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The palace was originally built between 295 and 305 AD and was huge. Today you can still see the remains of it which make Split old town so special. I really liked checking out the narrow alleys and the squares in this area.
Unfortunately, a lot of tourists concentrate in this area especially if the cruise ships are in town. So if you stay overnight, make sure you visit later at night.
If you are interested you can visit the old catacombs (entrance fee), the Peristil (where sometimes concerts are held), the cathedral Sv. Duje from the 6-7th century which used to house the mausoleum of Diocletian.
Further we visited the Porta Aurea (Golden Gate) and the Porta Agenta.
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- Castles and Palaces
Stari Grad - the Old City
Is there another city in the world with such a unique heart? Split's Stari Grad is the only one I know of that is actually built within the walls of a Roman emperor's palace.
Long before sun-seeking 21st century tourists decided that the Adriatic coast of Croatia was a little piece of Paradise, Dalmatian-born Diocletian, decided a summer palace in his home territory was just what he needed, and a site near the Roman city of Salona, (now a ruin on the outskirts of Split) was just the place. Roman emperors being given to notions of grandeur, the palace he built was sufficiently splendid for him to decide he would retire there, and he then went a step further and built a magnificent mausoleum for himself within the walls. Successive emperors made use of the palace for the next couple of hundred years but it gradually fell into abandoned decay before time, and invading tribes from the north, saw the palace become a refuge for the citizens of Salona in 615. They took over the grand apartments of the nobility, the kitchens, the stables and all the other supporting areas of the old palace and gradually subsumed the crumbling grandeur into the warren of an early mediaeval city.
Whilst most of Diocletian's palace is now lost in the maze of narrow streets and houses that cram the old city, there is still plenty of evidence of its Roman origins to be seen as you explore the area within the walls.
Guided tours are offered but, for my money, the greatest pleasure is to be had exploring the narrow street and alleyways on your own. It's small enough for you not to get truly lost but you will surely lose yourself in time as you wander through the deeply shaded streets and brightly sunlit squares, the stone pavement polished by centuries of passersby beneath your feet. All around you the city's history is written on the walls, in courtyards and privates places
glimpsed through dorways. Roman brick and marble sit side by side with mediaeval stone, the palaces of once-great families back onto crammed-together shops and houses. Upper storey windows open onto rooftop vistas and a climb to the top of the belltower gives you a
bird's eye view of the whole city.
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The Peristil was the palace's main courtyard and meeting place. As it was in Roman times, so it is today when the Peristil is still the hub of the old city. This was where the Emperor would make his public appearances. With two lovely arched colonnades along its length and the great domed gateway (the Vestibule) that was the main entrance to the palaces private Imperial quarters, you can imagine just how spendid it must have looked in Roman times.
The courtyard is dominated by the Cathedral and Bell Tower. Whilst the tower is a mere seven to eight hundred years old, the Cathedral itself is a thousand years older than that. It was built during Diocletian's lifetime to be his mausoleum. Even older is the granite Sphynx that still stands guard here. It was seventeen hundred years old when Diocletian brought it (and its pair, now in the Archaeological Museum) from Egypt to guard his tomb.
The small Crkvica Sv Roka (Chapel of St Rocco) beside the cathedral dates from the 16thC. It is used now as the tourist information office.
I'm looking forward to visiting the Luxor Cafe opposite the Cathedral again. It's built into what was first part of the Roman colonnade, then a Renaissance Palace. With an architectural pedigree like that, you just have to have at least one drink there whilst you're in Split.
- Historical Travel
Entering from the sea
In Diocletian's time the palace extended right to the water's edge , the sea lapping the western wall of the palace, with a seaward entrance known as the Bronze Gate (Mjenda Vrata). No boats can dock by that entrance now - a wide promenade known as the Riva lies between the water's edge and the city wall and leads around to the port, just a few minutes walk away. The Riva's lined with popualr cafes and there are shops built into the ancient wall all along its length. Look up from your cafe seat and you'll see the Roman masonry is still there, even though it is breached with windows and air-conditioners. Pass through the gate and you'll step back in time as you walk through the dim passage known as the Podrum - once a grim place of imprisonment, now lined with craft and souvenir stalls. Be sure to look beyond the little shops at the Roman brick and masonry of the roof and the walls and the dark recesses beyond.
Steps at the end of the Podrum will bring you out into the Peristil - the central meeting point of the palace when it was built and still the very heart of the old city
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In the Emperor's footsteps
The Emperor's private suites were built along the south wall of the Palace , to the east of the Bronze Gate- sea views have always been desirable - and although there's virtually nothing left of the grandeur that must have been there in his days, it's an quiet and atmospheric part of the town to wander through, though I think I'd avoid it at night. This became the city's ghetto in the 18th century, and is still known as the Get. It's a mix of rundown houses and some quite open spaces where excavations of the Roman past have seen many old houses demolished.
