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Diocletian's Palace, Split

Diocletian's Palace, Split

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Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian

The ruins of Diocletian's Palace, built between the late 3rd and the early 4th centuries A.D., can be found throughout the city. The cathedral was built in the Middle Ages, reusing materials from the ancient mausoleum. Twelfth- and 13th-century Romanesque churches, medieval fortifications, 15th-century Gothic palaces and other palaces in Renaissance and Baroque style make up the rest of the protected area.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Noyau historique de Split avec le palais de Dioclétien

Les ruines du palais de Dioclétien, construit entre la fin du III e siècle et le début du IV e siècle, subsistent dans toute la ville. La cathédrale a été édifiée au Moyen Âge à partir de l'ancien mausolée. Le reste de la partie classée de la ville comprend des églises romanes des XII e et XIII e siècles, des fortifications médiévales, des palais gothiques du XV e siècle et d'autres palais de la Renaissance et du baroque.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

نواة سبليت التاريخيّة وقصر دوكليشن

تنتشر في أنحاء المدينة قاطبةً آثار قصر دوكليشن المشيّد بين نهاية القرن الثالث ومطلع القرن الرابع. جرى تشييد الكاثدرائيّة في القرون الوسطى على أنقاض المعبد القديم. أمّا سائر أنحاء المدينة المصنّفة، فتضم كنائس رومانيّة من القرنين الثاني والثالث عشر وحصون ترقى إلى القرون الوسطى وقصور قوطيّة الطراز من القرن الخامس عشر وقصور أخرى من حقبة النهضة والباروك.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0


source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Исторический центр города Сплит с дворцом Диоклетиана

В этом городе можно увидеть руины дворца Диоклетиана, построенного в конце III - начале IV вв. Кафедральный собор был сооружен в Средние века с использованием частей древнего мавзолея. В пределах охранной зоны также располагаются романские церкви XII-XIII вв., средневековые укрепления и дворцы в стиле готики XV в., Возрождения и барокко.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Núcleo histórico de Split con el palacio de Diocleciano

Los vestigios del palacio de Diocleciano, construido entre finales del siglo III y comienzos del IV, están esparcidos por toda la ciudad. La catedral fue erigida en la Edad Media sobre el antiguo mausoleo imperial. El resto del núcleo protegido de Split comprende iglesias románicas de los siglos XII y XIII, fortificaciones medievales, palacios góticos del siglo XV y otras mansiones de de estilo renacentista y barroco.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Historisch complex van Split met het Paleis van Diocletianus

Het paleis van Diocletianus is gebouwd tussen de laat 3e eeuw en het begin van de 4e eeuw na Christus. De ruïnes van dit paleis zijn te vinden door de stad heen. De Romeinse keizer Diocletianus bracht zijn laatste levensjaren door in een enorm paleis dat hij had laten bouwen in de buurt van zijn geboorteplaats Aspalthos in Dalmatië. Het historische complex bestaat verder uit de kathedraal, gebouwd in de middeleeuwen, waarbij materialen van het oude mausoleum van Diocletianus zijn hergebruikt. Daarnaast zijn er 12e en 13e-eeuwse Romaanse kerken, middeleeuwse vestingen, 15e-eeuwse gotische paleizen en andere paleizen in renaissance- en barokstijl.

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Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian (Croatia) © Ko Hon Chiu Vincent

Diocletian’s Palace, Split

The most accessible and the most frequented of Croatia’s historic ruins is the Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Every day, thousands walk through its main square of Peristil, perhaps not realising that they’re brushing past a near intact Ancient Egyptian sphinx from Luxor. Diocletian’s Palace still houses a living community of residents, shopkeepers, restaurateurs, hoteliers and bar owners. Built in the early 300s, it is essentially the retirement home of the Emperor Diocletian and a surrounding garrison. Still clearly visible are its gates, the Temple of Jupiter and Diocletian’s mausoleum, later transformed into Split Cathedral.

Dubrovnik City Walls | © Ivan Ivankovic/Flickr

The Roman Emperor Diocletian

Sculpted head of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (Credit: Wikimedia)

He recognized that the Empire was too large to be ruled by just one person. So he decentralized its administration and split the Empire into two parts, which helped to stabilize it.

At the same time, Christianity was a growing religion and a thorn to deal with. Diocletian&rsquos solution was to persecute the Christians, and he ended up slaughtering 150,000 of them.

