Why my home in Dalmatia had a Split personality

SITTING on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Dalamtia is winning thousands of holidaymakers every year.

In this south-west corner of Croatia, the main city of Split is the gateway for sun seekers who sail out to the pretty islands of HvarBrač and Vis for their holidays.

Yet it seems an unfortunate name, conjuring up an idea of a place divided. At one end of Split sits the palace built for Diocletian, the Roman emperor in the second century.

At the other, is an area known as Split 3, home to the concrete blocks of the Communist Empire. 

I was worried there’d be iron curtains inside

This is where I stayed, in a socialist tower covered in graffiti. It didn’t match up to the glamorous images I’d seen on Google.

I remember my first reaction – I was afraid. It was dirty and ugly. I noticed the grey cold entrance with a metal door and peeling yellow paint.

I was worried there’d still be iron curtains inside.

Not only did it look unwelcoming, it looked like it might collapse. At night, it would be even scarier.

No, I really didn’t want to stay here. So I stood outside for a while. 

Feeling uneasy, I slowly went in and climbed up the stairs. I made my way along a dark and bleak corridor. 

Then I unlocked the door and it was spectacular.

All of a sudden there were bright white walls, my eyes hurt as the sun streamed through the windows. The two rooms were splashed with purple cushions and drapes. 

On the shelves were pictures of a stylish Split in its heyday and on the walls Croatian words in italic.

This conflicting image stuck in my mind. How could the view from the inside be so different to the outside?

I closed the door and settled into my new home for one month.

Most days I headed to the Riva – the waterfront promenade, which is a magnet for tourists wanting to sit out in the open in front of Diocletian’s Palace.

Or I’d go down to Znjan beach for the cafes and bars right on the sand. 

After a while though, I started to explore Split 3. 

A dim tunnel took me under the road and in to the shopping area known as Prima 3.Time stands still and it feels like 1989 Eastern Europe but it wasn’t intimidating any more. 

It’s not pretty or polished – it’s just another massive slab of concrete that evokes the past but this is where I found the locals. 

It was here that I also found my favourite shop Borovo, which sells rubber shoes and I learned a bit about the factory which opened in 1931 by the Czech Republic’s most famous businessman and shoe maker Thomas Bata. In the 1980s the brand Startas was created and very quickly I owned two pairs.

I came to adore my little flat and joked that I was off to Yugoslavia when I went home. When I passed people in the corridors everyone said hello.

It was Spring so I could dry my clothes on a line outside the window but when I pulled them in, the paint came along too.

I started to wonder what life what’ve been like under Tito. I asked a few people but no-one wanted to say very much. 

That seemed more revealing than any story they could have told me. I guess they didn’t want to dig up the past and everyone will have their own interpretation.

Croatia declared independence in 1991 and many of the flats are still occupied by families who would have lived through the old regime.

My small one-bed apartment might have been communal and crowded with a family, maybe two, whereas I have the whole place to myself.

This was mass housing for the thousands who worked in the shipbuilding yards, now their children can choose to rent them out to visitors like me.

Yet the outside was left to crumble as I was told that no-one was responsible for their upkeep.

When I left and I looked back at the building that had frightened me so much and I saw what I didn’t before.

It might look abandoned, severe, and half-dead but it’s harmless. It’s a survivor and it shouldn’t be left in the background.

This is the heart of Split where transformation begins, on the inside.

About Chalkmarks
Author Natalie Chalk

Natalie Chalk is a journalist and travel writer who has worked on the news desks of the MailOnline and the Daily Express. She has recently written about learning to burlesque in Czechia, surf in Norway and wander the medieval streets of Malta for which she was nominated for the Malta Tourism Award 2014. She’s written for all the UK’s national newspapers with travel features appearing in the Guardian, TNT Magazine and Express Newspapers. She has lived in Peru, Nigeria and Portugal and earlier this year she returned to London after travelling the world for 14 months, visiting 39 cities. In 2017, Chalkmarks.co.uk was named Top 10 UK Travel Bloggers.

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