Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tragic war, a giant Palace, and one shiny golden toe.

After several hours spent on the train and arriving at the port of Ancona, Italy to catch the over night ferryboat, I had to remind myself that this would truly be the final one of these journeys before stepping on board. Surrounded for the first time in quite a while by a variety of languages, no longer just Italian flying back and forth, I found my seat and prepared for the long ride. As the ship sailed away from the coast of Italy, I said good-bye to my Italian adventures and welcomed the newest country to explore, Croatia. With not much of a travel plan in mind, I had decided to start my visit in the city of Split. The boat docked early the next morning and I was off in search of my hostel.

The historical district of Split sits within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. Diocletian was a Roman Emperor that built his massive palace in the fourth century as a retirement home. This retirement home is now the city centre that has been transformed into various apartments, hotels, shops, and tourists offices, with the green marketplace and main promenade, and waterfront surrounding the outside. With three separate entrances, the gold, silver, and iron gates each lead you to the two main cross streets and connect to the countless tiny alleyways that will guide you through the historical district.  My hostel, located just inside the silver gate, was constructed along one of the original walls of the palace. With the whole day ahead of me, and having very little knowledge about the area, I decided to join the free walking tour that morning to find out what I could learn about the city. Our friendly guide wandered the streets with our small group providing both interesting historical facts and helpful tips from a local to shed some light on the Croatian culture.

It is a very unique experience to be in a country that has such recent history. In 1991, Croatia officially declared independence from Yugoslavia. Surrounding countries, particularly Serbia, were not willing to let Croatia claim their independence without a fight. The desire to keep Croatia part of the Yugoslavia nation was strong, mostly due to the prime location of the beautiful land and their access to the Adriatic Sea. The War of Croatian Independence began in 1991, and concluded in 1995 when Croatia was officially recognized as a free country with its current borders. Those long years of the war resulted in thousands of Croat deaths, and many people fled the country to avoid the brutal destruction of their cities. It was very surreal to have this history told to us by some one not much older than myself that can remember first hand the amount of tragedy and destruction that took place in her country not too long ago.

Along the way of the tour we visited many interesting points of Split, Including the huge statue of archbishop Grgur Ninski outside the palace walls. This man was a Croatian bishop that was responsible for being the first to go against the Pope and held services in the Croatian language instead of Latin, because the majority of the population did not understand the Latin language. His statue is most famous for the giant golden toe, that shines so well as a result of the consistent rubbing that both the local people and the tourists do when passing by to say a prayer, confess some bad deeds, or make a hopeful wish for the future. There are also many famous opera theatres through out Split that we passed by during the tour, and though all of the performances are only in Croatian, our guide recommended them to us saying that since it’s opera, it really doesn’t matter what language it’s in because it all sounds the same anyways. Located so close to the sea, Split also has a fantastic fish market where people can go daily to get fresh fish brought from the sea that morning. You will not find any flies at this fish market because of the sulfur spa located not too far from there, which keeps the pesky insects away from the area. At the conclusion of the tour we climbed to the top of the bell tower that sits in the centre of the palace and I was able to look out over the entire city and out across the sea. 

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