Out of all of Split’s attractions, the Marjan Park-Forest has impressed us like nothing else. An oasis of green making up the western part of the city, we have loved climbing its heights to peer down at the city and enjoyed exploring its forested paths and playgrounds. While not as apparent to the first-time visitor, the area has plenty of history. Josip Broz Tito chose this site for the summer residence of the Yugoslav president, and centuries before religious hermits inhabited its caves. We decided to take a day to explore the coastal path around the peninsula, searching out hermitages and other surprises.
Today was a monumental day in home school (or road school) as we ventured out on a field trip to Klis Fortress. Since arriving in Europe the Younger Fives have been hard at work learning about civilizations, leaders, and important events pertinent to the continent of Europe. With the assistance of the Magic Tree House series, John Green’s Crash Course, and the BBC’s Horrible Histories they have worked their way through the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Venetians, Hapsburgs, and onto the World Wars. So, it was with much excitement today that they headed off to explore a fortress that held importance to many of these groups. Just a 30 minute bus ride north of Split, the Fortress of Klis lies in a pass between two mountains. This prime location between the mountains made this particular pass a very important stronghold for any group wanting to control the area and access to the Adriatic Sea. The history of the stronghold dates back to the 3rd century BC when it was first used by an Illyrian tribe of Dalmatae. From there the history is very fascinating and quite long, so we won’t go into great detail. However, it involves control by the Roman Empire, building of a palace by Croatian royalty, transformation to a fortress, invasion by the Ottoman Empire, control by the Republic of Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, and finally ending up as a permanent military outpost being used as late as World War 2. While the kids were excited to be visiting a place where Romans, Ottomans, and even Mongols (they attached the fortress in 1242) all stood, they were particularly excited to be so high up in the mountains looking down on Split. From way up at the top of the fortress you can see all of Split, its outlying areas, and even the islands off-shore. The unobstructed views from all sides give a great understanding to why this was such a prime location for any army. As we explored the fortress we only bumped into two other visiting tourists, so once again the kids had free reign to run, jump, and explore every nook and cranny. They all delighted in taking turns in the sentry boxes, although their height greatly limited their effectiveness as lookouts. Luckily mom and dad were there to give them a boost, so that they could pretend enemies were approaching from the north. Given all they have learned about in history class lately, they had many choices in deciding who the enemy actually was 🙂 Tip for visiting Klis Fortress via bus from Split – 1. Take bus #22 from the HNK (bus stand to the east of the Croatian National Theater). You can buy bus tickets at the small kiosk at the stand (kids ride for free). 2. The bus schedule posted in Split actually lists the time that the #22 bus leaves Klis, and not the time that it departs from Split. Make sure to figure in the 30 minute ride, so you don’t wait around at the HNK longer than necessary. 3. Once out of Split the bus ascends a very steep, very narrow, and very curvy road up to Klis. Fun for those who like thrills, but the more cautious might want to shut their eyes. 4. Stay on the bus until the very last stop where it will let you off at the base of the fortress. 5. There is a great little playground, a small store, and even a cafe very close to the bus stop to make use of while you await the return bus to Split.
The rainy weather as of late combined with a vicious flu bug has created one very stir crazy family. So, yesterday while the rain fell heavily we headed underground to explore the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace. For less than $10 we were granted access to the underground chambers of the palace. No one else seemed to be visiting that day, and the kids were able to scurry about creating as much chaos as they could muster without disapproving looks from other tourists.
While the kids burned off some extra energy we all gained greater insight into what the original palace might have looked like. The floor plan of the cellars is an exact mirror image of what was built on the first story. By walking underground you get an understanding of what Emperor Diocletian’s rooms looked like above. Over time the buildings above were converted and changed, but the architecture of the cellars remained for the most part unchanged. In the 1850’s the cellars were finally drained and cleaned (in the Middle Ages they were used as dumps) and many archaeological discoveries were made, including an olive oil press.