Diocletian is also known as the first emperor to resign voluntarily. But before he did in 305 AD, he commandeered an army of slaves to build his retirement retreat, made up of 220 white limestone buildings.

He sure picked prime real estate &ndash on a sunny bay lapped by warm, azure waters.

Split&rsquos picturesque harbor in front of Diocletian&rsquos Palace

Diocletian is said to have spent his retirement years gardening. In 313 AD, he died.

Three hundred years later, his palace-fortress was converted into a town by refugees who moved in after their homes were destroyed by invaders.

Over time, the city spread out over the surrounding landscape.

Modern-day windows built into a wall in the Split palace

1.2 the western halls

parts of stone pipes from the ancient sewage system (295 – 305 AD)

sphinx, Egyptian import pressure equipment for the production of olive oil from the time when the substructures were used for new purposes (Middle Ages) sarcophagus (from the middle of the 4th century onwards)

The western part of the basement halls is composed of 28 rooms, almost all of which are accessible to visitors.

  • At the entrance, there is a long passage (Y) providing access to other halls and passages. The corresponding passage on the upper floor was a long gallery with a series of arched windows and provided access to Diocletian’s residential chambers
  • close to the entrance, you can see two rectangular wells, in which many ceramic vessel fragments have been found
  • the corridors and rooms on the upper floor of corridors (10 & 8) as well as the small halls (9A, B, C, D, E, F) were living spaces of Diocletian’s guards of honor
  • the large hall (6A) with a semicircular exedra at the northern end and groined vaults has been identified as the substructure of Diocletian’s residence’s main reception hall, which probably had no pilasters but was covered with a wooden roof. Only minor parts of the exedra on the upper floor have survived. The two halls (the upper and basement ones) were connected by two staircases (6B, C), which are preserved on both sides of the basement exedra. They provided the emperor the shortest route to the southern gate, where the boat waited
  • the next hall to the west was also part of the residence’s reception complex, whose exedra and western wall with traces of niches have been partially preserved. Its substructure (4A) has been perfectly preserved including the barrel vault of the main space and the semidome of the exedra. To the north, there’s a small rectangular hall (4B), which was used in the Middle Ages as cellar of one of the houses erected on the upper floor. During its excavation, a stone press including the base of the wooden press, the oil draining canal, the stone vessel for collecting the oil and the winch was discovered, which demonstrates the medieval function of the Roman halls. The press user, who accessed the cellar by adding a stairway, turned a Roman window into his entrance and added two supporting arches to carry the groined vault
  • in the rectangular hall (2C) with a barrel vault, two wooden beams are on display, which are from the Roman time (mid 3rd century AD). They were part of a vault scaffolding and are preserved because they got covered in floor mortar
  • the rectangular hall (1C) hasn’t been excavated yet because it carries the foundation of the houses above
  • the circular space (2B) with a dome was used as a water cistern of the residential houses above until the excavations began in the mid-20th century
  • only the lower parts of the cruciform hall (1B) have been preserved, which together with the neighboring space (1A) in the south and the rectangular space at the south-western corner probably represents the substructures of the most intimatepart of Diocletian’s residential quarters.

Diocletian’s Palace, Split Croatia

Over the past few years I have known a number of people that have went to Croatia and all have been pleasantly surprised by what they found. I therefore decided that I too would check it out, but where to go? There are many places that we could visit, but one in particular attracted my attention: Split. Situated in the south of Croatia on a peninsula that juts out into the Adriatic, Split has a lot to offer, including one of the best preserved Roman palaces in the world.

In the late 3rd century the Emperor Diocletion, in preparation for his retirement, began construction on a massive palace/fortress that today forms the the centre of the old town of Split. Diocletion had been kept very busy suppressing rebellions in Syria, Egypt and Britain, persecuting members of the upstart Christian movement and trying to patch together an empire that had been in disarray for decades. He therefore constructed a palace where he could live the quiet life, tending to his true passion – gardening. The palace he built was actually a mix of palace and fortress, and in its heyday would have been home to approximately 9,000 people, many of which were soldiers.

The palace measured 160 meters by 190 meters, with great gates on the north, west and eastern sides. The southern face was entered through a much smaller, less ostentations gate, as it opened directly onto the harbour and was either a service entrance or meant as a private entrance for the emperor. At the centre of the palace is the Peristyle, a monumental court which in its day led to the imperial apartments.

