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Sunset in Split, Croatia (Photograph by Doug Pearson / AWL Images)

Europe’s Rising Star: Split

Many European cities claim Roman ruins, but a town that has inhabited, reworked, and centered itself around those ruins as the centuries roll by is—outside Rome itself—something rather special.

Perched on a stocky peninsula jutting out from Croatia’s mainland, Split came to prominence thanks to the emperor Diocletian, who built an enormous palace here as his retirement project.

Bars, shops, and even hotels now flank the palace’s peristyle, or central courtyard, its tall archways and symmetrical lines forming the old town’s most spectacular square.

Split hasn’t roped off Diocletian’s settlement; rather, it’s built into and around it.

The 13th-century cathedral incorporates the emperor’s mausoleum, while the Roman temple of Jupiter is now a baptistery, its exquisitely carved Romanesque font guarded by a headless sphinx.

The famous Riva seafront promenade begins outside the palace walls. Completed in A.D. 305, the palace took Diocletian ten years to build.

But not even the most egomaniacal of Roman emperors could have imagined that, 1,700 years later, it would still be center stage.

  • Main event: Split Summer Festival, with superlative theater, music, and dance in venues around town, including the palace
  • Also try: Thessaloniki, Greece, with its historic Byzantine and Ottoman architecture

This piece, adapted from a story that originally appeared in the UK edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine, appeared in Traveler‘s August/September 2015 issue.