Culture / festival

Split Summer 2021 & 500th year anniversary of the printing of the epic poem Judith

There is no summer like Split Summer

This year, the Split Summer Festival took place across the most beautiful open locations: Peristil, Meštrović Gallery, Kaštilac, Atrium Art Gallery, Emanuela Vidovića Gallery, Theatre Square, Vrlika Fountain (Croatian: Česma u Vrlici), Saint Filip and Jakov, from 14 July – 14 August. 

It is the main cultural event in the city each summer when the theatre leaves the building and takes over the squares and parks of Split. 

This year, the festival was dedicated to the 500th year anniversary of the printing of the epic poem Judit (Croatian: Judita) written by Marko Marulić. 

67 years of tradition

Split Summer Festival (Croatian: Splitsko Ljeto) is an international event and one of the biggest and most famous theatrical festivals held in selected outdoor spaces in Split. 

Founded in 1954, under the name Split Summer Performances (Croatian: Splitske ljetne priredbe) following an initiative of the composer Silvije Bombardelli and director Tomislav Tanhofer. 

In 1968 it changed its name to the one used today. The most famous opera and a trademark of the Festival is Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, performed on a Roman square Peristyle in Split, with the original Egyptian sphinx being part of the scene. The National Theatre in Split was the main organiser of the festival, but from 1970 to 1978, Dalmacijakoncert, a production agency, took over. 

However, from 1979 production and organisation returned to the National Theatre until the present day. 

By tradition, the festival is held from mid-July until mid-August at attractive and historically important outdoor locations. 

The most famous is a Roman Square inside Diocletian’s Palace, Peristyle, Gallery of the most famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović along with his showroom at Kaštilac, Cathedral of Saint Domnius, Prokurative Square and Sustipan Park. 

In 1984, the festival launched awards for the best drama and musical programs. Initially, the award was called Marul, after the writer Marko Marulić. 

From 1990, the name of the award was changed to Judita, and in 2000 the festival introduced another award, which is given by the newspaper Jutarnji List, Peristil. 

The rich program is complemented by additional events around the city, such as art exhibitions, book presentations, recitals and public discussions. 


2021 program highlights

This year the mayor of Split Ivica Puljak opened the festival on 14th July, at a stage set up at the Roman Square Peristyle. 

The opening ceremony began with verses from Judita, the first literary work in the Croatian language which celebrates its 500th anniversary this year. 

The verses were recited by the actress Katarina Romac from the National Theatre in Split. 

The 67th consecutive festival began with a premiere of the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni.

The program had 49 performances, including drama, ballet, opera, exhibitions, concerts, cabaret, and book and haiku poetry presentations. 

In co-production between the National Theatre and a music production company Tonika, as part of the Split Summer Festival, the first pop-mass in the world, Mediterranean Mass (Croatian: Misa Mediterana), was performed in the Ivan Meštrović Gallery. 

This year’s award ceremony was part of the closing ceremony held in Sustipan park. 

In a music category, the Judita award was given to the mono opera Diary of Anne Frank by the National Theatre Varaždin for the best artistic achievement of a musical program. 

The award for the best drama was awarded to the play King Edip, by the National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc and Puppet Theatre Rijeka. 

A new award was introduced this year for members of the audience. Damir Mrkonjić received an award for the most loyal spectator, as he attended all previous season shows. 


Marko Marulić and Judita 500

Marko Marulić is a Croatian writer born in Split in 1450. He is known as the father of Croatian literature. Most of his work was written in Latin, which he usually signed as Marcus Marulus Spalatensis and Marcus Marulus Delmata

Work written in the Croatian language was signed by Marko Pečenić, which was his family’s name. 

He was born in a noble family and graduated from the humanistic school in Split. The location of his university is unknown, but like many noblemen from Split, it is presumed he studied in Padova, Italy. 

Upon graduating from university, he returned to Split and worked as an attorney. He had various public duties but mostly worked as a judge, examiner and trustee. He led a humanist movement in Split and was active in helping Croatian authorities in battles with Turks. 

His poems were inspired by the strong resistance of the Croatian army towards Turks. Following many battles against the Ottoman Empire that were held in the area around Split, Marko found inspiration for his masterpiece – Judita. 

It is the first epic poem in the Croatian language. It was written in 1501 but published, precisely 500 years ago, in Venice, Italy, in 1521.

The epic poem follows a Jewish widow Judith (Judita), from the 7th century in Assyria in the Middle East. During the rebellion organised by Babillonians, the Assyrian empire ceased to exist. During the battle, courageous widow Julia saves her hometown Betulia in today’s Israel. 

Marko Marulić used the fall of the Assyrian Empire to compare the danger that occurred in Split in the 15th century, during the war against the Ottoman Empire. The army came to the city’s edge, and soldiers and locals started losing hope in victory. 

Marko aimed to raise morale and prepare the people of his hometown for the last battle that would save the city from the Ottoman invasion. 

As a devoted Christian, Marko started writing the epic poem before Easter, inspired by the Old Testament from the Bible. That is where he learned of Judita and her brave act of killing an Assyrian officer Holofern, thus saving her city and fellow citizens from a safe death. 

He emphasised the importance of faith in challenging times and stated that Judita was written for noblemen in Split that would eventually contribute to the cultural development of a war-stricken city. 

This year, Judita is celebrating its 500th anniversary of printing in the Croatian language. In honour of the event, the Old City Hall at Narodni Square in Split will host a multimedia exhibition prepared by the Split City Museum, Centre Marulianum and the city’s library of Marko Marulić. 

The exhibition includes a facsimile edition of the only wholly preserved first edition of the epic poem that was donated by the Franciscan monastery of Mala Braća (English: Small Brothers) in Dubrovnik. The edition was also digitised and is available to the exhibition visitors.

The first edition, which has been damaged, was also presented along with the second, fourth and fifth. It is the first time that four of the first five editions are available to the public simultaneously, while the third edition from 1523, initially kept in the National Library of Munich, is presented with a copy of the cover. 

The epic poem Judita was rediscovered in the 19th century, 300 years after its first print, and translated to English, French, Hungarian, Spanish, Italian and Esperanto. All of those editions are part of the exhibition also. 

The exhibition was created by Split City Museum curators Darka Perko Kerum and Marija Plazibat. 

Exhibits are presented following a design by Nikolina Jelavić Mitrović, while most texts were written by Bratislav Lučin, Ph. D. from Centre Marulianum. 

Ana Šimić, Ph. D., wrote additional texts about anonymous authors in Croatian poetry and a priest Domagoj Runje prepared a text about Judith from the Old Testament. 

Milan Trenc has created illustrations based on the scenes from Judita. 

The visual identity was created by Karlo Kazinoti and Mišo Komenda, including the new visual identity of the Old City Hall. The city hall opened its door to visitors following a reconstruction funded by the EU, part of the project Palace of Life – City of Changes and the Judita 500 exhibition that will last until the 4th of October.

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