Split Old Jewish Cemetery
Split is Croatia’s second-largest city and the largest city in the Dalmatia region; it lies on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. The city was originally a Greek colony, and later came under the rule of the Roman Empire. One of the first inhabitants of the settlement was the Emperor Diocletian, who built a palace in 293 AD. During the Middle Ages, Split enjoyed the autonomy of a free city. Split was involved in a long war between Venice and Hungary and, in 1420, Split became the property of Venice whose rule ended in 1797. Since then, Split was under Austrian rule until 1918 when it became a part of Yugoslavia. Jews first settled in this area during the period of Roman rule. We know that in the 1st-3rd centuries there was a Jewish presence in the city. This fact is evidenced by the presence of ancient Jewish graves in the old cemetery of Split. One of the tombstones mentions a Jew, a native of Tiberius, who was buried at that time in Split. The Jewish community, who were mostly merchants, owned a synagogue, a cemetery, and had its own court. In the Middle Ages, Jews also played an important role in the commercial activity of the city. In the 16th century, communities of Sephardic Jews who had fled from Spain and Portugal settled in the city. In the mid-17th century 271 Jews lived in Split. The Jews of the city were actively engaged in banking and international trade, despite competition and the restrictions imposed on them by authorities in Venice. Various restrictions—such as the obligation to live in the ghetto—were only lifted in 1806 when the city was briefly under French rule. The years of Austrian rule brought prosperity to the city and to the community. The Jews were not only engaged in trade, but also succeeded as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Among the famous rabbis of Split were of the Mussafia family, three family members of which served as major rabbis in the 19th century. After World War I, 179 Jews lived in the city. As an influx of Jewish refugees came to the city in 1940, the population of Jewish community grew to 400 people. During World War II most of the city’s Jews were exterminated in concentration camps and, in 1945, there were only 55 Jews left in Split. Some Jewish children from Split were evacuated to Nonantola, and later to British Mandate Palestine. There is currently a Jewish community in Split of about 100 Jews.
In 1573 city authorities gave Mt. Marjan to the Jewish community to be used as a cemetery. This Old Cemetery was used by the community for 400 years. In 1942 the Nazis burned the cemetery’s archive, including the document from 1573 which originally gave Jews the right to use the cemetery. The cemetery had 700 tombstones, the oldest of which dates to 1717 (or 1861 according to other sources). The most recent burial dates to 1945. Some of the tombstones have inscriptions in Spanish, Italian, Croatian, or Hebrew. There are two types of stones, both in the horizontal Sephardic fashion: one in the shape of a sarcophagus roof and the other in the shape of a flat slab. Both have inscriptions in Hebrew, occasionally in elaborate calligraphy. Two tombstones from the 17th century were brought to Split from the islands of Hvar and Brac and have iconographic decorations. The one from Hvar depicts a dove with an olive branch and the one from Brac depicts an angel climbing a ladder to the sky with the inscription: “This friend has mounted/Into angelic heights/To take a rest in the garden of Eden/In the Grove of Salvation.” There is a cemetery chapel which is now used as a coffee house. In 2014 some graves in the cemetery were seriously vandalized. The Old Jewish cemetery in Split is a unique monument to one of the oldest cemeteries in this part of Europe. In 1966 this cemetery was included in the state list of national heritage.