop at the viewpoint with the most photographed view on Split, and the old Jewish cemetery founded at 1573. From there, proceed to a 13-century church of Saint Nicholas, with another spectacular view, including Sustipan peninsula with Saint Stephen church where Croatian kings were coronated. Take the gravel road westbound, overlooking southern slopes of Marjan, and nearby islands, enjoy among other things a view to Ivan Meštrović's Kaštilac and church of Our Lady of Good Advise. Further to the west is Our Lady of Bethlehem, built in the 14th century, and then one of the Marjan most precious jewels, the 15th century church of Saint Jerome, protector of Dalmatia, with hermits' caves above, and cliffs popular among free climbers. Right under Saint Jerome lies Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. From there you can either go back to city centre, or just continue around. At Marjan's western-most point is Saint George, walking further takes you to remains of Saint Benedict, and nearby recreational area. Walk back to Veli Varoš, and find four more pearls - Saint Manda, miniature Saint Mikula (Dalmatian form of name Nicholas), even smaller Our Lady of Soca, and the parish church Saint Cross. Just walking from one to another will give you an opportunity for some serious exercise, if enjoying in this historic and spiritual stroll is not enough. Or, visit some of Marjan museums, like spectacular Ivan Mestrovic Gallery, or Museum of Croatian Archeological Monuments.

To cut a long story short, if Diocletian's Palace is Split's heart, Marjan is its soul.

Previously published on Visit Split

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