The ancient Roman city of Salona is located near Split, Croatia, in the city of Solin. Today, this landscape is dotted with abstract ruins, leaving much to the imagination. However, about 1,700 years ago, Salona was home to more than 40,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire.
As we walked through this fascinating archaeological park one early-spring afternoon, Shawn and I felt a bit like archaeologist Howard Carter — or perhaps even fictional Indiana Jones. At times, we pretended that we’d just chanced upon an undiscovered ancient wonder.
Salona is an archaeological gem, deserving of much more attention. However, on this February day, we were the only travelers there. We did spot a few locals, though.
First, we noticed a couple enjoying a picnic on the bright-green lawn of the Episcopal Center. The city’s weathered, sand-colored walls encircled them. Nearby was a fragment of a broken column. White daisies had emerged alongside it.
In a backyard overlooking Salona’s ancient amphitheater, a woman hung laundry. We remarked how this sight was decidedly more mundane than the bloody spectacles that would’ve once taken place in that ring.
Elsewhere, on a plot of land overlooked by the mighty Klis Fortress, a couple tended to their olive trees. (The Klis Fortress has been around, in some form or another, for thousands of years. However, it’s recently gained notoriety as a Game of Thrones filming location). We struck up a conversation with this gardening couple. When they heard that we fancied Croatia’s delicious wild asparagus, which was in season at the time, they went looking for some in their garden. Plucking a few stalks of šparoga out of the earth, they generously handed them to us and insisted that we take them as a souvenir to be enjoyed at dinner.
As we explored the ruins a bit more, Shawn and I expressed astonishment that we could have such intimate access to the remnants of this once-prominent city.
Having recently visited the Split Archaeological Museum, which contains many of the portable relics unearthed at Salona, we were better able to piece together what the community must have once looked like. But still, much was left to our imaginations.
Eventually, we found a spot on the seats of the old amphitheater and had a picnic lunch. Afterward, we strolled through the thermal baths. We also walked past remnants of the city walls and aqueduct.
We also sauntered among ornately carved marble sarcophagi, which are scattered throughout Salona. Many of the tombs had cracked lids, or they were missing lids altogether. Seeing the damaged sarcophagi reminded us of a conversation we’d had earlier with a few Split residents. They told us that some of their friends had found valuable trinkets inside Salona’s ruins decades earlier.
My most memorable moment of our Salona excursion occurred as we walked through the Porta Caesarea (Caesar’s Gate). This portal would have once led to the heart of the ancient city.
Even today, cart ruts are still visible on the road leading to the Porta Caesarea. As we walked on this road, we imagined the Roman carts and the thousands of people who literally left their mark there. As we tried to visualize these scenes, the last sunbeams of the day cast a warm glow on the tracks. Then, the silhouetted figure of a woman walking a dog appeared. Slowly, this duo came into focus. When I saw the woman’s modern-day clothes and the dog’s leash, my mind shifted forward a few millennia, back to the present.
A brief history of Salona
Salona was settled by the Illyrians and Greeks, but most extensively developed by the Romans.
During the reign of Emperor Augustus, Salona became the center of the Roman Empire’s province of Dalmatia. The Romans called the city “Colonia Martia Iulia Salona.”
Later, over the course of several centuries, the city underwent destruction by the Avars, Slavs, and Venetians. In the 6th century, Salona’s inhabitants fled the city, seeking shelter in the Palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian, which today comprises the heart of Split’s Old Town. After Salona was abandoned, the ancient city fell into further disrepair. Even today, it has not been extensively excavated.
Today, much of Salona is surrounded by busy highways, industrial buildings, and residential neighborhoods. Even though these modern additions are encroaching on the ancient relics, it’s possible to block them out while you explore.
Our afternoon at Salona awakened my exploratory spirit, satisfied my hunger for history, and left me wanting to learn more about the Roman Empire. It’s my hope that this archaeological treasure will soon be preserved so future generations can savor it, too.
From obscure places to the tourist hot spots, which ancient Roman sites would you recommend visiting? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
Where in the World?
The Solin Tourist Board website has more information about ancient Salona and modern-day Solin, including this Solin visitor’s map (pdf).
The Split Archaeological Museum has also created a Salona Virtual Tour.