Today it is a focal point for tourists, and is used for various functions including plays and other festivities. There are numerous Egyptian granite columns, and in its day it was decorated with many 3500 year old Egyptian sphinxes, one of which still sits in the Peristyle.

The palace was abandoned not long after its construction, as Rome fell into decline and was consumed by a series of barbarian invasions. It lay empty until the 7th century, and since that time has been lived in and built upon, so that today it is an amazing, yet confusing complex of winding alleys, courtyards, homes, cafes and shops. For me the highlight, apart from the gelato (which is everywhere) is the undercroft or basement.

You have to pay to see this part of the palace but it is well worth the money as it is here that you see some of the best preserved architecture. You enter from just inside the south entrance, and work your way through a maze of impressive rooms with vaulted ceilings. You will find everything from storage rooms and workshops, to a temple to Jupiter. The stone work is incredible and its here that you get a real sense of the immensity of the palace and the wealth and power it projected.

Today it offers an opportunity to explore the ancient Roman world and modern Croatia itself. At the centre of the palace is a church which has served the local population for centuries, and offers the best views of the city and surrounding area.

Climbing up the tower is a must, but its not recommended if you have a problem with heights.

The best time to explore the palace is early in the morning before the crowds arrive. At 6:30 am it is already coming to life and you can quietly wander, about, taking pictures at your leisure and focus on the little things that might be otherwise missed. There are countless shops, cafes and places to indulge in the great food from the region.

Outside the east gate there is a fabulous market that offers a wide range of local produce at reasonable prices – the perfect place to pick up some quality fruit, breads, olives, honey, cheese and more for a snack or a meal in.

For me, visiting Split and Diocletion’s Palace was a somewhat surreal experience. I have long been interested in the history of the late 3rd century Roman Empire as it was at this time that two usurpers, Carausius and Allectus, seized control of Britain in defiance of Rome. It is at this time that the fort of Anderida, modern Pevensey Castle situated on coast of East Sussex, was constructed, in all likelihood to repel an expected Roman effort to retake control. For years I lived near the fort, and conducted an archaeological investigation not far from it’s walls. Visiting Split made me engage with the history of the period, and the policies of Diocletion in particular, from a different perspective. And I could do so while sipping a great cup of coffee under a palm tree with a warm breeze coming off the Adriatic.


The Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus writes admiringly of Diocletian's building at Split:

The city of Spalato, which means "little palace", was founded by the emperor Diocletian on the coast of Dalmatia (in present-day Croatia):

He made it his own dwelling-place, and built within it a court and a palace, most part of which has been destroyed. But a few things remain to this day, e.g. the episcopal residence of the city and the church of St Domnus, in which St Domnus himself lies, and which was the resting-place of the same emperor Diocletian. Beneath it are arching vaults, and to cover over the city throughout, and to build his palace and all the living quarters of the city on top of those vaults, which used to be prisons, in which he cruelly confined the saints whom he tormented. The defence-wall of this city is constructed neither of bricks nor of concrete, but of ashlar blocks, one and often two fathoms in length by a fathom across, and these are fitted and joined to one another by iron cramps puddled into molten lead. In this city also stand close rows of columns, with entablatures above, on which this same emperor Diocletian proposed to erect arching vaults, to a height of two and three stories, so that they covered little ground-space in the same city. The defence wall of this city has neither rampart nor bulwarks, but only lofty walls and arrow-slits (Constantine Porphyrogennetos 1949, chap 29, lines 237-57).

Above: Ernest Hebrard's reconstruction of Split, Paris 1911

As a reminder of the riches of (Roman) Dalmatia, there follows a presentation on the Palace of Diocletian, addressed to non-specialists. A pedagogical reason for this presentation is to test the story-book approach with in-line images, so that users may judge how the technology might work with book-length treatments. Will this system be useful for teaching, perhaps providing a series of documents for self-tutoring?

Split - or Spalato - is one of the most extraordinary places of the later Roman world, being no less than the palace which the Emperor Diocletian began building in 293 AD in readiness for his retirement from politics in 305. On the Dalmatian coast, adjacent to the Roman city of Salonae, it takes the dual form of a legionary camp similar to those still to be seen on the frontiers of Syria (appropriately so, for Diocletian was of necessity a military emperor) but also, with its splendid loggias, of an Italian house.

