When the Austrian grocery chain Billa (since acquired by SPAR grocery) opened a new location within the Gothic pillars of a landmark historic building, residents of Split—the largest city on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast—were rightfully surprised.
The grocery is located within the 2,500-square-foot ground floor of the historic Mala Papalićeva Palača complex, the former home of a noble family. The treasured medieval site possesses UNESCO status, believed to have been built in the 13th century and reconstructed 200 years later by the esteemed Venetian-Dalmatian architect Juraj Dalmatinac (also referred to as Giorgio da Sebenico).
The Papalićeva building is itself within the borders of Diocletian’s Palace, a city within a city that comprises the historic center of Split. Split’s origins date back to the ancient Roman Empire, as exemplified by the ruins of the palace itself, a magnificent and superbly preserved 4th-century fortress built by the emperor Diocletian. Split’s historic center was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. But the ground floor of the Mala Papalićeva Palača is privately owned, which gave the food retailer the legal right to purchase the space for a new grocery store in 2014.
While the supermarket wasn’t directly granted protection by UNESCO, it’s technically protected for being situated within a historic monument. Locals weren’t too pleased with the market’s insensitive choice of locale, but the town’s administrative officials had no real grounds to contest the decision. Aside from the absurdity of a UNESCO-protected grocery store, Split officials were concerned about the logistics of a supermarket’s presence in the building; namely, the constant deliveries and the need for new infrastructure after the building had been very carefully conserved with funds provided by the Ministry of Culture.
Needless to say, the city’s historic architecture is a proud and indelible part of its alluring heritage. The supermarket, not so much.
Know Before You Go
The grocery store is located within the palace in the historic center of Split. Open daily. The Billa supermarket has been acquired by SPAR (Interspar), a food retail chain.