Croatia (2013)

A day of archaeology

In the morning, we smurf to the Archaeological Museum and then take a bus to Solin where we get rained on in a Roman ruin.

Swipe left and right to browse through the photos.

Today is a cultural day! Let us start with Split: you may know the city, other than from a good topographical knowledge, because Diocletian (the Roman emperor) and Ajax (not the Greek hero) have been there. Diocletian became emperor of the Roman Empire at the end of the third century AD. The empire had been in crisis for quite some time at that point: the Romans were regularly defeated by their eastern neighbours, Sassanid Persia, and one emperor after the other fell in battle, got himself assassinated or met an otherwise unfortunate and early demise. Roman armies are declaring their generals the new emperor left and right, resulting in battles all over Europe. In short: it is a bureaucratic nightmare.

But then Diocletian comes to power. He initiates reforms, defeats several barbarian tribes culturally less advantaged people and becomes quite the popular figure. He comes up with the system called tetrarchy, in which two senior emperors (augustae) and two junior emperors (caesari) share power. After a long and eventful period of being emperor, Diocletian falls ill and becomes the first Roman emperor in three centuries who voluntarily abdicates. He retreats to a palace that he had built on the Dalmatian coast, near to the town of his birth, Salona. And to this day, that very palace forms the historical center of Split.

And if you are curious about Ajax: they were here in 1995, the legendary year in which they won the Champions League. They were matched against local pride Hajduk Split in the quarter finals. That Hajduk is still very popular here is apparent: the team logo appears frequently, painted on walls and garage doors or hanging behind car windows. The Split match in '95 ended in a 0–0 draw; Ajax won the return in Amsterdam 3–0.

The Archaeological Museum

We choose to visit the Archaeological Museum in the morning, which turns out not to be all that far from our appartment. The rather beautiful building displays a large number of artifacts from the Split region, from an extensive collection of coins to glass bottles, Greek vases and busts. The museum area which is open to the public turns out to be relatively small, but a garden walkway also exhibits mosaics, sarcophaguses and stone slabs with inscriptions.

I suspect that I have dragged Vonne to one too many historical attraction as I see that she is literally starting to turn blue. The cause turns out to be slightly different, however: not annoyance or an allergy to Romans is the culprit, but her new blue short jeans which have not been washed yet seems quite happy to share its color with its wearer, slowly but surely turning Vonne into a real-life version of Smurfette. So the first stop on the way back is the appartment where Vonne can return herself to her natural colour and change pants.


A quick stop later we head towards the harbour, where the bus station is located. We see if any buses are running to Solin, which is not too far from Split. And if you paid attention during the history class above, you might have noticed that the name Solin seems similar to Salona, birthplace of emperor Diocletian. And you would be correct! According to our Eyewitness guide, quite a few remains of the original Roman town are still standing to this day, which seems worth the effort of a trip there. We find the right bus quickly and even have time to spare for an icecream. Score!

As a child, you learn never to seek shelter underneath a tree in a thunderstorm. And what do we do?

Once in Solin we hop off at a stop which is not too far from the remains of ancient Salona and head towards them. Across the hills along the mainland a dark sky approaches, and before long we see lightning flashing between a gap in the hills, accompanied by the deep rolling of thunder. I look at the sky, see that the dark clouds are clearly moving off to one side and declare “That is going to pass by and will not bother us.” (Note: this is a literary technique that is appropriately named foreshadowing. It is a prelude to coming events—more on this later.)

And indeed, as the road turns back towards the coast we once again see a clear blue sky with a bright sun ahead of us. We walk onto the terrain that houses the remains of Salona and see the first stones of the ancient city walls and its episcopal center. Vonne suggests that we apply some sunscreen first: these half cloudy skies can be quite treacherous. We sit down on a bench and start applying the lotion to our arms and legs. Just as we finish, the first drops start to hit us: that large, dark collection of clouds has caught up with us, joined by its friends rain and thunder.

Now there is one thing that you always learn as a child never to do in a thunderstorm, which is seeking shelter underneath a tree. And what do we do? Exactly. We do make a half-hearted attempt to get to the Archaeological Museum, but the first few drops quickly turn into more. Many more. And as neither of us has taken the possibility of rain into account, we did not bring an umbrella, coat, vest or anything that would protect us from the rain (I officially feel like the Worst Dutchman Ever), which means a nearby tree with a broad needle canopy is our only resort. And it works quite well: other than an occasional gust of wind blowing rain underneath the tree, it manages to keep us dry for half an hour.

As the rain eventually comes to a halt, we can finally explore the ruins. Although they are just that—ruins, they do give a very good impression of the size of the city and the buildings in it. Especially the amphitheatre (after another moment of sheltering against the returning rain underneath the carport of a surprised Croat) is quite impressive and well-preserved. The entire ground floor is still intact, as is a large part of the seating area. This arena once offered 17.000 spectators the opportunity to gather and watch a few lions being fed with Christians. There are modern stadiums which are smaller than that.

Back in Split

By the end of the afternoon we have seen enough of Salona and take the bus back to Split. We have heard that the Italian influence on Croatia has led to good pizza being available that can compete with the original from across the Adriatic. A test we are more than willing to endure. As we still want to reserve a boat tour, we pass by the Split harbour and choose the Blue Lagoon Tour, reserving two seats for tomorrow.

We once again attempt to find the restaurants recommended by Ivica, and having consulted the map better, this time we find both of them. As one of them, Feral, turns out to be a pizzeria, we choose this one and sit down. Both the rumour and Ivica have not said too much: the pizza pršut (ham) turns out to be absolutely delicious. For dessert we have palačinke (pancakes) with icecream. I have had to promise my work colleague Willem solemnly that I would try them out, and so fulfill this tasty promise with great joy. Tomorrow, we set sail!

back to top ↑