The name "Split" is, for the fanciful down the ages, a contraction of "Spalatum" - that is "palatium" or "palace". A similar example of folk etymology is to be found in Sicily, where the late Roman villa with prestigious mosaics, at Casale, is near a town called Piazza Armerina - "Piazza" here likely being derived from "palatium". Constantine Porphyrogenitus certainly thought so - but contemporary opinion holds that the name more likely derives from the Greek name for the area - Aspalathos, which is a shrub.

The importance of Split resides both in its state of preservation, and in the dearth of comparable examples from the Roman world. There are no coherent palace structures left in Italy, for example: fragments exist at Ravenna, althpough they are difficult to identify the the Palatine Hill in Rome (the origin of the word "palace", because that is where the Imperial palaces were) presents several overlapping structures - but nothing in so coherent a form as Split, where the structure of the palace/camp tells us much about imperial ceremonial and god-like pretensions.

Edward Gibbon gives a good description of how Diocletian, retiring (without being pushed) from the Imperial Purple, came here to grow cabbages:

A miserable village still preserves the name of Salona but so late as the sixteenth century the remains of a theatre, and a confused prospect of broken arches and marble columns, continued to attest to its ancient splendour. About six or seven miles from the city Diocletian constructed a magnificent palace, and we may infer, from the greatness of the work, how long he had meditated his design of abdicating the empire .

Though Constantine, from a very obvious prejudice, affects to mention the palace of Diocletian with contempt, yet one of their successors, who could only see it in a neglected and mutilated state, celebrates its magnificence in terms of the highest admiration . The form was quadrangular, flanked by sixteen towers . The whole was constructed of a beautiful free-stone, extracted from the neighbouring quarries of Trau, or Tragutium, and very little inferior to marble itself. Four streets, intersecting each other at right angles, divided the several parts of this great edifice, and the approach to the principal apartment was from a very stately entrance, which is still called the Golden Gate. The approach was terminated by a peristylium of granite columns, on the one side of which we discover the square temple of Aesculapius, on the other the octagon temple of Jupiter.

The range of principal apartments was protected towards the south-west by a portico five hundred and seventeen feet long, which must have formed a very noble and delightful walk, when the beauties of painting and sculpture were added to those of the prospect (Gibbon 1960, 135-6).

The ground-plan is a trapezoid, with the south (sea) side (157.5 metres) endowed with a splendid balcony but only a small gate. The longer walls are on the east (191.25m) and west (192.10m) sides and these, together with the closing wall to the north (150.9m) have impressive gates. The walls are some 17m in height, and 2m thick, and are largely intact, with square towers at the corners and on the long sides, and fancier octagonal ones flanking all the landward gates.

How to Start your voyage though the Split history!

There are many ways describing how to start visiting Diocletian palace. It does not matter how you are arriving in Split, by bus, train, ferry or plain, of even if you’re just passing through on your way to some nearby islands. If you (as I hope you do) decide to stay in Split for a couple of days, the first place you will likely find yourself in will be Split’s Riva, front shore promenade.

Start in the morning…

Let me take you on my favorite tour within the palace walls! Spend your morning, starting from Bronze Gate (the gate you enter from Riva promenade, once sea access to the palace). It is the entrance to Diocletian underground cellars, open daily where you can stroll around exhibitions, craft or souvenirs stands.

On the other side of the cellars, take stairs to the palace’s central piazza, called Peristil. This is the core of the Diocletian’s palace framed by two colonnades with the sphinxes, vestibule, the imposing Cathedral of St. Domnius and Diocletian’s mausoleum.

Diocletian palace basement

This is a right place to take some excellent photos or even better climb the Bell Tower to witness the fantastic panoramic views from the top.

If you need some refreshments, grab a good ‘kava‘ (eng. coffee) or pastries at Luxor café bar. Its name refers to one of two remaining Egyptian granite sphinxes. You can sit outside on the stairs, where you can also find many major international newspapers.

Split Peristil piazza with St. Dominus Cathedral and Diocletian’s mausoleum.

Don’t miss passing through the narrowest street in the world, one person at a time, called ‘Let me pass street’.

Dine in…

By the time you visit all these Diocletian highlights it will be a lunch time. Strolling around palace’s narrow streets, certain pleasant and inviting aromas will be reason enough to take a break at one of the old city restaurants, pizzeria or taverns (konobe).

