Thursday, 8 October 2015

Solin: An Imaginative Frolic in the Gardens of Antiquity

Solin, Croatia (Solin, Hrvatska)
Us being the ancient ruin fiends that we are, we researched the best archaeological sites in Croatia for such finds. What we discovered was Solin, a modern town near Split that had built up around the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Salona. Fun fact: Solin is still known to Italians as Salona to this day. 
Upon entering the fenced area, we were thrown right in the middle of an early Christian burial site and basilica. Originally developed as a necropolis in the second century BC, it was only after a Christian martyr was executed in the amphitheatre of Salona in 304AD that Christians started to bury their dead here. They often had to hold funerals in secret due to religious discrimination, especially during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who led the last and bloodiest Roman persecution of Christians from around 303-313AD (known as the Great Persecution). Stay tuned for more on Diocletian! You'll be hearing more of him in my post on Split. 
Though mostly destroyed by invasions, remnants of tombs were scattered about the area and we enjoyed strolling between them. 
Beside the necropolis was a building which looked as though someone had stolen stones from the surrounding ruins to construct (reminding me greatly of all the abbeys near Hadrian's Wall). Glancing inside, we discovered it was a museum and passed by in order to see the rest of Salona. Neighbouring the museum was a lovely little garden with ancient pillars and stone seats where I pretended for a moment that I was looking out at a world from two millenia ago. 
The centre of Salona was the area where the baths were built. In ancient Roman life, spending time at the baths consisted a large part of the day, and mealtimes revolved around bathtime. An informative plaque told us "they were the venue of intensive social and cultural life". It now looks like a huge open area with wall fragments, but imagine what it may have looked like in its heyday - marble facades and domes, stone roads and trickling drinking fountains. It was here that the 'episcopal centre' was located: churches, a baptistery (including the wonderfully named 'catechumeneum', a room for religious education), and the bishop's palace. 
The hulking office buildings of neighbouring Split can be seen far on the horizon, never letting you forget just how much time has passed from when the catechumeneum was in use. Strangely, there were only a couple of other visitors skulking around, which for such a far-stretching collection of ruins seemed a shame. If the site was better promoted, I'm sure it would be teeming with daytripping tourists from Split (though it was nice to have the place to ourselves as well). 
The five-arch bridge marks the easternmost point of Salona's centre, as the river it spanned was outside the city gates. The road leading away from the walls led into the hinterland. 
Gladiatorial fights were all the rage, dahling, and in the second century AD an amphitheatre was built to house seventeen thousand spectators. It even had poles in place that canvas could be stretched across to shield the whole amphitheatre from rain and sunshine. I appreciate this, as on the day we visited it was hot and we sheltered in the shade of trees whenever we could, venturing out quickly to snap some photos. There's no way I'd sit for hours in the open, even if it was to watch slaves stabbing each other and starved animals, such fun though I'm sure it would be. Though this area seems largely unexcavated, archaeologists have found a shrine where gladiators would pray to the goddess of revenge and destiny, Nemesis, before fights. 
Along an overgrown shrubby path we found the forum, which was part of the economic centre. The town hall faced the forum, as well as (more!) baths, a temple, and a small theatre as well as political buildings. In the fourth century AD under the rule of the first Christian Emperor Constantine, Salona became a Christian town and the forum sadly lost its significance as a main part of the city centre. This area was very fragmented and only hints of the former buildings could be seen. 
It was here we discovered that if we had driven to Salona a different way, we could pull over by the side of the road and simply walk in, avoiding the entrance fee! Here and by the amphitheatre there was no fence to bar freeloaders. If only we had known! Some motorist had left behind evidence of his pit stop, as we saw a newspaper, a carton of pear juice and waxed paper that looked like it once transported greasy fish and chips. This is by far the best roadside picnic spot I've seen (but bins should be installed so littering is less prevalent). I would definitely sit at the crumbling relics of an ancient town and stretch my legs atop the forum!