Yesterday I had the good fortune to spend the day in Split and in particular Diocletian’s Palace. I won’t go into the background history, suffice to say the palace was built between 295 AD and 305 AD by, and for, Diocletian. Today the palace is still very much in everyday use, by citizens of Split and by the tourists that visit but is protected as UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of seven protected sites in Croatia.
Above, a the palace as it was originally built as drawn by archaeologist Ernest Hébrard in 1912.
During the Medieval period a significant portion of the palace was replaced or absorbed by Medieval buildings. However, much remains from Diocletian’s period. With a careful observations, and the services of a guide, many interesting Roman period structures and architecture are visible, even to the untrained eye.
Below, a portion of the Peristyle leading to Diocletian’s living areas. His mausoleum is on the left and the Temple of Jupiter to the right. The sandstone is from the island of Brac, which I’ve since passed, while the columns are of granite and imported from Egypt by Diocletian.
You may have noticed a sphinx in the top left. There are three in the palace today and each are 3500 years old. Here is another view.
The palace is rectangular approximately 160m by 190m and is divided into a garrison and administrative area, perhaps half the area. The remaining area is divided between a religious area and Diocletian’s living and sleeping areas, which face the sea.
Above, is a section of Diocletian’s living area which originally provided excellent views of the Adriatic and today faces the port of Split. Below, a view across the remains of Diocletian’s dining area and in the distance the octagonal mausoleum of Diocletian.
Diocletian’s mausoleum has been occupied by the Christians and as such was converted into a church. Despite this the mausoleum, inside and out, remains impressive. A section of the floor has been exposed to show the original floor 17cm below the current. In the detailing in the photo below that running around the top, broken by a window, is Roman and depicts, among other things, a hunting scene.
Likewise, the Temple of Jupiter has found a new Christian role.
Excavations under the palace since the 1950s, and more recently, have exposed the basement areas. These areas mimic the original structures above and have provided archaeologists excellent information on the structures. Some, such as this one are massive.
There are several walking tours of the area palace and I recommend you taking one. They are extremely inexpensive. Mine was around 100 Croatian Kuna, which is around twenty or so New Zealand dollars. A ticket to the underground areas was from memory around half this but unfortunately had poor signage. Some tours include this area and I wish I had found one. Either way don’t miss it! Entry to the cathedral, mausoleum and Temple of Jupiter cost was 50 Croatian Kuna and is also excellent.
There is a small museum in the palace area. Significant exhibits include Diocletian’s marble dining table, which you must see. In addition are many examples of edged weapons and firearms of Medieval, Venetian and Turkish origin. Useful maps here include the late baroque layout of the defences of Split from around 1660. Unfortunately, when I visited the English translations supposedly available through wifi access, were unreliable.
If you are in Croatia make sure Diocletian’s Palace is on your list.