Split … Marjan Hill and forest park: the lungs of Split, the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ playground, and the city zoo that appeared to be encouraging some rather odd cross-breeding

Known as the ‘lungs of Split’, the 178 metre high hill of Marjan just west of Diocletian’s Palace and the Riva, lies next to the Croatian city’s harbour like a pert lady’s breast. The lush forest surrounding the hill covers six square kilometres of the Marjan peninsula. Entered from the north gate, the forest opens up offering long, leisurely walking and cycling trails that lead to secluded beach coves along the tip of the peninsula. Entered from the south by the harbour and the steady climb up the well maintained steps to the peak of the hill offers breath-taking views and until recently, a few dubious distractions.

The lungs of Split: the very green and luscious Marjan Hill as seen from the top of the Old City belfry

The lungs of Split: the very green and luscious Marjan Hill as seen from the top of the Old City belfry

The first set of steps from Marjanske Skale by the harbour, leading up to the peak of Marjan Hill

The first set of steps from Marjanske Skale by the harbour, leading up to the peak of Marjan Hill

More steps leading up to the peak

More steps leading up to the peak

Even more steps leading up to the peak of the hill

Even more steps leading up to the peak of the hill

Stunning views of the Old City can be enjoyed along the way

Stunning views of the Old City can be enjoyed along the way

Charming old chapels are dotted along the route

Charming old chapels are dotted along the route

St Nicolas the Traveller chapel has looked out over the Adriatic here since the thirteenth century. It was rebuilt in 1919 and again in 1990

St Nicolas the Traveller chapel has looked out over the Adriatic here since the thirteenth century. It was rebuilt in 1919 and again in 1990

Park, St Nicolas the Traveller chapel, inside

Finally, the last few steps to the peak of Marjan

Finally, the last few steps to the peak of Marjan

Efforts are rewarded at the top

Efforts are rewarded at the top

Park, view of harbour from the top of Telegrin summit

Once at the top of Marjan Hill, one can return down the steps or go further afield into the forest. Not far from the peak was – until last year – the city zoo.

Split Zoo was small and felt more like a petting zoo or city farm with its array of rabbits...

Split Zoo was small and felt more like a petting zoo or city farm with its array of rabbits…

...donkeys, sheep and goats

…donkeys, sheep and goats

...although the presence of a bear, a monkey, a small pack of wolves...

…although the presence of a bear, a monkey, a small pack of wolves…

...and this rather photogenic tiger technically gave it proper zoo status. Madam Roar's last zoo was in LA

…and this rather photogenic tiger technically gave it proper zoo status.
Madam Roar’s last zoo was in LA

I tend not to visit zoos on my travels for various reasons, and so I can’t be sure whether it is common practice nowadays to let the more placated species mix and mingle within each other’s pens. I saw goats and ostriches together in one caged area, sheep and lamas in another. It certainly gave the impression that the animals had a certain level of freedom within the zoo (apart from the monkey, wolves, tiger and bear), but I wondered whether there was a more sinister reason behind this semi-freedom of movement. Were the animals being mixed up deliberately to encourage some strange cross-breeding programme by the zoo?

What do you get when you cross a porcupine with a peahen? A quill-hen adjunction? (Hardcore mathematicians will find that hilarious)

What do you get when you cross a porcupine with a peahen? A quill-hen adjunction?
(Hardcore mathematicians will find that hilarious)

Teenage quacking mutant turtles?

Teenage quacking mutant turtles?

Ram rabbit, ram rabbit, ram, ram, ram

Ram rabbit, ram rabbit, ram, ram, ram

Joking aside, I have to admit I wasn’t particularly happy with the condition of the animals at Split Zoo. Although most of the animals appeared to have adequate space to move around in and appeared well fed and looked after, the resident bear was pacing quite disturbingly in a cage that was clearly too small for such a large, wild creature. I did ask about his welfare but was told he was well taken care of. There have been a deluge of complaints about the zoo over the years and it was announced last year (2015) that the zoo was to close with the animals being sent to other zoos within Croatia and worldwide. I do hope that bear is much happier where he is now.

Aptly next to the zoo was – and presumably still is – a children’s playground with the usual playing apparatus, although there was one piece that left me a little confused as to its purpose. It looked like a climbing frame but it was covered in biker-style chains. Was it a piece of art, a unique Croatian health and safety regulation to help harness climbing children onto the piece to prevent them from falling off it, or was it something for adults only to enjoy?

The climbing frame at Marjan children's playground, dedicated to the park by Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc

The climbing frame at Marjan children’s playground, dedicated to the park by
Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc

Park, Ana the Butterfly by Efra Avila side

Park, Ana the Butterfly by Efra Avila side detail

I do hope that's not blood on those chains

I do hope that’s not blood on those chains

It turns out that the piece was in fact an interactive sculpture called “Ana the Butterfly” by local artist Efra Avila. Although I am sure intentions were totally wholesome and innocent, the appearance of the piece didn’t exactly exude the feeling of family fun. The instructions on how to play on the piece could well have been written by E.L. James.

There should be an age restriction on this piece. Instruction number 4 is clearly for adults only and a safety word should be supplied

There should be an age restriction on this piece. Instruction number 4 is clearly for adults only and a safety word should be supplied

Useful information

Marjan is a short walk from the Old Town and is well sign posted. There is no public transport to or through Marjan although I did see one of those garish tourist ‘trains’ driving up to the peak of the hill where it allowed passengers to explore the lookout area for ten minutes before descending the hill again.

Entrance to the hill and surrounding forest is free. Pathways are reasonably well signposted. The climb up the steps to the peak is moderate but long with over one thousand steps involved. The steps begin at Marjanske Skale along the harbour, behind the Church of Sveti Frane.

To enter the forest from the north, walk west along Plinarska Street past the National Theatre.

If you have the stamina and the patience to find it, walk to the chapel of St Jere (Saint Jerome) in the heart of the forest. It is built into the rock and looks absolutely stunning both inside and out. Sadly, much as I tried I was unable to find it during my trip to Marjan in 2014.

Park, first lookout over Old Town and harbour from top of steps

TLT x


Diocletian's Palace has been well preserved but has also seen many alterations and adaptations over the centuries once the Romans left and the Christians moved in

Diocletian’s Palace, Split: Croatia’s answer to Pompeii

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dubrovnik: Dubrovnik Old City Walls Franciscan Monastery-Museum water spout close up (1) finding true love with the help of a Croatian gargoyle

 

 

 


 

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