Those who know anything about Split, Croatia know it as the site of the palace or ‘retirement home’ of the 4th century Roman ruler, Diocletian. Although little is left of the original palace, it serves as the heart of Split’s Old Town, or Stari Grad, and has been modified over time, serving as living quarters for townspeople and a marketplace for centuries.
Today the palace is primarily relegated to tourists and consists of restaurants, shops, and accommodations. There is also an excellent outdoor market near one of the gates. It’s a fascinating place, but only the beginning of what Split has to offer.
.A day in Trogir
We love to take side trips from the places we are staying in our travels and Trogir, a small town about a half hour from Split, is perfect for a day trip. We took the bus over and walked the town, visiting the old church and climbing its tower, then went to a museum to see a famous Roman relief of Kairos, also known as Chronos, or the god of time. Mostly we just enjoyed being in Trogir – sitting on their Riva, or promenade along the water, enjoying a cold drink, and walking around town taking in the sights. We took the one-hour ferry back to Split, mostly for the views from the water of the little towns along the way.
Just behind the Diocletian Palace back in Split, one can’t help but notice the statue below:
This is Gregory of Nin, a badass, 10th century bishop who opposed the Pope in order to gain the right to hold mass in the Croatian language instead of Latin. The statue is hard to miss, as it’s 28 feet tall and is just remarkable. Looking at it closely, the sculptor, Ivan Meštrović, put him in a wizard-like pose and made his left hand, that holds the Bible, about twice the size of his right one. It turns out that there are many more Meštrović sculptures, housed in the Meštrović Gallery, a stately building in Split right on the Adriatic that was Meštrović’s home.
In his personal life, Meštrović was a contemporary and friend of the great sculptor, Rodin. During WWII, Meštrović was arrested in Zagreb by the Ustaše, Croatia’s puppet regime of the Nazis. He was briefly imprisoned and, after he was released, fled to Rome. In 1946, Meštrović emigrated to the United States, turning down a personal invitation to return to Croatia from Tito himself. In the U.S., he was on the faculty at Syracuse University and Notre Dame. Meštrović is the sculptor of the famous “The Bowman and Spearman,” depicting a Native American on a horse which is found in in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Meštrović died in 1962 in South Bend, Indiana.
I also just recently learned from my friend, Martha Lynn Cullen, that Meštrović has several sculptures in Baton Rouge, at The River Center, which is a performance space, at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum, and at two houses of worship, the B’nai Israel Synogogue and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. What a nice surprise to learn of this connection!
What we found so remarkable about Meštrović is that he sculpted in so many different media – marble, wood, stone, and bronze. And, in addition to this, he created paintings and drawings. We enjoyed the gallery, not only for its artwork, but for its lovely location on the water.
So, what does one do after viewing the art of Croatia’s finest sculptor in a beautiful setting overlooking the glittering, azure waters of the Adriatic? Go to Froggyland, that’s what!
From the sublime to the ridiculous
Froggyland is located at the edge of Split’s Old Town. It is clearly a cheesy tourist trap, but who could resist 21 dioramas depicting more than 500 taxidermied frogs? The frogs are in various states of activity, including doing gymnastics, in scenes from a schoolroom and a courtroom, relaxing in the park, at a dance, playing tennis, playing cards, smoking and drinking, the list goes on and on. The exhibits are a hundred years old so show a little age, but were done with wit, humor, and skill. The detail is so fine that it’s possible to read the tiny math assignments in the schoolroom diorama and to read the playing cards. There are two things that are not possible in Froggyland, and that’s taking pictures of the exhibits or entering the premises while drunk.