The basement level of Diocletian’s Palace is a wonderful maze of rooms just perfect for kids to explore. The entire middle section has been given over to various vendors selling souvenirs, jewelry, and paintings. However, the eastern and western sections remain just as they might have looked when the palace was first built. It was great fun to find secret passages, view the old plumbing system, and to look up to see the floor boards of the shops above. When walking around the top level of the palace you would never dream of the world that exists just below your feet. We definitely gained a much broader image of the palace as a whole, and found a great rainy day activity.
Before we left the United States we really weren’t that familiar with the concept of a city market. Back in Maine we often shopped at our weekly farmer’s market during the summer, but it wasn’t until we traveled to San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico that we experienced our first “real market”. Markets that sell everything from spoons to live animals all packed tightly into one space. We were amazed and a bit overwhelmed by all the colors, sights, and sounds of so many people coming together to buy their food, clothes, and household goods. The crowds and closely packed space of the market along with the many types of meat displayed out in the open made the San Cris. market a bit of a challenge for our family of claustrophobic, vegans. However, we loved the convenient location and the super friendly vendors.
When we arrived in Italy we discovered that Lucca is home to a street market as well. Every Wednesday and Saturday just down the road from our rental apartment vendors would park vans and trucks along a closed off street to sell clothing, flowers, household supplies and produce. We were particularly surprised to discover that most of the vendors were selling socks and underwear. If you were in need of undergarments you could buy anything from fancy lingerie to sensible dress socks. Alas, with our SmartWools and Fruit of the Looms holding up well we didn’t do much business at this market.
Now that we are in Split, Croatia we are once again experiencing a city market. In fact Split has two market areas. The market to the East of Diocletian’s Palace is quite large with vendors selling clothing (lots of underwear vendors here too), produce, meat, and household goods. To the West of Diocletian’s Palace is the fish market, or in Croatian the Ribarnica. This market is super easy to find due to the smell, and it is housed in its own building. While the smell of the fish market is hard to miss the Younger Fives were excited to find that the rest of the meat sold at the Split market is kept behind refrigerated cases. They will probably never get over literally coming face to face with dead chickens in Mexico.
Lucca, Italy has two large playgrounds just beneath the wall, as well as two smaller ones on top of the wall.
When we left Lucca, Italy for Split, Croatia the Younger Fives were pretty bummed to leave behind Lucca’s wall and the four nearby playgrounds. We actually chose to live in Lucca out of every other city in Italy because it had such a great play-space for children. Not many cities can compete with a pedestrian friendly wall encircling the entire city, peppered with well maintained playgrounds? However, now that we have visited Split’s Marjan we can safely say that it gives Lucca a run for its money.
The Marjan is a massive, forested hill that takes up the entire peninsula to the west of Split’s Old Town. To access the Marjan you start climbing sets of stairs that begin just off of the waterfront promenade. The kids had a blast racing each other up the stairs and looking back on Diocletian’s Palace from the scenic view points. However, they were completely amazed when we emerged into a Pine forest about half-way up the hill. The trees are huge, and we haven’t actually been in a forest since last march when we visited Sequoia National Park, so we were all giddy with excitement. As soon as the kids noticed the playground and three amazing climbing structures they were off like shots to spend the next hours playing under the trees.
We couldn’t have imagined how good it would feel to be back in a forest breathing clean air with no cars buzzing by, or noise from nearby roads. Lately we have been hard hit by how much we miss being out in nature. Even on Lucca’s wall we were always within eye sight of cars and trucks zooming past. However, on the Marjan it was so quiet, and the air was so clean that you wouldn’t believe that the city of Split was just a short distance away. It was hard for us to pull ourselves away, but finally we rallied the troops and finished climbing the last set of stairs to the top of the hill.
At the very top of the hill is a large observation area with amazing views of Split and the Mosor mountains to the North, and the Adriatic and nearby islands to the South. The top of the hill is know as the Telegrin (telegraph). It gets its name from the optical station of telegraph that Napoleon’s troops installed at the start of the 19th century. While the rest of our day included scrambling along the rocks and enjoying a picnic lunch we can’t wait to go back to discover the many other exciting treasures that this gem of a public park offers, including hermitage caves dating back to the 15th century. A visit to the Marjan will definitely become part of our weekly routine while we are here in Split.