Croatia has almost any many Roman ruins as its Italian neighbor to the west, a fact we're still relishing entering week two of our grand Croatian road trip. While exploring Diocletian's Palace (blog post to come) in Split was one of the coolest thing I've ever done, it pales in comparison to the ruins of Salona, the former capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and a short 20 minute drive from the city, making it a perfect day trip for those looking to escape Split and bask in the presence of 1700 year old ruins. It can be completed in a couple of hours, though it would be easy to spend an entire day if you desired.
Upon arrival, take a page from the Croatian guide to parking and leave your car wherever feasible! There was ample parking when we arrived, though we mistakenly followed one of Salona's caretakers well past the entry gate (loose interpretation of the word gate) first, leading to a confusing (read: oh shit) moment where we failed to pay and parked basically on the ruins. Apparently it was okay for him to do so because he works there; Croatia seems to be a land of many laws that are merely suggestion.
The entry fee is 30 KN (kuna) for adults and 15 KN for kids, so it's one of the cheaper things you'll find to do if your Croatian vacation stays in the cities, and it's well worth the cost of admission. I've always dreamed of exploring ruins at my own pace without battling throngs of immobile tourists, and my wish was granted here. Not only were we some of the only people around, but we were free to explore as much as we wanted. Have you ever experienced the thrill of reading Latin from the year 138? Tease all you want, but it was a deeply moving and emotional experience for me, and I admittedly teared up a couple of times.
Salona serves an important role in the history of Christianity and its proliferation in the Roman Empire, and you'll find tombs of early Christians, as well as reference to Saint Domnius, an early Bishop and martyr who was beheaded by Emperor Diocletian in Salona sometime around 300. Diocletian's wife and daughter are rumored to have been Christian, leaving many (okay, me) to wonder if his anti-Christian pogroms were related to marital troubles. Who hasn't attempted to purge an upstart religion after a fight with their spouse?
After you explore the necropolis at the entrance, wander down the steep path at the back towards the archaeological park and remnants of Salona proper. It's quite the walk, both in terms of distance and difficulty (incline + rocks = foot pain), but you'll be rewarded with a magnificently preserved Roman colony and a unique view of Split itself. It's easy to forget as you roam (heh!) the ruins that Croatia's second largest city is just a few kilometers away. We sat on the remnants of the city walls (which you can read about in both Croatian and English, much to our delight) and looked down on both the Roman and Croatian cities beneath us for roughly half an hour. It probably would've been longer, but the other couple sitting on the city walls had decided to take that time to, ummm, enjoy each other. Good for them? If ever there is to be a rebirth of Rome, I hope it's their inevitable kid that leads it. That almost beats the original legend, right?
Salona isn't the most well preserved ruin in Croatia (that distinction goes to either the amphitheatre in Pula or Diocletian's Palace in Split), but it is the easiest to access and enjoy at your own pace and the most expansive by far. If you find yourself in Split for a few days and itching for an easy Croatian day trip, we can't recommend wandering this magnificent callback to the height of the Roman Empire enough.