Great celebration of Sveti Duje – Day of the city of Split, Croatia

8 years
Sara and her buddy Eve on Sveti Duje 2019

Every May, residents of Split celebrate the day of their town called fjera svetog Duje (The Feast of Saint Domnius) or Sudamja, named after the protector of Split and Split-Makarska Archdiocese – Sveti Duje. It is a week of social events, performances, an awards ceremony by the City Council, and a fair.

The festival culminates on May 7 with the biggest celebration of all. Everyone flocks to the old city for the biggest party of the year, which starts early in the morning and ends with fireworks over the harbor and a concert on Riva.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Who was Sveti Duje, Split’s protector?

Sveti Duje (Dujam), or Saint Domnius, was a Christian bishop and martyr in the 3rd century at the time of the Roman emperor Dioklecijan (Diocletian). He is considered the protector of Split and Split-Makarska Archdiocese.

Sveti Duje was from a wealthy Syrian family. He finished the school for priests at the center of Greek culture in Antioch. After preaching in Syria, he went to missionary work in Dalmatia, which was a Roman province. In 284, he became the first bishop of Solin (Salona), then the biggest Dalmatian city.

The emperor Diocletian carried out massive persecutions of Christians. In Croatia, people would run to the nearby islands to hide. Marko Aurelije Junije (Marcus Aurelius Junius), the Roman governor of Dalmatia, ordered the torture and murder of Duje in the city amphitheater of Salona. Duje was buried at the nearby cemetery today called Manastirine.

Where are Saint Duje’s remains kept today?

Christianity was equated with other religions in 313, and Christians started to worship Duje as a saint and martyr. At the beginning of the 5th century, a basilica was built on his grave. However, it was ruined when Salona was destroyed by Avar-Slavic forces. Residents escaped to the Diocletian palace and began to form the city of Spalatum.

In the middle of the 7th century, residents replaced the ancient statues and sarcophagus in Diocletian’s mausoleum with the relics of Sveti Duje and Sveti Anastazije (Staš). They converted the mausoleum into a cathedral called Uznesenje Blažene Djevice Marije.

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Saint Duje’s Cathedral in Split’s Diocletian palace

In 1770, the Venetian master Giovanni Maria Morlaiter built the baroque altar in the cathedral. Duje’s relics are kept there, and people can see them on Sudamja.

When did Split start celebrating Sveti Duje?

The Feast of Saint Duje became the main festival in the Split area in the Middle Ages. The oldest record about the feast is mentioned in the Split Statute from 1312, which covers provisions on the celebration and worship of St. Duje. The medieval statutes of the Dalmatian communes regulated the activities of the political authorities and important social relations and events.

The first chapter of the statute says:

“…isto tako određujemo i naređujemo da svatko mora blagdan svetoga Dujma časno poštovati i slaviti.”

Which translates as:

“… we also determine and order that everyone must honor and celebrate the feast of the Saint Domnius.”

Sudamja was a vital church, economic, social, and sports event. Church rituals, a procession through the city, and a large fair marked it. Split residents and foreigners traded with each other and, this way, connected isolated medieval communities. They socialized and showed their skills at fun events such as knight games.

[Read: Sinjska alka – Croatia’s annual knightly competition in Sinj]

Turkish attacks became frequent in the 16th century. The trade was endangered, so locals feared the feast would be suppressed. They demanded that the Venetian authorities order Split’s prince to take appropriate measures to save the fair.

Later, people would prepare for the feast for days. On the day itself, they would gather on Split’s Riva (coast) in the evening and listen to live music. Women would sell warm white cakes and holiday bread in large woven baskets in front of the cathedral and city doors.

Although Duje was killed in April 304, Split marks this memorial day in May, so it doesn’t overlap with Easter.

[Read: How Croatia celebrates Easter‌ – customs and food]

people at the concert
Celebration of Sv. Duje – live music on Riva in Split, Croatia

Symbol of Split – Cathedral of Saint Domnius

We already mentioned that Duje’s remains are buried in the cathedral called Katedrala sv. Dujma or Katedrala svetog Duje (Cathedral of Saint Domnius). The cathedral is situated in Diocletian’s palace at Peristil, which preserves the authentic Roman culture. It was originally built as Diocletian’s mausoleum at the beginning of the 4th century.

Katedrala sv. Duje is the most significant architectural building in Split and the oldest cathedral in the world. It treasures stories about Diocletian’s reign and the arrival of Christianity. The most remarkable part of the cathedral is the wooden gates showing scenes from the Gospel. In 2014, Split sculptor Andrija Buvina carved 28 scenes from Gabriel’s Annunciation to Christ’s Resurrection.

The 57-meter-tall cathedral’s bell tower was built from the 13th to the 16th century. It is the most original Dalmatian medieval construction combining Romanesque and Gothic architecture. If you visit the cathedral, climb to the top of the bell tower to enjoy the panoramic view of Split.

