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Stray Cats and Narrow Alleys in the Diocletian Palace

Posted on April 19, 2009 at 2:04am Madrid / 8:04pm Cincinnati by Kelly Larbes

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The first thing I saw were two cats pawing and playing together as they skipped across several motos. The spry stray cats, old stone buildings, red clay roofs, and shrunken alleyways in the Diocletian Palace create an enchanting atmosphere and immediately engaged all of my senses. Tony took Jay and I on a walking tour our first evening in town. We wound our way through the narrow passages discovering new sites at every turn.

We passed the ghostly fish market, which we knew would be alive and bustling the next daybreak; the smell still lingered from the morning. Tony bought us chocolates at the small Nadalina chocolate shop; they are one of my new clients. We entered a large stone dome with an oculus where six men were singing beautiful a cappella inside; I dearly wished I had my video camera to capture the harmony. We have walked through the Palace many times in the last two weeks and we keep discovering new places and seem unable to find places we saw on the first day again.

The Diocletian Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, finished its 10 years of construction in 305 AD and is considered the world’s most complete remains of a Roman Palace. It was built in preparation for the emperor Diocletian’s retirement. The architecture was part luxury villa and part military camp, with gates and watchtowers. There are towers protruding from western, northern, and eastern sides and the sea is to the south, where presently you will find Split’s Riva, the town’s main waterfront promenade and harbor. The Palace was made of high quality marble from the nearby island of Brac, of the same marble which the White House in Washington is built. It was decorated with imported Egyptian granite columns and sphinxes. With an exception for the south sea side, sometimes it is difficult to tell where the palace ends and the rest of Split’s begins; the center is all a maze of little streets sprinkled with small piazzas.

What inspires me most about the Palace is that it is so full of life. It is not a fenced off, pay for admission, tourist attraction. People live and work throughout the palace. There are tiny restaurants and cafes, boutiques and designer stores, and apartments with clothes hanging from the windows to dry. It has grown with the city through the ages.

One of our early favorites in the Palace was a small pizzeria with just five tables and a small bar tucked in an alley where we ate dinner on our first night. The pizza and bread were hot and delicious, and most importantly, our server was friendly and animated. She was a university photography student who had done quite a bit of traveling already and hoped to move to London with a friend soon after graduation. She always had a smile on her face and seemed quite pleased with the few Croatian phrases we had memorized before arriving. She tried to teach us how to say her favorite phrase to learn in a new country in Croatian: “Where is the restroom?” I already forget how to say it though. We have only been back once because we have so many new places to discover first, but I am sure it will remain one of my favorites.

I’m so happy that we have arrived in April to explore the Palace before the hubbub of the tourist season in the summer. Last Sunday morning on Palm Sunday we were traversing the Palace and found ourselves alone in the main piazza. It was a bit of a surreal feeling to be there alone with Jay, when it is so often crowded with tourists. For some reason, it made me feel a little bit more like we belong here.

9 Reader Comments to “Stray Cats and Narrow Alleys in the Diocletian Palace”

  1. Aaron Johnson on April 20, 2009 at 9:47pm Split / 3:47pm Cincinnati

    “This entry was posted on April 19, 2009 at 2:04am Split / 8:04pm Cincinnati”

    So, are you just a night owl or did Jay mislabel the times these were posted? Otherwise, good to see you getting the blog up and running.

  2. Jay Larbes on April 20, 2009 at 9:53pm Split / 3:53pm Cincinnati

    No, the times are correct! That’s just how we spent our Saturday night — getting the blog up and running. And congratulations to you on the honor of first comment!

  3. Betty Bone on April 20, 2009 at 10:15pm Split / 4:15pm Cincinnati

    Wow, everything looks so old. I love that. Such inspiration even in just the rocks that form the building. Individual masterpieces. This will likely change your entire world view. I am so happy for you guys. keep the updates coming.

  4. Brian on April 22, 2009 at 3:28am Split / 9:28pm Cincinnati

    Looks really cool! Keep the posts coming.

  5. Pat Tarplee on April 22, 2009 at 9:25pm Split / 3:25pm Cincinnati

    So you mentioned one of your early favorites being a pizzeria and that it was delicious. I still doubt it matches up with LaRosa’s, lol.

    I agree with Brian that everything does look really cool. I think you’re right that it was good you arrived early in the year because I imagine a place as beautiful as that would be hopping with travelers wanting to take their own pictures. Do you have any idea of what the crowds will be like?

  6. Jay Larbes on April 22, 2009 at 10:51pm Split / 4:51pm Cincinnati

    We’ve been told that tourists outnumber the locals in the summer months. We’ll see, I guess! I suspect that it won’t really affect us too much, will just make it a bit more difficult to get photographs with less people in them. Where we live is away from the center of town where the crowds would be. Don’t miss LaRosa’s for sure – the pizzas and pastas here are excellent. I think what I’ll miss the most food wise is Chipotle!

  7. Casey on April 23, 2009 at 3:08pm Split / 9:08am Cincinnati

    I am still trying to get use to you living over there in Croatia. When does the tourist season really get in full swing? July? You will need to make a small map and point out all your favorite places you have discovered. Please start taking pictures of places with you included in the pictures. It is so much more fun to see someone I know in the pics.

  8. John on May 16, 2009 at 4:37pm Split / 10:37am Cincinnati

    The place is insane when the tourists arrive. Keep away then.

  9. Kelly Larbes on June 11, 2009 at 10:33am Split / 4:33am Cincinnati

    Tourist season supposedly really gets into full swing in July, but it is definitely already busy. It is really amazing to see the difference in crowds between when we arrived in April and now in June. In April we would find ourselves in alleys in the Palace alone sometimes, but now it is always full of people. I really do like both ways: Being alone there feels a bit magical, but it is also fun to see all of the tourists and the hustle and bustle. It is great people watching.