History of Split




The town of Split, which developed from a settlement originally founded 1700 years ago, is today the biggest city on the Adriatic coast and the second-biggest city in Croatia. The wider territory of Split includes the towns of Trogir and Kaštela, and the urban area of the city stretches from Trogir in the west to the town of Omiš in the east, making up a 60 km long coastal belt. This area is separated from the continental hinterland by the Dinaric mountain ranges of Kozjak and Mosor. The deep Pass of Klis which cuts between these two mountains has been used from prehistoric times as a connection between the coastal area of Split and its hinterland. The area is characterised by typically Mediterranean vegetation and therefore represented a favourable territory of settlement from the earliest periods on.

            During the Bronze and Iron Ages the area was inhabited by an Illyrian tribe – the Delmats – after which the entire region was named Dalmatia. Remnants of Illyrian settlements are still to be found on the slopes of the Kozjak mountain. Greek colonizers built their first strongholds on the today's territory of Split in the 4th century B.C. and founded the towns of Tragurium (Trogir), Salona (Solin) and Epetion (Stobreč). The town of Salona was situated at the mouth of the river Jadro, at the crossways of coastal paths leading into the hinterland. During the time of Emperor Augustus it obtained the status of a colony and became the cultural, religious and economic centre of the province. At its peak, the town of Salona had as much as 60 000 inhabitants. Not far from Salona, on the Peninsula of Split, in a small bay which was at the time called Aspalathos (the Greek word „aspalathos“ actually denoted the so called „Spanish Broom“   – Croatian „brnistra“ or „žuka“ – a Mediterranean shrub known for its fragrant yellow flowers) a Greek settlement of the same name was situated. At this most favourable location, at the southern cove of the Split Peninsula, the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian was erected from 293 A.D. until 305 A.D.

            Emperor Diocletian, or by his full name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, was an Illyrian, most probably born in Salona. Roman legions appointed him emperor in 284 A.D. The period of his rule remained famous for his large-scale political reforms, which included the division of the huge empire into two parts and the system of four rules: two emperors (Augusti) and their two assistants (Caesars). The capital of his part of the empire was in Nicomedia, at the coast of the Sea of   Marmara. Diocletian had probably even then started to plan the building of the palace in which he would retreat after his abdication from the throne. The builders of the palace may well have been brought in from the East, as two Greek names engraved in the Palace walls suggest (Zotikos and Filotas). The stone used in the construction of the palace came from the nearby quarries of Brač and Trogir, but building materials were also imported from the Apennine Peninsula, the Greek islands and Egypt. After his abdication in 305 A.D., Diocletian retreated into the newly-built palace where he remained until his death in 316.

            In the 7th century tribes of Avars and Slavs invaded the area of the Bay of Kaštela and completely destroyed the town of Salona, which was never renewed at the same location again. The surviving inhabitants of Salona found shelter on the nearby islands, and many of them took refuge within the walls of the Palace. Thus, what was once a Roman emperor's country residence was transformed into the medieval city of Split. The imperial quarters, the spaces in the corner towers and other fortifications, along with all other residential spaces within the palace, were divided up into modest living quarters, which created the basis of the future urban tissue. Diocletian's Mausoleum was transformed into a cathedral dedicated to St. Mary Mother of God, and from the 9th century onwards it is usually mentioned as the cathedral of St. Domnius – named after the first bishop of Salona and Christian martyr executed during the Diocletian's severe persecution of Christians. The transformation of the palace into a real medieval city consisted not only in the division and adaptation of existing spaces, but also in the construction of new buildings. The ancient Peristyle continued to be the only town square with a double character, uniting both municipal and religious functions.

            During the early Middle Ages Split was mostly under the Byzantine rule, but in the 9th century a state of Croatian dukes was created in its immediate vicinity. It became especially strong during the 10th century and the Croatian king Tomislav attended important church assemblies in Split in 925 and 928. In the 11th century Split is a part of the Croatian state under the rule of king Petar Krešimir IV.