Inside the palace walls there are plenty of choices where you can eat very good with normal and acceptable prices. I can suggest only few of restaurants I know personally:

  • Apetit (Appetite) restaurant in Subiceva street n° 5.
  • Konoba (tavern) Bajamonte in Bajamonte street n° 3.
  • Tifani restaurant, Poljana Kraljice Jelene, n° 5. It is right on Peristil. Highly recommended!

Keep on strolling…

Keep on following Diocletian trails, visit City Museum in Papaliceva street n°1 situated in a medieval house ‘The Papalić Palace’. This museum is well set out in a chronological order starting with the Roman period to the after the second world war. Three floor museum shows the Roman, Venetian, French and Austro-Hungarian period. Entrance is 20 kuna.

Papalic Palace housing Split City Museum

Don’t forget to visit Narodni Trg, a Piazza just outside the Western wall, Iron Gate. It is outside the city wall but one of the most popular places, a meeting point for young generation.

Back to Riva promenade…

Walk all the way from Golden Gate to Bronze Gate, back to palm-lined Riva promenade, sit in one of many bars along the Riva or take 3 minutes walk from the Riva to another downtown location I recommend – Teraca Bamba (Babma Terrace) on Matejuska (old fishing port). It is a great place for a mug of beer, local brand or any international one.

Sleep where Diocletian slept…

Looking for a place to spend the night within the walls of Diocletian palace? If you want to sleep as emperors do, Hotel Vestibul Palace is the most luxurious hotel between those found within the walls of the palace. Hotel has seven options, between elegant rooms and suites, all with views of ancient stone walls, wooden furniture. Find more here!

The next choice is Peristil hotel, exclusive with only 12 rooms, overlooking the Peristil Piazza. Ask for the 204 or 304 room that have small alcoves where you can see the ancient walls of the Diocletian Mausoleum.

Prices for accommodation inside Diocletian’s Palace can be rather steep so it’s not for everyone, but if you want to stay at the very heart of Split it will be worth it. You can check for some current discounts on the widget above.

Diocletian’s Palace – Old town of Split

What is the Eiffel tower for Paris or Statue of Liberty for New York, that is Diocletian’s Palace for the city of Split. It is even more than that though. Diocletian Palace is not simply a cultural monument, it is the only living monument in the world as approximately three thousand people still live inside this world heritage site. And, there is no Diocletan’s Palace entrance fee, it is free for everyone.

Diocletian Palace is also a catalyst for the birth of Split as it was the palace that provided shelter to the nearby inhabitants from different invaders throughout the centuries and allowed for Split to prosper and flourish. As the people moved inside the palace they began constructing houses and buildings to house them and eventually the palace became the town itself.

But how did it all came to be? Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus, or simply Diocletian, became a Roman emperor in the year 284 AD which he remain to be till the year 305 when he voluntarily gave up the throne. He was the first Roman emperor the voluntarily leave throne in history.

Some 11 years into his reign, in year 295, he ordered the construction of his Palace in the Roman province of Dalmatia near the town Salona (todays Solin), where Diocletian spent time in his youth. The construction of the palace was finished 10 years later, in 305, and as soon as it did, Diocletian decided to abdicate his position as the Roman emperor and he moved to his palace to live the remaining days where he tended to his vegetable gardens.

It is fun to think that Diocletian couldn’t wait to abdicate his role as the emperor as, after all, he was constructing the palace on the most beautiful location in the world (as we like to think) but the truth is a bit different. Diocletian was of poor health and was very much weakened by illness when he decided to leave the imperial office.

It could be that the sulfur springs near Diocletian’s palace (by todays fish market) are the reason Diocletian decided to build on that exact position as sulfur was used in medical treatment of certain bone ailments and was also used for bleaching in textile production which was, by accounts, extremely profitable in those days. Interestingly, there is a clinic next to the fish market, located in marvelous art deco building, which still uses underground sulfur springs in treatments.

It was completely made of local limestone from Brac island. Also, marble and granite were imported from Egypt, Greece and Italy and used for construction purposes of the palace as well.

Once you get to Croatia, don’t hesitate, come and visit this magnificent place! Also, I promise you to write another post as soon as possible. This post will be about 10 must see places in Diocletian’s Palace! As much as this is an intro to the exploration of Split, I still recommend to you to take a guided tour that will reveal some other secrets of this magnificent place. If you have some questions – please feel free to drop them in the comments section.
I hope you have enjoyed this article, until the next time!

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