The palace's southern wall has a long stretch of arches and windows creating what would have been a very pleasant walkway with views over the sea and across to the islands. You can just imagine the toga-clad Diocletian strolling here.
The city's Ethnographic Musuem has moved to a restored building here from its place on Narodni Trg.
- Historical Travel
Quartering the city
The street leading to the Silver gate from the Peristil was the Decumanus, the main east-west street that crossed the Cardo Maximus, the original north-south street, at the centre of the palace.
As in all Roman cities, these two streets divided the palace into quadrants, each with its own purpose. The south-east quadrant was the private domain of the Emperor. Across the Decamanus, in the the north-east quadrant, could be found the palace's guards and soldiery.
The south-west quadrant was devoted to the gods - three temples once stood here - and the final quadrant, the north-western area was most probably reserved for administrative and domestic purposes.
Whilst the area south of the Decamanus has a lot of evidence of the palace, in the area to the north of the street, later building has all but completely subsumed any Roman remains. This part of the city is a maze of narrow streets, some so narrow you must walk in single file. Families live here, and cafes and little shops abound. You'll find beautiful Renaissance palaces with gracious courtyards and tiny houses with washing strung over your head. Keep your eyes open for lovely architectural features such as balconies and windows, coats of arms and staircases
The city's history
Housed in the lovely 15th century Papalic Palace, Split City Museum (Muzej Grada) offers both some interesting artifacts and a reconstruction of the palace's dining room in 15th century style.
I'd suggest you visit it as much for the opportunity to admire its gracious architecture and the views over the rooftops from its many windows on the upper floors. This was a grand and expensive building indeed, as evidenced by the quality of the decoration of the portal and loggia, the many windows and with the impressive wooden ceiling in the upper hall.
The exhibits include an armoury of 15th to 18th century weaponry, the city's charter, seal and coins, early sculptures from the cathedral belltower, old paintings, furniture and ceramics and a couple of magnificent Renaissance coffers - the usual mix of museums of this ilk.
Diocletian became the Roman emperor in 284 A.D. and shortly afterwards, he built this palace in Split. While he's given some credit for the fall of the Roman Empire because of his decision to divide leadership of it into four parts called the Tetrarchy, you can't come down too hard on a guy whose legacy includes these interesting ruins.
Unfortunately, the "palace" is not exactly a recognizable structure anymore, but there are some great sights set amongst the narrow alleys and more recent architectural additions.
From the waterfront side (the Riva) you can enter through the Bronze Gate to some interesting subterranean halls, that today, are lined mostly with souvenir stands. When you emerge from underground, you'll enter into the Peristyle, a large courtyard flanked by the Cathedral. From here, there are more ruins from over the centuries, but the Peristyle courtyard is certainly the heart of the palace.
For more details of specific sights, check out VT member diocletianvs's page.
Historically, the Peristyle was the heart of the Diocletian's Palace and today it's still a focal point of the city. Every picture I've ever seen of this spot is taken in the heart of the tourist season and there are usually tons of people packing the courtyard which is filled with cafe tables. On one hand, that scene shows how vibrant the place can be, but I like to look at the bright side of things. When I visited in February, sure the place wasn't exactly overflowing with partygoers, but that made it better for getting photos that show the architectural details and it was a lot easier to imagine the place in a historical sense without table top umbrellas that advertise Coca-Cola on the top!
The steps at the far end of the Peristyle lead up to the vestibule where subjects of Diocletian would wait to be seen by the Emperor.
Replacing old gods
Directly opposite the cathedral, a narrow passage (Kraj Sv Ivana) leads out of the Peristil to a Roman temple long since put to Christian use. What was once the inner sanctum (the "cella") of a temple dedicated to the supreme Roman god, Jupiter is now the Cathedral's baptistery.
The headless sphynx on the stairs links it to the mausoleum (also flanked by a sphynx) back in the main square. When they were built, the two buildings faced each other - the area now filled by the houses lining the passage would have been the temple's outer court - and spoke eloquently of Diocletian's assumption of his immortality and equality with the gods. Just as the mausoleum of the man who was the scourge of the Christians of his day became the cathedral of the Christian city that grew within the walls of his palace, the temple of the ruler of his gods became the cathedral's Baptistry - a place that more than anywhere symbolizes the total acceptance of Christ as the Supreme Being in a Christian's life.
A bas-relief of a bishop by the door has been rubbed almost to obliteration by centuries of pious touch.
