Three major cultural landmarks under UNESCO protection and much more

The largest tourist region of Dalmatia is the part around its largest city, Split, which only includes the Split-Dalmatia County. It is the heart and the centre of Dalmatia, where most of its inhabitants live, and where the main Dalmatian islands and the most beautiful beaches are located. This is also where the most valuable cultural monuments and four of the seven Croatian sites declared as World Heritage by UNESCO are - the historic centre of Split with Diocletian's Palace, the historical town of Trogir, and Starogradsko polje on the island of Hvar. If it is Dalmatia, as many say, which portrays the real pristine Mediterranean, it is precisely its central part around Split that is the heart of the Mediterranean.

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The Split part of Dalmatia shared the same historical fate as other parts of Dalmatia, but because of its central position and protection by the vast hinterland, it was less exposed to devastation than its neighbouring regions. It is for this reason that so many people live here and that the Mediterranean spirit has been especially preserved. This is especially true for the city of Split, the largest city in Croatia after Zagreb, as the main cultural centre. Near Split are the other large coastal resorts of middle Dalmatia, Trogir and Omiš, while further south we have the picturesque Makarska Riviera. In front of Split, one next to the other, are almost all the large Dalmatian islands - Brač, Šolta, Čiovo, Hvar and Vis, and directed towards Split is the largest inland part of Dalmatia, with Sinj, Imotski, Vrlika and Vrgorac.

Although all of these areas are rich in cultural heritage dating from prehistoric times to recent times, what makes the central part of Dalmatia particular is the exceptionally well preserved heritage from the Antique period. There are the two most important ancient settlements of Dalmatia – the Ancient Greek Issa and the Roman Salon, and also the largest pearl of Croatia from the Antique period - the historical heart of Split, Diocletian's Palace.

A well known song says that the Roman Emperor Diocletian built his palace in "the most beautiful part of the world, in the heart of Split", and it is not far from the truth. At the end of the 3rd century, this Roman Emperor chose the location for his palace to be in this safe and quiet bay at the foot of the wooded hill Marjan, with beautiful islands stretching one after the other, where healing waters flow even today. The palace is almost an exact square shape, with sides about 200 metres long, and surrounded by high walls with numerous towers. The position of the palace is so valuable that this location was almost always constantly inhabited from then until this day and age, and it is still the centre of life in this great Dalmatian city.

The Cathedral of St. Dujam, the patron saint of Split, has since the turn of the 4th century been located in the mausoleum of the Emperor Diocletian, which was slightly converted for this function and its interior was equipped with valuable religious items. In front of its entrance, a magnificent Romanesque bell tower was built in the 12th century. Its luxurious interior is still a gathering place for believers, as well as many tourists. In front of the Cathedral is the Peristyle, the former space where the worship of Diocletian could be expressed, now gathering believers and tourists, and the unrivaled summer scene with mythical opera performances, especially Verdi's Aida.

The Diocletian Palace now hosts many theatrical performances and gathers Dalmatian Klapa singers – it is where the daily life of Split goes on. In the vicinity are monuments to famous Croats, like the protector of the Croatian language, Bishop Gregory of Nin, and the "father of Croatian literature", Marko Marulić. The palace can be exited through four doors - Iron, Gold and Silver, leading to the Pjaca of Split, and the Bronze doors that lead to Split's waterfront through the palace cellars. Here along the seaside is the promenade, a favourite gathering place for the people of Split and their guests.

Many valuable cultural monuments are also located outside of the walls of Diocletian's Palace. Among them is Prokurative, a Neo-Renaissance square along the western edge of the palace, where every year the Festival of Dalmatian Chansons takes place, glorifying the love its inhabitants share towards beautiful songs. There are beautiful historic palaces in other parts of Split too.

Split is also known as the city of museums. Among them is the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, which exhibits the most valuable remains of the Croatian material culture, especially from the time of the early medieval Croatian state from the 9th to the 12th century. In Split is the most important of the three galleries, dedicated to the greatest Croatian sculptor, Ivan Meštrović. Many valuable paintings are kept at the Museum of Split, which stands out with its interesting internal setting. There are also many art galleries, among which are the Art Gallery located in the building of the old hospital, and which owns a valuable collection of paintings from the 19th century, and the Vidović Gallery named after the famous Croatian painter.