How to get to Salona:
The archaeological site of Salona is located near the modern-day city of Solin, about 6 km (3.5 miles) from Split. There is one official entrance. However, you can access the site from several different sides.
- If you drive to Salona, there is a small parking lot near the official entrance (just to the west of the Manastirine and Tusculum).
- Near the amphitheater, there’s also an additional parking area close to a small residential area.
- To get to Salona from Split via mass transit, you can take Bus #1 (Starine — HRK) from Gaje Bulata Square (Trg Gaje Bulata). This bus stop is near the Croatian National Theater, just a few minutes’ walk from Diocletian’s Palace.
- On workdays, Bus #1 leaves every 30 minutes. On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, the bus doesn’t come as frequently. Here is the Bus #1 timetable.
- We purchased our bus tickets from the agent inside the ticket booth at Trg Gaje Bulata, but it was also possible to buy tickets directly from the bus driver.
- We mentioned that we wanted to stop at Salona, and our bus driver kindly alerted us when we reached our destination.
- Bus #1 dropped us off on the north side of the archaeological park, near the main entrance. This is near the Hotel Salona Palace and the Café Bar Salona.
- Here is a link to Split’s Bus System (available in English and Croatian), as well as an overview of how to use it (in English).
Salona opening hours:
- Salona’s opening hours vary, based upon the season.
- To confirm that the site is open when you want to visit, call Salona’s museum: +358 21 212 900 or contact the Solin Tourist Board via their Facebook page.
- You can also check the official Salona website for more information.
1 April – 30 September
- Monday – Saturday: 09:00 – 19:00
- Sunday: 09:00-13:00
1 October – 31 March
- Monday – Saturday: 09:00-15:00
- Sunday: Closed
Salona ticket prices:
- Adults: 40 kuna
- Children & Students: 20 kuna
When we visited in March, there was a billboard at Salona’s main entrance by the Manastirine displaying opening hours and ticket prices. However, there were no employees on site to dispense tickets. We assume that the entry was free because we visited outside of the tourist season. The museum inside the Tusculum was not open at that time either.
Unfortunately, Salona is not wheelchair-accessible. You won’t find concrete paths or any ramps in the archaeological park.
Semi-flat, gravel pathways link sections of the archaeological park. However, many of the ruins are accessed via old stone stairs and uneven grassy areas.
The Amphitheater and Manastarine / Tusculum are located near gravel parking lots, so it’s possible for people with limited mobility to park there and then visit parts of these areas.
Informational signs, written in Croatian and English, identify the major sites inside ancient Salona.
Despite the presence of these signs near the main sites, we still had to use our detective skills to imagine the functions that many of the ruined structures would’ve originally had. Many ruins remained mysterious, but that was much of the fun!
What to bring:
Ancient Salona was a large city, and it still covers a sizable area today. For example, popular attractions like the Manastirine and Amphitheater are 1 km (about .5 mile) apart.
Depending on how much of ancient Salona you choose to explore, your visit to the site might last a couple hours. Between strolling, picnicking, and pondering, we easily spent an entire afternoon there.
Salona’s infrastructure is largely undeveloped. So, to make your visit as enjoyable as possible you might want to bring the following:
- Sun protection: The archaeological park is mostly unshaded, so be sure to bring sun protection (hat, sunscreen, etc.).
- Sturdy shoes: You’ll encounter uneven ground and broken rubble in many spots, so it’s a good idea to wear supportive shoes. Also, while we didn’t encounter any snakes at Salona, our Croatian friends have long warned us about them. Be especially cautious if you walk through areas with tall vegetation.
- Water & snacks: There are no places to buy refreshments inside Salona, so pack your own beverages and snacks. Likewise, there are no garbage receptacles, so please take your trash with you.
More information about ancient Salona:
- OmnesViae: Roman Routeplanner and Vici: If you’re interested in old Roman routes and history, be sure to explore these two websites, which allow you to plot out a route and glimpse what Roman sites are along the way.
- Excavations at Salona, Yugoslavia, 1969-1972 (book)
- Picturesque and Historic Voyage in Istria and Dalmatia (book): Published in 1802, this book features beautiful engravings from the region, including some of Salona and Split (referred to by its Italian name, Spalatro). The text is in French, and the engravings are interspersed with the text. Use your keyboard’s arrows to scroll through the pages more quickly.
