According to conventional wisdom, Split didn't exist at all until the emperor Diocletian decided to build his retirement home here, although recent archeological finds suggest that a Roman settlement of sorts was founded here before Diocletian's builders arrived. Diocletian's Palace was begun in 295 AD and finished ten years later, when the emperor came back to his native Illyria to escape the cares of empire, cure his rheumatism and grow cabbages. But this was no simple retirement, and the palace no ordinary retirement home. Diocletian maintained an elaborate court here in a building that mixed luxurious palatial apartments with the infrastructure of a Roman garrison: the northern half of the palace was occupied by servants and the garrison; to the south lay the imperial suites and public buildings. The palace as a whole measured some 200m by 240m, with walls 2m thick and almost 25m high, while at each corner there was a fortified keep, and four towers along each of the land walls.
The palace was home to a succession of regional despots after Diocletian's death, although by the sixth century it had fallen into disuse. In 614, it was suddenly repopulated by refugees fleeing nearby Salons, which had just been sacked by the Avers and Slays. The newcomers salvaged living quarters out of Diocletian's neglected buildings, improvising a home in what must have been one of the most grandiose squats of all time. They built fortifications, walled in arches, boarded up windows and repelled attacks from the mainland, accepting Byzantine sovereignty in return for being allowed to preserve a measure of autonomy. The resulting city developed cultural and trading links with the embryonic Croatian state inland, and was absorbed by the Hungaro-Croatian kingdom in the eleventh century.
By the fourteenth century, Split had grown beyond the confines of the 294 palace, with today's Narodni trg becoming the new centre of a walled city that stretched as far west as the street now known as Marmontova. Venetian rule, established in 1420, occasioned an upsurge in the city's economic fortunes, as the city's port was developed as an entrepot for Ottoman goods.Turkish power was to be an ever-constant threat, however: Ottoman armies attacked Split on numerous occasions, coming nearest to capturing it in 1657, when they occupied Marjan hill before being driven off by reinforcements hastily shipped in from Venice; Trogir and Hvar.
During the nineteenth century, Austrian rule brought industrialization and a railway to the city.Austrian stimulation ofAdriatic shipping also helped speed the development of Split's port facilities, while the Italian seizure of Rijeka in 1919 caused theYugoslav government to deliberately develop Split as an alternative centre of maritime trade. Split's biggest period of growth occurred after World War 11, when the development of heavy industry attracted growing numbers of economic migrants from all over the country. Many of these newcomers came from the Zagora, the rural uplands stretching from the central Dalmatian coast to the Hercegovinian border, and ended up working in the enormous shipyards - colloquially known as the "Skver" - on Split's northwestern edge, providing the city with a new working-class layer. It was always said that productivity at the Skver was directly related to the on- the-pitch fortunes of Hajduk Split the football which more than anything else in Split served to bind traditional inhabitants of the city with recent arrivals. Beginning with the big televised music festivals of the 1960s, Split also became the nation's unofficial pop music capital, when it was promoted as a kind of Croatian San Remo, since when generations of balladeering medallion men have emerged from the city to regale the nation with their songs of mandolin-playing fishermen and dark-eyed girls in the moonlight.
The city was briefly shelled by the Yugoslav Navy in 1991 but was otherwise largely untouched by Serb-Croat hostilities, although refugees have added to the city's housing problems. None of this has damaged the spirit of the Sph6am themselves, who remain famous for their self-deprecating humour, best exemplified by the writings of Miljenko Smoje (1923-95), a native of the inner-city district of Veli Varog. Smoje's books, written in Dalmatian dialect, document the lives of an imaginary group of local archetypes and brought the wit of the Sph6ani to a nationwide audience. An adaptation of his works, Nase malo misto (Our Little Town), was the most popular comedy programme in Croatian - and probably Yugoslav - television history. The city's tradition of irreverence lives on in the weekly newspaper and national institution Feral Tribune, a mixture of investigative reporting and scathing political satire which has been a thorn in the side of successive recent administrations.
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