            In the year 1108 Split was confirmed its status of an independent commune by the Croato-Hungarian king Coloman, which enabled further prosperity, expansion and development of the city. At the time, the city had its own money and statute. From the year 1207 on, the citizens elected city dukes among distinguished Croatian and Bosnian feudal lords (Grgur Bribiski, Pavao and Mladen Šubić, Hrvoje Vukčić). Battles were fought against the towns of Omiš and Trogir, and the city faced the danger of Mongolian attacks. In this period the monumental bell-tower of the Split cathedral was erected. The earlier western suburb now became the centre of the city, and a new City Hall was built at the new St. Lawrence Square.

            In the 14 th century, from year 1327 until 1357, Split was under the rule of Venice. In the course of dynastic clashes for the Croato-Hungarian throne king Ladislas of Naples sold his rights to the kingdom of Dalmatia to the Venetian Republic for 100,000 ducats in 1409.   This initiated the process of submission of independent Dalmatian municipalities to the rule of Venice. Split fell under the dominion of Venice in 1420 and remained so until the fall of the Venetian Republic in the year 1797. In order to accommodate their military garrison, in 1435 the Venetians built two military castles along the southwest corner of the city. In the course of the 14th and 15th century a row of beautiful Gothic buildings was constructed along the St. Lawrence Square. The famous Dalmatian architect and sculptor Juraj Dalmatinac (George the Dalmatian) worked in Split at the time, and other prominent artists of the period were sculptors Bonino from Milan and Dujam Vušković from Split. It was during the same period that the first Croatian Renaissance poet Marko Marulić, who normally wrote in Latin, wrote the first literary work in the Croatian language (Judita, 1501). Around the year 1500 the Ottoman Turks attack properties in the outskirts of Split. At the same time the harbour of Split is built, and the city develops into a centre of trade with the Balkans hinterland. In the 17th century the fortress of Gripe is built. The high cultural level of Split in the 17th and 18th century is shown in the works of its intellectual circle, which among others included the archbishop and scientist Marko Dominis, the poet Jerolim Kavanjin and the composer Julije Bajamonti. In the year 1794 the City Hospital was built in Split.

            After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797 Split was put under Austrian military occupation (until 1806), and from 1808 until 1813 it remained under the rule of Napoleon. The period of the French rule was significant for Split because of extensive construction (building of the wharf and numerous parks) and expansion of the city towards the west, which can be attributed to the French marshal Marmont, who was the military governor of Dalmatia at the time.

            The French rule was once again replaced by Austrian administration, which lasted from 1813 until 1918. This was the so-called „autonomist“ administration, which opposed any kind of union of Dalmatia to Croatia. Such a period lasted until 1882, when the National Party – which supported the idea of uniting Dalmatia with Croatia, finally won the elections. In this period the further expansion of the city continued, a modern city harbour was built, a city gas plant constructed and a railway system introduced. This was at the same time a period of intensive cultural development of the city: the Archaeological Museum was opened in 1821, the Classical Gymnasium in 1817, and the National Theatre in 1859, whereas in 1911 the football club Hajduk was founded.        

After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918 Split became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was later named Yugoslavia. At that time Split became the governing centre of Dalmatia and the largest port of the newly founded state. The city soon doubled in size and developed into a real cultural centre, attracting numerous famous artists of the period, among others the sculptor Ivan Meštrović, painter Emanuel Vidović and composers Ivo Tijardović and Jakov Gotovac.

            During World War II the city suffered extensive bombings, followed by Italian occupation which lasted until the fall of the Kingdom of Italy in 1943. It then fell under German administration, which lasted until the liberation in October 1944. The end of war brought rapid growth and development of Split in all respects, including economic i.e. the development of shipbuilding, cement industry, chemical industry, engineering industry, food industry etc. An airport was built in Kaštela, which contributed to the development of Split into a real tourist centre. In the year 1974 Split also became a university centre, which today boasts more than 18 different faculties and college-level institutions. In 1979 the historical centre of Split along with the Diocletian's Palace was included on the UNESCO's World Heritage List.

            After the Homeland War (1991-1995) Croatia finally establishes its independence. In the new state Split is the seat of the Split-Dalmatia County and the administrative, economic and financial centre of Dalmatia, and as such also an important centre for the western part of the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.





  • Legend