The importance of Split as the largest Croatian coastal city and the third largest passenger port in the Mediterranean can be discovered in the wealth of the Croatian Maritime Museum in Split. The museum has a number of models of ships that sailed many different seas, from the early Middle Ages and times of great sailing ships to the modern period. The part of the museum which specialises in the military navy of the 19th and 20th centuries is particularly rich. Split only became the capital of Dalmatia after World War I, when the former capital city of Zadar came under temporary Italian rule. The centre of Dalmatia in the Antique Period was Salona, whose ruins are located near the city of Split, in today's Solin. THE ANTIQUE SALONA was a metropolis of the great Roman province of Dalmatia, which then spread across an area on the east coast of the Adriatic and was greater than the whole of Croatia today. The extensive ruins of Salona speak of its importance, which often surprises visitors with respect to its location in the mainly industrial suburb of Split. Sometimes you can see the whole layout of individual buildings and preserved Roman arches of the former palace, but most of the findings from Salona are stored in the most valuable museum of Split - the Archaeological Museum, the oldest Croatian Museum, founded in 1820.

The building of the museum boasts an interesting atrium, and a nicely decorated interior, with about 150 000 different exhibits. Apart from the sites of Salona and other Roman sites, there are many objects from ancient Greece and the early medieval period. Among the exhibits is the collection of antique sarcophagi, stone plastic, antique clay lamps and Roman glass, bone and metal objects and precious stones. Along the coast of the Kaštela Gulf, where the Antique Salona and Split are, is another great pearl of Croatian cultural heritage which is protected as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – THE HISTORIC CITY OF TROGIR.

Located on a small island between the mainland and the island of Čiovo, which it is connected to by bridges, the city has kept its appearance almost unchanged since the Middle Ages. Trogir is particular for the continuity of its existence since Ancient Greek times, and there we can find, one next to another, monuments from the Hellenistic period, Ancient Rome, the early Middle Ages and late Middle Ages. The most important cultural monument in Trogir is the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, built from the 13th to the 15th century. It is known for its impressive Romanesque portal, which was sculpted by perhaps the best, as the inscription says, master sculptor, Radovan, and for the altar with a monumental ciborium. The chapel of Blessed John Ursinij was built in the northern nave of the church in the 15th century and its magnificent sculptures on the walls and ceiling are considered to be the apex of Renaissance architecture and sculpture in Dalmatia, in which Nikola Firentinac, Andrija Aleši and Ivan Duknović have left their work. Next to the cathedral is the City Lodge from the 15th century, and from the same time originates the tower Kamerlengo at the west end of town, which is sung about in many melodious Trogiran songs.

The largest part of the findings from the rich history of Trogir is contained in the Museum of Trogir, in the Palace Garagnin - Fanfogna. The museum treasures valuable paintings and sculptures, and has a richly equipped library. The 11th century female Benedictine Monastery of Saint Nicholas also holds a valuable collection.

Its most important exhibit and a sort of symbol of the city of Trogir is a Greek relief with the image of Kairos, god of the happy moment, from the 3rd century BC. The close surroundings of Trogir also have many well preserved cultural monuments. Among them are a mill, from the 16th century, located at Pantana not far from Split airport, and a tower from the 15th century in a place called Marina. Starting from the coast of Dalmatia and heading towards the central Dalmatian islands, we will find plenty of Antique and Medieval monuments, but also green landscapes and picturesque towns and villages. Among these islands is HVAR, declared one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world by the famous American magazine "Traveller". The beautiful city of Hvar, surrounded by powerful medieval walls, attracts the most visitors. From its fortress Španjola, high above the city, unravel magnificent views of the green Pakleni Islands and the open sea.

Small museums and other exhibition spaces in the town of Hvar hide valuable works of art. One of the most important among them is The Last Supper , in the refectory of the Franciscan Monastery in Hvar, from the 15th century. However, tourists who visit Hvar most like to spend time on the main square in front of the Cathedral, the late Renaisscance building from the early 17th century, next to the old Arsenal, and the oldest Croatian theatre. The Benedictine Monastery is known for the production of unique lace made of agave fibres.

However, in recent times the island of Hvar is most famous for the Old Town, the former Antique Pharos, after which the entire island was named. Specifically, this land remained untouched since the ancient Hellenistic times, the reason for which Starogradsko polje was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008. In the Museum of the Old Town, formerly the main settlement of the island, there is a special collection dedicated to ancient Pharos. In addition to the collection, the museum has a special maritime and ethnographic collection and a gallery of "Juraj Plančić" paintings, named after the famous Croatian painter, originally from the Old Town. The Old Town also attracts visitors with its primordial atmosphere of the Mediterranean coast and streets. The most valuable part of the cultural heritage of the Old Town is Tvrdalj, a fortified Renaissance castle from the middle of the 16th century, which was built and occupied by the great Croatian poet Petar Hektorović.

