Stumbling across Marjan Hill
I knew about Marjan Hill, of course, the forested park is famous in Split, and I’d most definitely planned on going. Just not on Sunday morning when I set out for a walk around the Veli Varoš neighborhood, fanning out from Old Town. A promised cloudy day had turned sunny, and the temperature just perfect (as an aside, thus far, I think October is a fantastic time to visit Split. It’s warm, but not hot, and the crowds have thinned out considerably), so I just decided to take a late morning stroll to see what I could see.
I had started a wander through this part of town, but I happened upon a very angry man on a scooter who sped up to someone’s gate and started yelling at them, so I left. I’m assuming that’s pretty rare, based on my experience here.
Sunday morning found the neighborhood quiet and sleepy, a few residents seated outside a café, a nun headed through a gate, and a few people sneaking into the shop for groceries before it closed for the remainder of the day.
It’s cute back there in Varoš. White stone and cobblestone walkways interspersed with pavement. Scooters and motorcycles zipping along (much of this zone is pedestrians only—scooters and motorcycles are permitted). Unlike the rest of Split, this section started uphill. I didn’t really think anything of it, as I was busy snapping photos and just taking it all in.
I came up on a church, service in session, and I decided to look it up. The steeple is a prominent feature of the skyline, and I had no idea what it was called. It’s called Church of the Holy Cross, and one of the reviews mentioned that it’s close to Marjan Hill.
Marjan, eh? I wonder how close I am?
Marjan Hill has spectacular views of Split and the Adriatic, and the most popular way to get there is by climbing some 300 steps. I gotta tell you, friends. I wasn’t so interested in doing that. I climbed 461 steps to get to the top of Lovćen in Montenegro, and, well, the views were so worth it, but my body flipped me the bird. It seems that I am one of those people who can walk forever on flat surfaces, but the instant an incline is introduced, I’m not so inclined to do it. I needed to work my way up to it.
I found the back way!
Still, I really wanted to see it, and if I was close to the terrace, well, I’d heard that you could get a really good view from there. Maybe that would be enough? I zoomed out on the map, and I saw that I was a very short distance from the terrace restaurant that’s a popular rest stop on the way up to the main viewpoint. A six-minute walk. That’s easy enough, I thought.
I turned a corner up onto a road that allows cars—have I mentioned that I’ve been living just inside the pedestrian zone?—and, it turns out, they drive on narrow streets much like Montenegrins, which is to say, get out of the way when you see one coming. I’ve had practice at that, so I walked up the hill, where I started to get some views of Split below and decided that it most definitely was worth it.
What a view!
Well, the terrace does indeed offer some incredible views of Split. How perfect! From the terrace, I could see the mountain rising up behind the city of Split, the red-tile rooftops, and the sea extending out from the Riva. I felt very pleased with myself for accidentally finding the back way to one of the best views in town.
In addition to the caffe, there’s a little landing where you can stop and admire the scenery, so I did. I also went into the sixteenth-century Jewish Cemetery, the entrance of which was right beside the caffe. A cute little cat played near the entrance; I think they hoped their little antics would earn them a treat.
The path to Crkva sv. Nikola
In addition to the stairs, which continue near behind the caffe, I saw a wide path leading up into the hill. Why not? Just turn around when you get tired. I looked at the map, and there was a little church up the hill. It was just a few minutes away, so I figured that I’d go see that. I took my time up the hill, admiring the growing view of the sea.
Crkva sv. Nikola is one of those darling little Romanesque churches that dot the Balkans. It dates back to the 13th century. It eventually became a hermitage before sustaining damage from the Turks in the 17th century. You can peek inside and see an altar (and also a tarp) and there’s a Gothic bell tower added to the structure. I snapped a few photos and noticed that it wasn’t mobbed here. Maybe keep going?
I kept going
After the church, the path flattened out considerably, and I found myself continuing on, taking in the sea views. I walked from one viewpoint to the next, noticing that there were only a few minutes between them. I think this was intentional to keep lazy hikers like me entertained enough to keep walking.
Crkva sv. Jere and the Oratory of sv. Cyriaka
Suddenly, I found myself within reasonable striking distance of a really cool site. Jerome might have been a sexist jerk, but churches built in his honor I’ve found to be stunning. Crkva sv. Jere, a 15th century Catholic church is built up on a little ledge above a cliff, overlooking the sea. What’s more, behind it is a medieval hermitage, the Oratory of sv. Cyriaka, carved directly into a mountain. Now that’s something to behold.
I would happily become a hermit if this was my view
I climbed up the steps to get up to the hermitage and looked down on the church and then the sea beyond. I would happily become a hermit, I thought, if this was my view.
Initially I had the place to myself, but an American man soon joined me, expressing a similar sentiment. As I was climbing down, a bike tour showed up, and I found out that both the church and the hermitage had been were open once a year, and that it had been open last week. Alas. Well, I don’t think that I would have enjoyed the church service, but I wouldn’t have minded being able to peek inside.
Still, this was really something, considering that I’d just set out on a little stroll.
Top of Marjan Hill? Really?
Speaking of being out on a little stroll, I hadn’t brought any water with me, and I hadn’t intended on walking so far. It wasn’t hot, but the sun was strong. Also, I was not wearing good shoes for Time to head back. I turned around on the trail and began to head back the way I came.
However, I looked around and realized that I must be very near the top of Marjan Hill. It would be a shame to come all this way and not see it. A look at the map showed fifteen minutes. I can do that.
So, I wound up another incline, this one on the other side, away from the open sea. I kept walking, getting tired, and wondering if this was worth it. And then it was there. I saw the giant cross (it’s strange to me how many crosses dot hills), and I passed a little tourist trolley (I should mention that you can actually drive up there, if you really can’t walk it). I walked up the back way to the viewpoint, as a woman defied the sternly written, multilingual signs prohibiting people from climbing the cross. Scofflaw, I thought, a bit jealous that she could get up there.
Would you look at that?
Wow. Now this is really cool. I can’t believe I really walked up here. The cross dominates one side of the viewpoint, and a giant Croatian flag dominates the side facing Split. Unfortunately, it also has giant cables, making it challenging to get the perfect snap, as an American woman and I laughed about.
Down the stairs
People huffed and puffed their way to the last of the stairs to reach the viewpoint, and I felt a bit superior that I’d reached there with my breath still in my body. Granted, I’d been wandering about the hill for a couple of hours at that point, but I’d also seen a lot. Why don’t I go down them, just to see what I missed?
So, I did. I walked down to a park and checked out the Meteorological Observatory building. From there, instead of continuing on the stairs to Crkva sv. Nikola and continued the rest of the way to the terrace and the caffe. I’m glad I did, because I caught my best view of Old Town Split from there.
I mentioned earlier that I hadn’t brought any water with me, so I got myself a seat at the caffe and ordered a sparkling water and a barely sweetened, lovely lemonade. I overheard a Canadian couple who had their dog with them talking with a tourist about how they planned to make their way toward Prague over the next month or so.
Part of me was jealous, but not really
Part of me felt jealous. They had their dog with them, and I so miss my Ollie. However, I wasn’t jealous of their itinerary, picking up every week and moving on. I like having more time to just wander around, finding back ways and twists and turns on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
I headed back to my flat and proceeded to take a rather long, lovely nap.