SPLIT is one of the Adriatic's most vibrant cities: an exuberant and hectic place full of shouting stall-owners and travellers on the move. At the heart of the city, hemmed in by sprawling estates and a modern harbour, lies the crumbling old town, which grew out of the former palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

The palace remains the central ingredient in the city's urban fabric lived in almost continuously since Roman times, it's gradually been transformed into a warren of houses, tenements, churches and chapels by the various peoples who came to live here after Diocletian's successors had departed. Modern Split is a city of some 220,000 inhabitants, swollen by post-World War II economic migrants and post-1991 refugees - a chaotic sprawl of hastily planned suburbs, where factories and high-rise blocks jangle together out of an undergrowth of discarded building material. As Croatia's second city it's a hotbed of regional pride, and disparagement of Zagreb-dwellers is a frequent, if usually harmless, component of local banter. The city's two big industries -shipbuilding and tourism - suffered immeasurably as a result of war and the economic slump which followed the collapse of communism, and municipal belt-tightening has led to a decline in subsidies for the city's traditionally rich cultural scene.This is more than made up for by the vivacious outdoor life that takes over the streets in all but the coldest and wettest months: as long as the sun is shining, the swish cafes of the waterfront Riva are never short of custom.
Not surprisingly, Split is home to one of the more authentic carnival seasons in Croatia - a tradition which has only recently been revived - when masked revellers take over the streets and squares of the old town on the night of Shrove Tuesday and during the weekend before it. Split's other big day is May 7, when the Feast of St Domnius (Sveti Dujam or, more colloquially, Sveti Duje), the city's protector, is celebrated with processions, masses and general festivity. Domnius is also the patron saint of woodwork, and you'll see craftsmen selling chairs, tables, barrels and carvings in Split market on the days surrounding the feast.



The City
Split may be the largest town in Dalmatia, but nearly everything worth seeing is concentrated in the compact old town behind the waterfront Riva, made up in part of the various remains and conversions of Diocletian's Palace itself, and the medieval additions to the west of it.You can walk across this area in about ten minutes, although it would take a lifetime to explore all its nooks and crannies. On either side the old town fades into low-rise suburbs of utilitarian stone houses grouped tightly around narrow alleys — VeliVarog, west of the old town, and Manug, to the east, are the most unspoiled — and, although there are no specific sights, worth a brief wander. West of the city centre, the wooded Marian peninsula commands fine views over the coast and islands from its heights. The best of the beaches are on the north side of Maijan, or east of the ferry dock at Bačvice.

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