Other parts of the island also stand out with their picturesque scenery, which includes lavender fields, dry-stone walls and numerous old churches and chapels. Jelsa is emphasised by the Renaissance and Baroque square of Saint John, Vrboska is known for its unique church-fortress of St. Mary of Mercy from the 16th century, while from the villages with preserved traditional stone architecture, the village Velo Grablje is particularly interesting. The largest and the highest is the Dalmatian island of BRAČ, which does not have so many ancient monuments as Hvar but attracts the attention of visitors with its magnificent views, beautiful Mediterranean landscapes with characteristic dry stone walls, the most beautiful beaches and its white stone houses. It is from the antique quarries in Brač that the stone used to build a large number of palaces in Dalmatia and Venice and part of the White House in Washington was sourced. The inhabitants of Brač are also known by their peculiar character; they create monuments in honour of all the people who have marked them in a special way. Thus, in Selce, there are monuments of Pope John Paul II., the German politician Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.

The most important cultural monument of the island of Brač is the Monastery Blaca, which was built deep in the mountains in the 15th century by Croatian Glagolitic monks. In the mystical contemplative atmosphere of the monastery is an old observatory and a museum collection. The island's main heritage museum is situated in the hilly part of the island in the old tower, in the picturesque village of Škrip. Visitors are attracted to the island of Brač by magnificent church bell towers made of the white stone from the island. The most interesting among them is the bell tower in the village of Ložišća from the 19th century, the work of the Croatian sculptor Ivan Rendić. An attractive museum of the Petrinović family is also made out of the white stone and is located in Supetar, the biggest settlement in Brač. The outermost and the largest island of middle Dalmatia is the island of VIS. On the open sea, it is known for its valuable Hellenistic sites but also for the true Mediterranean at mosphere and crystal clear waters along the coast of its two cities, Vis and Komiža. This is partly due to the isolation of the island up until 1991 and partly because of its role as a military base at the time of communist Yugoslavia, when access was forbidden to foreigners. Authenticity is particularly significant for Komiža, in the south of the island, whose centre is dominated by the picturesque tower Grimaldi.

The most important church in Komiža, the church of St. Nicholas, rises above the city, where it offers magnificent views towards the open sea and the most remote Adriatic islands; Biševo, St. Andrew and Palagruža. There is an even more beautiful view from the churches above Komiža. The sea surrounding Komiža has always been rich in fish, which is why the town is known as one of the main fishing centres of the Adriatic. There is a special fishing museum in the town, and its seafood restaurants are noted for their special atmosphere. The town of Vis on the northern side of the island is located in a large quiet bay and is a favourite docking site for sailors. Vis is also decorated with old churches and stone houses, and it is precisely here that in the 4th century BC stood the most important city in Dalmatia, the Greek colony of Issa. Findings from Issa are stored in the Archaeological Museum on the island of Vis, known for its large collection of ancient amphorae and other ceramics. Its most famous artifact and a kind of symbol of Vis is a bronze head of the Greek goddess Artemis.

Close to Vis, an important strategic location in the Mediterranean, one of the greatest naval battles between the Habsburg and the Italian Navy took place in 1866, and its anniversary is still celebrated today (98). The Island of Vis played an important role in the Second World War, as the headquarters of the partisan army, under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito. At the end of our journey across central Dalmatia it is time to take a peak at the inland, THE DALMATIAN ZAGORA, home to proud highlanders and warriors, and known for the preservation of old customs. The most famous is the Croatian knights game; the Sinj Alka. It is held every year in August in the largest city in the Dalmatian hinterland, Sinj, on the anniversary of the Battle from 1715, when 500 Croatian soldiers refused the attack of 60 000 Turkish troops. In this knight's competition the rider is dressed in a traditional Alkar costume and on horseback, in full gallop, has three attempts to try to hit the centre of a small iron disk "the alka" with a spear, and collect the most points to win.

Other participants of the Alka are also dressed in traditional costumes, and traditional female costumes of Sinj and the surrounding area have also been preserved. In addition to the Alka, Sinj is known for the main pilgrimage site of the Miraculous Lady of Sinj, and has an interesting museum. The surroundings of Sinj also have many archaeological finds from the Antique period and the early Middle Ages, and what makes it special are unique medieval tombstones. On the way from Sinj to Split is the most magnificent monument of Dalmatian Zagora - the fortress of Klis, famous for the battles with the Turks in the 16th century. From its still preserved city walls and tower stretches one of the most beautiful views of the city of Split. A monumental fortress also stands in the second most important city of the Dalmatian hinterland, Imotski, below which is the magical Modro Jezero (Blue Lake).

Source: Croatian National Tourist Board