Cities / Towns Visited: 54
Countries Visited: 16
Steps Taken Today: 11,005
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,928,883
We rose lazily, after a much deserved sleep in, to another searingly sunny day. Stepping out into the heat, we took the short walk to the outer walls of the old town. We had set today aside to explore this small city, which looks like something fresh out of a history documentary. Figuring there was no better place to start than by admiring the walls themselves, we wandered round the outside until we reached the side furthest from the water. Here, this old fortified barrier stands undisturbed by the erection of shameless touristy restaurants and shops. Here you can stop and admire the beauty of the turreted stone, and the lush green foliage which skirts its base without having to rubber neck over the masses of visitors, and its stunning.
Reaching the Golden Gate entrance in this facing of the wall, we were greater by the towering giant of a statue who stands stoically just outside. This bronze goliath is Gregorius of Nin, a medieval Croatian Bishop who strongly opposed the Pope, and took it upon himself to ensure services in the church were delivered in the local language, instead of Latin, so that the locals may actually understand them. They say if you rub his big toe, it will bring you good luck, and by the sheen he has going on his entire foot, and the fact that the toenail on his big toe has almost lost all of its definition, I think it’s safe to say that both tourists and locals alike are eagerly searching for luck in their lives.
Ducking through the gate, we entered the old town, also known as Diocletian’s Palace, the Croatian home of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor who has been in power when the Romans had seized the area and built this guarded city in the 4th century AD. We weaved our way through the same kind of narrow warren of streets we had encountered in Šibenik. Finally we found our way to the centre, and were met with both a throng of photo snapping tourists and a site that screams ‘Romans were here!’. The small sunken square is flanked by the Cathedral of St. Domnius. Where the pillars and layout are most certainly recognisable as being of the heritage of its builders. There is also, as there seems to be everywhere in the world, a few stolen Egyptian relics on display, including a pair of small carved stone sphinxes.
Having admired the outer beauty, we decided to visit the Cathedral, which is made up of a number of attractions. After purchasing our tickets to all of them we began with the treasury; a small room upstairs which houses a collection of precious religious artifacts owned by the church. From many gold and silver pieces, including chalices and plates, to reliquaries and centuries Christian iconography. None of which can be photographed, but be assured it’s as gaudy as you can imagine.
Trotting downstairs we entered the Cathedral itself. Although small, it is impressive with an arch spanning the centre covered in frescoes and gilded intensely around the frames. Under this arch sits a shrine for St. Domnius. In front of this as a large domed area, with more shrine filled niches and with tall Romanesque marble pillars soaring up to the ceiling. The whole ordeal looked so remaniscent of Rome that at times it seemed like we weren’t in Croatia at all.
Stepping outside, we headed up the bell tower to gain a better perspective of the city from its aerial view. Trudging up the impossibly narrow and tall steps, circling around the inner edge of the hollow structure, and passing the bells which sing out across the city, we finally arrived at the top. The tiresome ascent was made worth it by the panoramic view of the red brick rooftops which cover the town. On one side, the distance is filled with the undulating line of the mountains, whereas the opposite spans out onto the azure Adriatic sea.
Descending the heights, we continued our downward direction, entering the small crypt beneath the cathedral. Although this one does not actually hold any interred remains, it does house a small alter atop of which stands the figure of St. Lucia of Syracuse. Around her feet sit countless notes of prayer from faithful visitors. Briefly scanning the pleas of the people, I will say it’s rather sad how many of them (most of whom were from the USA) are asking the Saint to guide our world leaders towards peace. We really should be at a point in history when we can pray for larger issues than for our leaders to do their job correctly.
Coming back to the surface, we crossed the square and down a small street until we reached the Temple of Jupiter. Now, this small temple had originally been dedicated to the old Roman god, Jupiter, but due to the introduction of Catholicism in the Holy Roman empire, the temple now stands as a Christian temple, and houses a carved stone font, and an uncomfortably large statue of St. John the Baptist.
With the day wearing on, and looking to escape the heat, we headed down into the cool dark of our final destination; the basement halls of the palace, which tunnel beneath the entire old town, and were only excavated in the 1850’s after being backfilled with stone and rubbish long ago when they became unstable. They have only been open to the public since the mid 90’s though. Aside from its obvious history based draw card, these ancient rooms were used as the filming location for the dungeon in which Daenerys holds her young dragons captive in Meereen in Game of Thrones. Walking around the vaulted stone rooms it’s hard not to be impressed by their sheer fortitude of having survived so long; so good were the construction skills of the Romans, and the restoration skills of the excavators.
Eventually it was time for us to head home, and enjoy the remainder of our day in the cool of our air conditioned apartment. As I reviewed our day in the evening I took a moment to admire the reach of the Roman empire in their heyday. It’s amazing to see the relics and ruins of an empire which ruled far and wide across Europe only to crumble; a powerhouse which lost its power, but left remnants across this continent. These countries which were once under their rule, now sit separately, with different cultures and languages, but they almost all share a common history. What can we learn from this? That if you look at our roots we all have something in common. We may be different on the surface, and this may divide us, but if we take the time to look beneath it all, we are still one. If we put as much energy into appreciating our similarities, as we do into pointing out and victimising our differences, maybe a few less of us would need to pray for proper leadership, for an end to war and suffering, for world peace.