Posted by: viewfromtheriva | June 27, 2009

Salona, a glorious ruin, deserves more

Alan Mandic and his friend, a young amateur archeologist who will be graduating soon with a degree in cultural tourism, took us to Salona today.  As the head of SectetDalmatia, a niche market agency here specializing in cultural and culinary tourism, Alan is passionate about Croatia, its people and its heritage.

But Salona makes him and a lot of Croatians angry because there is real concern that its critical importance to the history of the region is being allowed to slip away do to benign neglect.

As the Roman capital of Dalmatia , Salona was a thriving political, economic and cultural center with as many as 60,000 people living here.  Diocletian, the Emperor between 284 and 305 was born here and when he retired, he had his spectacular palace built on what is now the Split Riva.

Salona became an important early Christian enclave as well, but as the centuries passed, it was an enviable prize waiting to be conquered and finally fell to Slav invaders in the 7th century.  Most of the inhabitants fled (many to the protection of the Palace and the islands off Split) and the city quickly faded from its former glory.

The looting reached its pinnacle when Salona’s  fabulous marble faced Forum and Amphitheatre and other public buildings were stripped by the Venetians.

What we see today are little more than low rise walls that outline the former grandeur of the place.

Certain areas surely have been well preserved, but so much remains untouched–apparently due to a lack of funds.  But the real tragedy is that surrounding the hundreds of acres of meadow and woodland that used to be Salona is ugly industrial sprawl.

Standing in the ancient amphitheatre and looking out at factories, gas tanks, highways and uncontrolled commercial districts that surround such a sacred and profound part of Croatia’s heritage is sad.

Its remarkable that for only 20kn you can wander for hours here and see some fascinating things–early Christian relics, ancient Roman arches and bridges, the remnants of what must surely have been a majestic two story gate (I was reminded of Diocletian’s Palace West Gate), glorious sarcophogii and just enjoyingthe overall scope and impact of a vast site, most of which has yet to be unearthed.

On a glorious Saturday morning we were the only ones here.  When we went back to the parking lot, we met a Russian couple and a Croatian man.  That was it.

Alan and others who are concerned are working to create the kind of tours to Salona that will go well beyond the current 100kn junkets.  Let’s hope they can find support to make this forgotten city a must-see stop for any visitor to Croatia, not an afterthought.

One of the many sarcophogii scattered around Salona

One of the many sarcophogii scattered around Salona

Roman Salona

Roman Salona

Salona Amphitheatre

Salona Amphitheatre

Roman Cherubum

Roman Cherubum



  1. I went to Croatia in June and after reading your article I am sorry I missed this. I drove by but was in too big a rush to get to Split to take the trouble to stop – I wish I had!

    • yeah, it’s just so overlooked…and when you are there you get the sense it was a big deal, but without reading the history it looks like a vast field surrounded by scrub forest so it’s hard to imagine…..when I went to Ephesus, Turkey the first time it was sort of like this…but with more drama because the amphitheatre and linrary and roads were still intact. Years later, when they had peeled back the hills to reveal houses and other structures (like Salone, there is still more than half undug) it was incredible. So Salona, one day could become another Ephesus. But not without a serious commitment by the government.

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