Diocletian’s Palace in Split

If you have visited Split or plan to do so, the most interesting sight to explore will be 1700 years old Diocletian’s Palace.

photo: A.Verzotti
Peristyle and Cathedral of St. Domnius, photo: A.Verzotti

After the Romans abandoned the site, the Palace remained empty for several centuries. In the 7th century nearby residents fled to the walled palace to escape invading barbarians. Since then the palace has been occupied, with residents making their homes and businesses within the palace basement and directly in its walls. Today many restaurants and shops, and some homes, can still be found within the walls.

It was built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD.
Diocletian built the massive palace in preparation for his retirement on 1 May 305 AD. It lies in a bay on the south side of a short peninsula running out from the Dalmatian coast, four miles from Salona, the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia
This palace is today, with all the most important historical buildings, in the centre of the city of Split. Diocletian’s Palace far transcends local importance because of its degree of preservation. The Palace is one of the most famous and complete architectural and cultural features on the Croatian Adriatic coast. As the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European and world heritage.
Diocletian’s Palace
In November 1979 UNESCO, in line with the international convention on cultural and natural heritage, adopted a proposal that the historic city of Split built around the Palace should be included in the register of World Cultural Heritage.
The ground plan of the palace is an irregular rectangle (approximately 160 meters x 190 meters) with towers projecting from the western, northern, and eastern facades. It combines qualities of a luxurious villa with those of a military camp, with its huge gates and watchtowers. The palace is enclosed by walls, and at times, it housed over 9000 people. Subterranean portions of the palace feature barrel vaultedstonework.
Diocletian’s Palace subterrains
Only the southern facade, which rose directly from, or very near to, the sea, was unfortified. The elaborate architectural composition of the arcaded gallery on its upper floor differs from the more severe treatment of the three shore facades. A monumental gate in the middle of each of these walls led to an enclosed courtyard. The southern sea gate (the Porta Aenea) was simpler in shape and dimensions than the other three, and it is thought that it was originally intended either as the emperor’s private access to the sea, or as a service entrance for supplies.
Silver gate
The design is derived from both villa and castrum types, and this duality is also evident in the arrangement of the interior. The transverse road (decumanus) linking the eastern gate (the Silver Gate or Porta argentea) and western gate (the Iron Gate or Porta ferrea) divided the complex into two halves. In the southern half were the more luxurious structures; that is, the emperor’s apartments, both public and private, and religious buildings. The emperor’s apartments formed a block along the sea front and were situated above a substructure because the sloping terrain demanded significant differences in level. Although for many centuries almost completely filled with refuse, most of the substructure is well preserved, and indicates the original shape and disposition of the rooms above.
Peristyle
A monumental court, called the Peristyle, formed the northern access to the imperial apartments. It also gave access to Diocletian’s mausoleum on the east (now Cathedral of St. Domnius), and to three temples on the west (two of which are now lost, the third having become a baptistery, originally being the temple of Jupiter). There is a temple just to the west of the Peristylum called The Temple of the Aesculapius, which has a semi cylindrical roof made out of hand carved stone blocks which did not leak until the 1940s, and was then covered with a lead roof. The temple was restored recently.
The northern half of the palace, divided in two parts by the main north-south street (cardo) leading from the Golden Gate (Porta aurea) to the Peristyle, is less well preserved. It is usually supposed that each part was a residential complex, housing soldiers, servants, and possibly some other facilities. Both parts were apparently surrounded by streets. Leading to perimeter walls there were rectangular buildings, possibly storage magazines.
Egyptian sphinx on Peristyle
The Palace is built of white local limestone and marble of high quality, most of which was from Brač marble quarries on the island of Brač, of tuff taken from the nearby river beds, and of brick made in Salonitan and other factories. Some material for decoration was imported: Egyptian granite columns and sphinxes, fine marble for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops in the Proconnesos.

Since today it is not so easy to determine exact borders of Diocletian’s Palace, this video below shows it how it used to be when it was finished.

Except Split, there are other interesting places nearby like ancient Salona, Trogir and beautiful islands. 
If you like bike riding, we suggest one of the tours which are starting or finishing in Split and you can check them on www.meridien.hr

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