- Roman Cities in Italy and Dalmatia (book): Published in 1910, this book is available on Internet Archive. See pages 264-283 for information about Salona.
- Online collection of antique Salona postcards (website in Croatian)
- Study of the Aqueduct of Salona 2014-2015 (academic paper)
Accommodation in the Split area:
Shawn and I have spent a total of five winters and one summer in and around the city of Split, using it as a base to explore Croatia’s popular Central Dalmatia region. We’ve made it a habit to create new memories by staying in a different property each year. Over the years, we’ve had long-term stays in Split, Trogir, Solin, and Makarska.
We would happily revisit all of the following apartments. (Please note that some are affiliate links.)
- Apartments Mirkec (Trogir) – We spent 7 wonderful weeks in this studio apartment, which is located in the heart of the town of Trogir. The apartment had good Wifi and a kitchen with all the basics. It was also perfectly situated in the heart of Trogir’s gorgeous Old Town, just a minute’s walk from the seaside walkway, the Riva. Trogir’s bus station was about a 5-minute walk from the Apartments Mirkec, making day trips using mass transportation easy.
- Kaleta Apartments (Split) – These lovely apartments are located within Diocletian’s Palace (well, technically just a few meters from the Iron Gate). Our elegant studio apartment, called the “Diocletian’s Suite,” had lots of character — including Roman brickwork embedded into the wall. We had overhead views of life on Split’s Old Town streets, and we enjoyed chatting with the friendly owners, Novica and Negri. We spent about 2.5 months here.
- Guesthouse F (Split) – This cozy studio apartment is located in Split’s Varoš neighborhood, just a few minutes’ walk from Diocletian’s Palace. With its quirky narrow streets and stone homes decorated with hunter-green shutters and flower boxes, Varoš is charming. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, owned by Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the “horseshoe cottage.” Aside from our central location, we loved having a tiny terrace. We also appreciated the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. In total, we spent about 2 months here.
- Viola Apartment (Split) – We spent roughly 3 months in this wonderful 2-bedroom apartment, which is also in the Varoš neighborhood of Split. The apartment also has a lovely sun porch and garden. It is in an old stone home, but the interior has recently been remodeled. We were in a perfect location for accessing Diocletian’s Palace and Marjan Forest Park, too. On foot, it takes about six minutes to reach Split’s most famous lookout point near the Caffe Bar Vidilica. The owner, Ljubica, lives upstairs. She is easygoing and helpful.
- Apartments Missy (Makarska) – This 1-bedroom apartment was our home for about 12 months. The apartment is on the top floor and features skylights. A small balcony on the back of the apartment overlooks Makarska’s harbor — the views of Makarska’s dramatic mountains are wonderful! It takes about 8 minutes to reach Makarska’s bus station on foot. In a matter of minutes, you can also walk to Makarska’s Riva (seaside promenade), several grocery stores, restaurants, and cafés. The owners, Mise and Anna, are exceptionally friendly and helpful.
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.
21 thoughts on “Exploring the Ancient Roman Ruins of Salona: A Day Trip from Split, Croatia”
We love Roman ruins Tricia, and we particularly love them when we have them to ourselves. Somehow the quiet just increases the sense of wonder and mystery. I’m always amazed by the wagon-rutted roads, and wonder how many wagons must have passed to etch the hard stone? ~James
James, enjoying them at your own pace, in solitude, does heighten the experience. Looking back, I can’t remember many spots that we’ve visited that have been as quiet as Salona, though. Do you have any sites you can recommend? :)
Amazing! You must have felt like you had time travelled back thousands of years. If those stones could talk, what stories they would tell.
Darlene, the question, “I wonder what this was used for” popped up frequently, but we enjoyed the chance to exercise our detective skills. Having grown up in a ‘new’ country where if something was built a century ago, it’s considered ‘old’, I found Salona’s ruins fascinating. Many of the locals were amused by our amusement – to them, much of this is commonplace. We met people with varying degrees of interest. One was a historian who’d dedicated much of his life to research for a book on the ruins in this area, and another local said, “oh, that’s just a pile of rocks.”
Always nice to hear from you – and here’s hoping your week is off to a wonderful start!
