Diocletian’s Palace – old town Split
Published: May 16th, 2016
Author: Mate I
Diocletian Palace in Split, Croatia is considered to be one of the most impressive and one of the best preserved buildings of the Roman era. One of the most valuable attraction of the city of Split is located right in the heart of old town center facing Adriatic coast on its south side.
Story about Diocletian’s Palace dates back from early years of 4th century AD when Roman emperor Diocletian abdicated from throne and decides to spend his retirement time on eastern coast of Adriatic in Illyrian province. Former Illyrian province today is mainly situated in Croatia.
Originally designed as summer residence for retired Roman Emperor, Diocletian palace with time turns into a real building complex which occupies over 30,000 square meters.
Diocletian Palace Architecture
Diocletian’s Palace complex have a shape of an irregular rectangle and buildings inside complex are roughly divided by main Decumanus (today’s Kresimirova) street into two parts northern part intended for military garrison and the accompanying staff and southern part where Emperor summer residence was situated.
Southern part facing the coastline consisted of main buildings in complex: Emperor’s summer villa, Diocletian’s octagonal mausoleum which later was converted into a Christian church (one of the oldest in the world) and three smaller temples. One of the temples has been changed into a baptistery while other two has been destroyed.
Diocletian Palace from seaward side had no defensive walls or towers. Lower floors of Diocletian villa were intentionally flooded by sea which facilitated direct access from ship deck to Emperor’s apartments.
Nowadays, it is difficult to conceive that lower parts of Diocletian Palace were covered with sea and that Emperor’s ship were passing slowly between pillars and docking inside stone vaulted room at the bottom part of the summer villa.
Whole Diocletian’s residence complex was surrounded by a defensive walls which had four towers on each corner and with the large city gates on each side of the town.
Golden gate are located on the northern side of the palace and beginning of the road to the ancient town of Salona (todays Solin) which was capital of Illyrian province. On eastern part of the complex you can find Silver gate on place where is today “Pazar”.
Bronze gate was located on south side right next to the sea, enclosing access to the Emperor’s palace. Iron Gate are located in western part of Diocletian’s Palace in on area of nowadays fish market.
At the intersection of two main streets right in center of complex you will find Peristyle. Peristyle is rectangular main square designed like open court decorated with colonnades. Place has been made purpose of socializing and gatherings for nobility and other powerful and important Roman citizens.
Main palace and all major buildings are made from world famous white stone from quarrys on the island of Brac. One of the proofs that Diocletian spared no expense during construction of the palace is best quality marble and granite columns imported from all around the world.
You can find there many valuable antiques like 3500 years old sphinxes which were brought to Split from Egypt for Diocletian. It is assumed the construction of whole Diocletian summer complex lasted something more than 10 years and that was completed in year 305 AD.
Drinking water for Diocletian palace were brought by aqueducts from 8 km far away Salona. Unfortunately all of aqueducts that remains until today are the ruins which can be seen just on couple spots from Solin to Split.
Diocletian Palace in present
Today area inside Diocletian palace has something over 220 building and it is home for around 3000 people. By visiting this place you can not expect a typical museum atmosphere. Narrow stone streets hide many passages and small courtyard some of them are calm and quiet while other populated by many bars and restaurants are quite lively.
Although the streets are quite narrow and reminiscent of a maze, will easily find way out with just walking in any direction. On every street corner you will find a board with announcements for each landmark and attraction whether it is a bar, restaurant, shop, museum or any other important attraction.