[Read: UNESCO monuments of culture and nature in Croatia]

cathedral
Cathedral of Sveti Duje in Split, Croatia

How is Sveti Duje celebrated in Croatia today?

The traditional feast of Sveti Duje remains the favorite local celebration in Split. Locals and people from Croatian islands and wider still gather to celebrate Saint Duje and the day of Split on May 7. Church dignitaries led by the Split-Makarska Archbishop, City of Split and Split-Dalmatia County leaders, and other leading Croatian politicians also come.

The feast combines the liturgical, folkloric, urban, and rural elements. Tourists are attracted by the traditional content allowing them to learn about the grand city of Split.

[Read: 5 things I love about Split]

After the procession and holy mass held on Split’s Riva, the celebration and fair last until the end of the day, followed by live music. Visitors can buy handcrafts from Croatian craftsmen at the stands along the Riva (coast).

woman buying purses
Sara buying handmade purses at the Saint Duje fair

Tradition of buying wooden products

All kinds of craftsmen sell their wares during the festival, but the stalls people always flock to are those of the wood makers. At the east end of Riva, wood makers from Slavonia set up huge bazaar-style stalls bursting with everything you can possibly imagine – all made from wood.

Lawn chairs, bags, citrus reamers, cutting boards, rolling pins, garden tools, baseball bats, beach chairs, swords, pistols, bows, and arrows, a phallus-shaped beer opener – the list is truly endless. Children get wooden toys such as klepetalo or ptice klepetuše, which have been culturally protected.

wooden cutting boards
Women buying wooden cutting boards

If you’re only going to buy one thing on Sveti Duje, you must buy a wooden spoon. It is one of those traditions that has been happening for so long that nobody quite knows the source. We just know that we have to do it.

Another tradition is to buy baloncini, colorful woolen balls with elastic bands. Guys would use to throw them at girls they liked. The catalog expands every year, offering more wooden creations. Taking home your own wooden treasure is a great way to support the Croatian community.

[Read: Everyday Croatian-made products that you can buy to support Croatia]

Tombola (bingo)

The first tombola (raffle) at the Saint Duje celebration was organized in the middle of the 19th century. It is still an integral part of the celebration today. Tombola is held in the evening.

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What is a tombola?

Tombola is a game of chance, often played at local events and fairs like Sveti Duje. Players buy leaflets with printed random numbers. Then, numbers are drawn, and players mark them on their leaflets. A player who first collects numbers on their leaflet wins and gets the award.

[Read: 7 Croatian card games you can play right now]

Why I love the Sveti Duje celebration (written by Sara)

Like many Splićani (Split locals), Sveti Duje is my favorite day of the entire year – though for different reasons. May 7 is the day of Sudamja, but it is also the day I moved to Croatia. I arrived to Split when the fair was in full swing back in 2012. So, every year when the whole city is celebrating Duje, I’m also celebrating my Croanniversary.

[Read: 10 years in Croatia: 120 little things I love about this country]

People from Split love to dress up (and be seen all dressed up). So, on Sudamja, everyone is dressed at their absolute best.

woman in dress in front of flowers
Dressing up for the Saint Duje celebration

The city gets packed early. By 9, every seat in every caffe bar on Riva is taken. Trying to find a free table is a blood sport and part of the fun. There is no more caffe bar loyalty. If you want a seat at the party, you’ve got to expand the playing field.

The most treasured spots are the front row tables at any of the caffe bars (not the restaurants). You can sit on your perch, sip a kava (coffee), and enjoy the best people-watching of the year. You’ve got to be ruthless to get one of those.

What exactly does one do on Sveti Duje? You catch up with friends and family, caffe bar hop, walk through the fair and shop for wooden things, make tangled circles around the palace and down the coast towards Sustipan, feast on a good lunch, and run into everyone you know because everyone you know is in town on that day.

people walking
People circling through the city center on the celebration day

Make sure you get a reservation for lunch in advance. Just poppin’ into a restaurant is not going to cut it on this day. Every spot will be full pretty much all day long.

[Read: All the Croatian vocabulary you might need at a restaurant or cafe in Croatia]

After dark, there are fireworks over the harbor, for which there are no bad seats. Usually, the fireworks outshine the New Year’s display by a mile, errr, kilometer. As soon as the show concludes, a concert begins on the west end of Riva that goes on into the night.

On this day, Split is basically one big block party, and everyone’s invited.

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Fireworks in Split on the evening of Sveti Duje

View our other Croatian holiday posts

A full list of Croatian holidays is available here.


Sources:
Split slavi dan svoga zaštitnika svetog Duju – 304. by Dražen Krajcar
O svetom Dujmu ili Duji, te o njegovoj svetkovini u Splitu by Marito Mihovil Letica
Hit suveniri na splitskom sajmu neke su posramili, a neke nasmijali by Leo Nikolić
Dan grada i nebeski zaštitnici by Split.hr
Simboli grade by Split.hr

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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