What a superb presentation, Tricia! The determination of the old days still visible here takes the breath away :)
Ina, thank you for your kind words. I’m guessing you’ve been to Salona on numerous occasions?
Salona is indeed captivating, leading us to frequently ponder why there weren’t more visitors there. We underestimated how much there was to see. By sunset, our pace had turned from slow to hurried as we tried to explore the last of the sites. We walked through the baths at such a furious pace. :)
Yes indeed I’ve been there, I think that the Croatian tourism doesn’t market the place well enough and it should for it’s almost like the cradle of history there in those parts. Very worth the visit and effort I think :)
Fantastic, love the way you can walk around these ruins and get up close and personal, one thing which is hard to do here in the uk, most sites charge you a small fortune and even then you can’t get close.
Mark, not long after we visited these Roman ruins, we went to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. In the city of Modena, we happened upon an old Roman cemetery, and the headstones were displayed in an open-air museum of sorts, but connected to an alarm. Seeing the distance between us and the relics there reminded us how lucky we were to be so close to Salona’s ruins, but it made us wonder how much longer Salona can remain preserved if left unprotected.
Your experience walking through the Porta Caesarea reminded me of a similar feeling while rambling on the via Sacra as it passed through the Roman Forum.
It’s fun to hear that you had a similar experience. Come to think of it, I’ve been to Rome twice, but I don’t recall having gone into the Roman Forum. The first time I was on a hurried tour of the city, and during our next visit, I think it was closed for the New Year’s holiday. Perhaps that’s why Salona left such an impression on me!
Now that I’ve found those two websites devoted to mapping out Roman-era sites, I think I could be exploring for a lifetime. :) Thanks for sharing your memory here.
What interesting ruins. I would love the solitude to explore this which is so unlike other places, where it is quite controlled and crowded. But, I do wonder how much has disappeared over the years and ended up in the hands of art dealers.
Lynne, we pondered the same question. In antique stores in neighboring Split’s Old Town, dealers sold coins and other trinkets reputedly from the Roman Empire. I’m not sure if they were reproductions, if they were perhaps authentic and taken from Salona decades ago, or even if they’d been found within the locals’ own property. One of our guides said that his friend had found rare coins in his own yard many years ago. Being from a ‘new’ country, such possibilities fascinate me.
That is some awesome ruins. Your have captured the Roman ruins of Salona beautifully. They give a great sense of the place – a place I wouldn’t mind seeing and exploring one day.
Otto, I’m glad to hear that you might head there someday, as I think Salona is a site that doesn’t generate as much interest as it should! I appreciate your kind words too. Do you have Roman ruins that you could recommend? I’m ever curious to learn about the more obscure places or those that offered meaningful experiences to visitors.
I don’t think I have explored any obscute Roman ruins yet. Just the “regular” ones.
Otto, if there were any “regular” ones that we’re special to you, I’d love to hear those recommendations as well. I suppose the less-obscure ones are popular for a reason! :)
Had to smile about the laundry photo :-) Pretty amazing to have such historical ruins of Salona pretty much open to the public like it is ~ that would be fantastic to excite the soul & ponder the history of the Roman Empire (these are really pieces of 2,000 year old art!). As you mention, I too hope that there are some preservation works/plans to ensure it sticks around another 2000 years. What a great sight/site this must have been to visit, cheers!
Dalo, those underpants flitting in the breeze do bring life to the ruins and made me smile too. I was careful not to photograph any identifying surrounding elements (such a home-front) so as not to embarrass the wearer. :)
If your friends are still in Croatia, and near Split, I certainly recommend a few hours here. Have you heard any of their adventures from the road?
I’ve not heard from my friends yet ~ but know they are on a boat enjoying the sights. Will text them this post :-)
Ah, must be a gorgeous time to be in Croatia – nothing but positive envy though. :) I’m wondering if many winemakers have already harvested grapes there, and if not, how fun it’d be for your friends to participate, if they fancy wine, of course.
I’ve heard it was unfortunately a rough growing year in some parts of Europe. We just arrived in Moldova, and have hopes to try our hand at picking grapes in the coming days. So far, it’s been well worth the long bus trips to get here. Are you in Asia or the Pacific NW for autumn?