The cella/baptistery is small barrel-vaulted space. In Diocletian's day there would have been a statue of the god here and only the highest priests and the Emperor himself would have had access. Today the space is dominated by a cross-shaped marble font. Although the font itself dates from the 11thC, the carvings that decorate it - the elaborate interwoven motifs known as pleter and a relief of a of a king on a throne (thought to be Zvominir, the liberator of Dalmatia, who was crowned in nearby Solin in 1076) were only added in the 19th C. The modern sculpture of John the Baptist behind the font is by Ivan Mestrovic.
- Historical Travel
Diocletian, a Roman emperor, began building this lavish palace in Split in 295 A.D. and retired to it in 305 A.D. when he voluntarily abdicated his emperorship. Must have been one hell of a golden parachute he got out of the Roman Empire.
To this American (me), born and raised in the Western U.S., and who thinks anything 100 years old is old, this ancient palace was incredibly impressive. Also, very well preserved. A must see in Split.
- Historical Travel
Eljezna Vrata - the Iron Gate
The Iron Gate is the best preserved by far of the palace's three land gates. It's quite easy here to see how the arrangement of a defensive yard between two sets of gates with high walkways above for the guards provided security to those within, though these days those same defenses are filled with cafe tables and icecream vendors cabinets.
Diocletian would have a hard time recognizing his palace by the sea if he was to come back today. Left to decay by its imperial tenants in the latter years of the Western Roman Empire, the palace was deserted for years until sometime in the 7thC AD when the citizens of Salona, the Roman city up the hill, took refuge within its walls from the advance of the tribes of Slavs and Avars who were taking over the region. As they occupied the deserted apartments of the Emperor's court and then began to build more and more dwellings , the wide streets and grand buildings disappeared under a warren of alleys, crowded little houses and the grander dwellings of the rich and the mediaeval city overtook the past.
The palace's fourth gate led to the west, and it was in this direction that the city spread when it began to outgrow the Roman walls in the 13th century. Whilst the area around the cathedral in the heart of the old city remained the religious centre, commercial and municipal life was now centred here in the new part. As you move through the gate and into another stage of the city's history, look out for the Cipriano Palace with its lovely windows and worn relief of St Antony just outside the Iron Gate.
Diocletian palace - people still live there?!!!
The city of Spalato or Split in Croatian, which means "little palace", was founded by the emperor Diocletian; 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.
Look at the picture and you will see that there are people living there!
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- Castles and Palaces
Which way now?
Four gates divide the walled old city of Split into four quadrants. Standing by St Rocco's Chapel (the city's infrormation office) you're virtually in the dead centre. You've visited the area around the Peristil, the main street lead ing out of the square all head towards one of the gates, so what will it be, left, right, dead ahead or behind you.
With St Rocco's behind you, left will take you back to the Bronze, the city's south Gate, once the seaward entrance, and out to the Riva.
Turn right, to the north, and you're heading for the Golden Gate, and what was once the road to Salona, the nearest Roman city to the palace.
Behind you, east, is the Silver Gate, right beside the Peristil Hotel, it opens out into the tree-shaded Green Market, the Pazar.
Straight ahead is the Western Gate - known as the Iron Gate. Outside this gate you'll find the mediaeval city.
I've just come from the south, the choice is north, east or west. So which will it be?
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo ...
Split was not my final destination but only a jumping-off point to the Island Vis. Since I arrived early enough I thought it would be worth looking at the famous monument.
Diocletian's Palace is one of the best preserved monuments of Roman architecture in the world. It was built at the end of the 3rd century AD by Roman Emperor Diocletian with the intention to spent last years of his life here.
The Palace is rectengular in shape with four towers at the corners, four doors on each side and four smaller towers on the walls. It is divided into four parts by two main streets. The southern part were the more luxurious structures: that is, the emperor's apartment, both public and private, and cult buildings. The emperor's apartment formed a block along the sea front, while the northern part was for his guards. 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 the St. Domnius cathedral of Split), and to three temples on the west (two of which are now lost, while the third was, similar to the mausoleum, transformed into a baptistery). The Palace is built of white local limestone of high quality, most of which was from the Island Brac and some material for decoration was imported: Egyptian granite columns and sphinges, fine marble for revetments...
During the centuries, the Palace's residents adapted those spaces for their needs. It's today the heart of the inner city of Split where the most important historical buildings, art galleries and nice cafes are. The Palace is one of the most famous architectural and cultural structures on the Croatian Adriatic coast and has a significant place in the Mediterranean, European and world heritage. In November 1979 UNESCO adopted a proposal that the historic Split inner city, built around the Palace, should be included in the register of the World Cultural Heritage.
more pics in the Travelogue
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