Diocletian’s Palace is an ancient palace built for the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, which today forms about half the old town of Split, Croatia. While it is referred to as a “palace” because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading as the structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison. Today the remains of the palace are part of the historic core of Split, which in 1979 was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Diocletian had ordered the construction of the heavily fortified compound near his hometown of Spalatum in preparation for his retirement on 1 May 305 AD. The site chosen was near Salona, the provincial administrative centre of Dalmatia, on the southern side of a short peninsula.
The beginning of construction of Diocletian’s palace has not exactly been established. It is assumed to have begun around 295, after the introduction of the Tetrarchy (the rule of four). Yet ten years after that decision, when Diocletian abdicated in 305, the palace seems to have still been unfinished, and there are indications that some works were taking place while the emperor was residing at the Palace. It is unknown under whose architectural ideas the palace was built and who its builders were. The complex was modelled on Roman forts of the 3rd-century era, examples of which can be seen across the limes, such as the bridgehead fort of Castrum Divitia across the Rhine from Cologne.
The Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius
In the period of the free medieval commune, between the 12th and 14th centuries, there was a greater architectural development when many medieval houses filled not only Roman buildings but also a large part of the free space of streets and docks. Also completed in this period was the construction of the Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius, which inhabits the building that was originally erected as Jupiter’s temple and then used as the Mausoleum of Diocletian.
Today, the Palace is well preserved with all the most important historical buildings, in the centre of the city of Split, the second-largest city of modern Croatia. 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.
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.
Two of the six octagonal ground-floor towers were framed by three landing entrances, the six rectangular ground floors of the rectangular floor being between the corner and the octagonal. To date, three corner towers (except the southwestern) have been preserved, and only the remains of octagonal and rectangular ones. Three well-preserved landings have been architecturally fragmented, especially the northern one, which was the main approach from Salona. The south, seaside gate, is small, simple and well-preserved. The facade walls of the palace in their lower parts are massive and simple without openings, and in the upper part, there are large arches that face the land, ie on the west, north and east facades. subterranean portions of the palace feature barrel vaulted stonework.
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 wall led to an enclosed courtyard. The southern ’Sea Gate’ (the Porta Meridionalis) 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.
The North Gate – Golden Gate
The Porta septemtrionalis (“the northern gate) “is one of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally the Main gate from which the Emperor entered the complex, the gate is on the road to the north, towards Salona, the then capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and Diocletian’s birthplace. It is probably the gate the Emperor entered after his abdication from the imperial throne on 1 May 305.Today the 7th-century church of St Martin can be found above the gate, and is open to the public.
The East Gate – Silver Gate
The Porta Orientalis (“the eastern gate”) is one of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally a secondary gate, it faces east towards the Roman town of Epetia, today Stobreč. Probably in or around the 6th century, above the gate in the sentry corridor, a small church dedicated to St Apolinarwas built. This coincided with the complex seeing an influx of refugees from outlying communities, similar churches were over the Golden Gate, the Iron Gate, and the Bronze Gate. The structure of this part of the wall and the door itself were later incorporated in various buildings in the following centuries, such as the Church of Dušica, which was destroyed in the Second World War.
The West Gate – Iron Gate
Porta Occidentalis (“the western gate”) is one of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally a military gate from which troops entered the complex, the gate is the only one to have remained in continuous use to the present day. During the persecutions under Theodosius I a relief sculpture of Nike, the Roman goddess of Victory (which stood on the lintel) was removed from the gate, later in the 5th century, Christians engraved a Cross in its place. In the 6th century, above the gate a small church dedicated to St. Teodora. This coincided with the complex seeing an influx of refugees from outlying communities, similar churches were over the Golden Gate, the Silver Gate, and the Bronze Gate.
The South Gate – Bronze Gate
The Porta Meridionalis or “the southern gate” is the smaller of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally a sea gate from which the Emperor entered the complex by boat, via basement rooms in the Imperial Palace.
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 and Western gate divided the complex into two halves.
Reconstruction of the facade to the sea from E. Hébrard and J. Zeiller, Spalato, le Palais de Dioclétien, Paris, 1912. In the southern half there were more luxurious structures than in the northern section; these included public, private and religious buildings, as well as the Emperor’s apartments.
The Emperor’s apartments formed a block along the seafront, with an exterior square and circular floor plan, with a dome. From there, one approached the Emperor’s apartment, which stretched 40 m deep along the entire south facade; it is only partly preserved on the upper floor, but it’s ground-floor, translated substructures that directly bore it are almost completely preserved, so the overall layout and appearance of the upper spaces can be seen given the coincidence of the upper and lower floor plans. On the west side of the upper floor are preserved the remains of a dome hall and two halls with apses, and on the east side are parts of an octagonal dining room with three halls with a cross floor plan. The wall of the Western Cross Hall is preserved at full height. Diocletian’s apartment was interconnected by a long room along the southern façade (cryptoporticus) from which through 42 windows and 3 balconies a view of the sea was opened. Two baths were recently found north of the Emperor’s apartment, one adjacent to the west and the other to the eastern halls. 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.
A rotunda, that was once the first section of the imperial corridor in the Palace that led via the Peristyle to the Imperial apartments of the Palace.
The Palace Cellars
Set below what were the Imperial apartments, the Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace are a set of substructures located at the southern end of the Palace, that represent one of the best preserved ancient complexes of their kind in the world.
A monumental court, the Peristyle, formed the northern access to the imperial apartments in front of the Vestibule. It also gave access to Diocletian’s mausoleum on the east (today the Cathedral of Saint Domnius) and to three temples on the west (two of which are now lost, with the third, originally being the temple of Jupiter, becoming a baptistery). There is also a temple just to the west of the Peristyle called The Temple of Aesculapius, which has a semi-cylindrical roof built of stone blocks, which did not leak until the 1940s when it was covered with a lead roof. The temple was recently restored.
The northern half of the palace, divided into 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.
The Palace is built of white local limestone and marble of high quality, most of which was from the 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, fine marble for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops in the Proconnesos.
The Palace was decorated with numerous 3500-year-old granite sphinxes, originating from the site of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. Only three have survived the centuries. One is still on the Peristyle, the second sits headless in front of Jupiter’s temple, and a third is housed in the city museum.
The walking tour
This is a half day walking trip where you can see all amenities, take a pictures and enjoy the view. When ou get tired you can take a refreshment in the mumerous bars situated in the shade between thick old city walls.