Sep. 26—SPLIT, Croatia — When the Roman emperor Diocletian decided it was time to retire, he did not choose to settle in Verona, Alexandria, or Rome. He found a place more beautiful, where the sea and the rugged landscape are married in a topographically unique merger, here, on the picturesque coastline of what has become modern-day Croatia.
The endless aquamarine waters are dappled with islands, some rocky and barren, some heavily forested, and some home to quaint fishing villages. Around 295 A.D., the beauty and natural wonders of the region seduced the emperor. That seduction continues today for tourists from all over the world that happen upon Croatia's Dalmatia — that narrow strip of paradise defined by limestone cliffs, gorgeous shoreline, and a generous scattering of islands.
The spectacular palace that slave labor built for Diocletian in the third and fourth centuries encompassed more than seven acres and included his ostentatious living quarters, three temples, a grand mausoleum, and an expansive courtyard. Much of the palace was constructed of locally mined marble and satiny pure white limestone from the nearby island of Brač — the same stone that was used in the construction of the White House.
The remains of the 1,700-year-old Diocletian's Palace are the showpiece of the many Roman historic sites and ruins found along Croatia's Adriatic coast. Today, about 3,000 people live inside the walls of the palace, which is surrounded by shops and open-air restaurants that cater to the busy tourist traffic, much of which arrives in Split by boat.
If the castles, ancient ruins, and stunning scenery of Croatia's Dalmatian region seem to closely resemble the set for a Hollywood production, the producers of the mega-popular Game of Thrones series felt the same way. Diocletian's palace was used as the bastion of Queen Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons.
Down the coast in Dubrovnik, the Old Town provided Game of Thrones with the primary setting for King's Landing, a fictional city that was a stronghold of the Lannister family. Few modifications were needed since the fortifications of the large outer wall and the narrow streets ideally matched the show. The feature film Mama Mia 2, while set in the Greek Isles, was filmed on the Croatian island of Vis.
Croatia's Adriatic coast is draped with islands that are the jewels of the region. Hvar, with its extensive fields of lavender, groves of ancient olive trees, and hillside vineyards, is generally recognized as one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world, and one of the sunniest.
Korcula is an island with medieval squares, churches, palaces, and old stone homes, one of which is believed to be the birthplace of the explorer Marco Polo. The cathedral in the center of town was built in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Visitors to Croatia's islands and its history-rich coast this summer included NBA legend Michael Jordan, U2 singer Paul David Hewson (Bono), actress Demi Moore, actor Harrison Ford and his actress wife Calista Flockhart, actor Neil Patrick Harris, Kobe Bryant's widow Vanessa and their daughters, and chef and TV personality Gordon Ramsey was here to film an episode for his "Uncharted" series.
First Published September 26, 2021, 12:00pm