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Croatia in peace and quiet

If looking for a peaceful retreat in the city of Split, the cathedral’s bell tower might be a good place to start, 60 metres above the ground and with an unlimited view in every direction.

The cathedral was once the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s mausoleum, contained within the huge palace that he built for his own retirement 1700 years ago. Its walls, visible on every side down below, surround the busy core of Split, an impressive and beloved World Heritage site.

Split has its own havens for those who wish to avoid the crowd. Just let your eyes wander around the compass; to the bluish mountains in the north, to the extensive harbour opposite, and let them wander westwards, along the palm-clad promenade Riva, pointing to a green peninsula, Marjan. The end of the harbour forms a little peninsula of its own, Sustipan, out where the marina is, a corner that exudes peacefulness.

After descending from the tower, you will experience another side of Riva, hidden from view: a long line of bars and cafes, a literal oasis that continues on and on. Leave Riva behind you and proceed along the waterfront, followed by the green Marjan in the background up right, which is popular for walking, either to its viewpoints or all the way to the end of the peninsula 3.5 kilometres ahead. The lower part of Marjan, Meje, is an upper-class residential area.

There is a Marjan on the sea front as well; that’s Hotel Marjan, a modern hotel in a long low building. A decayed skyscraper on top of it may lead your thoughts to the war in the 1990s. However, Split was not seriously hit, except on its economy and by streams of refugees, for whom Hotel Marjan served and was completely run down as a refugee centre. The next large building, making such a harmless impression with its beige-coloured walls, is actually the Army’s local headquarters.

In the ACI Marina at the outermost tip, tranquility reigns. As if indifferent to their own smartness, the luxurious yachts are more or less covered up, absorbed in resting and gathering strength, while anticipating their next trip on the Adriatic, perhaps to the nearby island of Hvar, Croatia’s hippest holiday resort, where a fresh and brilliant appearance is vital. On a balcony above, at Skipper’s, it’s possible to enjoy a breathtaking view of Split and the mountains through a forest of masts, accompanied by the largest, thinnest and crispest pizzas in town.

Neither the view nor the pizza can calm down a middle-aged English gentleman who has run into endless problems with a yacht he rented. His wife reacts differently; showing total apathy. The man is expecting a call from the boat owner, and he finally rings up. The Englishman now appears a true virtuoso in complaining; rattling off an uninterrupted torrent of accusations spiced with technical details, convincing the owner that his unscrupulous methods will be exposed worldwide, via the Internet.

To restore his mental peace, the unlucky boat renter ought to climb a few steps further, to the little park of Sustipan. The cicadas there would cheer him up. Sustipan has the shape of an elevated rectangle, like a platform between heaven and earth. It’s decorated with cypresses, a few pines and one single palm, lots of benches and lovely views wherever you look. The only buildings are an elegant neoclassical pavilion in the middle and a small church amidst the ruins of a monastery. Three black crosses on the Sustipan sign suggest this might be a cemetery, and it is in a way, a cemetery without graves, established in 1825.

The graves have gone to Lovrinac outside town, a new cemetery opened 1928. For some reason or other, relatives started moving their dead ones to the new resting place. Sustipan was thus gradually disfigured and eventually abandoned in 1962. If able to speak, the dead would definitely have protested against being moved from the most beautifully situated cemetery you could imagine.

On the Beach
The Marjan coast appears inviting with its peace and quiet. Hotel Jadran, right after Sustipan, must be a haven for swimmers; they have their own stadium, deserted at this point, though. A cement walkway, lined with pines and tamarisk trees, leads on along the waterfront. Here, three elderly ladies get themselves an after-swim chat, one of them flattening out on the cement in a voluminous pink swimsuit, matching her red-dyed hair and dark pink beach sandals, the latter used as a cushion by her white poodle.

Presently, a paradise turns up, Jezinac, a beach surrounded by wall paintings, one of them a moonlight version of Split’s harbour. The decorations include a tiny quay with a mast on it, a threatening cannon and a lighthouse, the light of which has been replaced by a huge sea urchin, possibly a warning for potential intruders. The place looks like a sort of club whose members, at least those present, are middle-aged to elderly, sporting a mahogany tan, sitting or lying about in quiet conversation, one man treating himself to a manicure.

More art is found in the Mestrovic Gallery, on the opposite side of the coastal road. Ascending its broad stairs, you enter a world of silence and beauty. A shady garden abounds in bronze sculptures, while immense columns adorn the porch of the symmetrical gallery building, or rather palace. Ivan Mestrovic, deceased 1962, mastered wood, marble, bronze and stone. Inside, Adam and Eve stretch their naked wooden bodies, causing Christ to turn his bronze head away. The Vestal Virgin at the exit has only eyes for the park and the sea.

Kastelet, as this part of the coast is called, becomes a beach again, quite long and with a row of fan palms, even boasting a cafe. It’s afternoon now and the atmosphere intensely soporific. People sit at small tables reading papers, saying very little, contemplating the sea perhaps, others drowse on their towels. The only display of energy is provided by two windsurfers. The beach seems to serve as an extension of these people’s homes, an afternoon refuge as it were.

The beach also has a nightlife, in strong contrast to the day in that it is noisy and attracts a young crowd. A sign in the cafe window says that Friday and Saturday night at 11 o’clock, the cafe is transformed into Disco Veger, with live music by Ulix Grupa. When the party is over, many certainly get a good night’s sleep on the pebbles of the beach, under a blanket of shimmering stars.

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