The Highlights of a Visit to Diocletian’s Palace – Split, Croatia

Diocletian's Palace header 875

Diocletian’s Palace contains some of the most impressive Roman architecture to be found on the Adriatic coast. Its highlights include the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world3500 year-old Egyptian sphinxes, and vestiges of Roman, Venetian, and medieval architecture. The Old City is a Unesco Heritage Site and is also famous as a setting for the popular series ‘Game of Thrones’. And of course, this being the Balkans, it contains lots intriguing (and sometimes ironic) twists of history. This post explores all that and details the highlights of a visit to this ‘living’ museum (I’ll explain that too).

.

split-map1

Above: Old Split and Diocletian’s Palace (Map Credit: Split-Croatia-travel-guide).

.
Diocletian was born in Salona (about 10km outside Split) in 244 AD. The province of Dalmatia was at that time part of the Roman Empire and Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military. He became cavalry commander then, in 284 AD, succeeded as Emperor. He restored efficient government to an Empire in near anarchy during this time period. But what he is most known for is the Diocletianic Persecution, the Roman Empire’s last, largest, and bloodiest persecution of Christianity.

In 305 AD construction began on the palace. It was meant to be his home in retirement. About half the palace was built for his personal use, the other half housed a military garrison. Although a ‘palace’ within, the structure resembles more a fortress with its massive walls and heavily fortified gates. In the same year, Diocletian fell ill and decided to give up the title of Emperor. He is the only Roman Emperor to have ever voluntarily give up the title. He lived in his palace until his death in 311 AD, at the age of 66. His death marked only the beginning in the history of his palace.

Below: The north gate, known as the Golden Gate, of the palace.

The Golden Gate of Diocletian's palace, Split, Croatia

Below: Next to the Golden Gate is the statue of Grgur Ninski, a Croatian bishop who opposed the Pope and introduced religious services in Croatian in 929 AD (versus the previous Latin which nobody understood). On the right is the 2nd Gate of the Northern Entrance – all gates of the palace include two sets of gates for defense (sometimes referred to as a ‘human trap’). 

highlights around the Golden Gate, Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

.
About 150 years after Diocletian’s death the Roman Empire fell and the palace was abandoned. It remained empty until the 7th century when residents of the area fled into the walled palace to escape invading Slavs. They occupied the palace and made houses and businesses within the walls. To this day people live within the walls of the palace. Within feet of the palace walls, temples, and churches you’ll see laundry hung out to dry, scooters parked, and plants being watered. Unlike many historic sites, people live within the walls. This is why I describe Diocletian’s Palace as a ‘living’ museum.
.

Below: The bell tower was not part of Diocletian’s design, it was only constructed in 1100 AD and took over 300 years to build because all the different regimes that passed through the region. The result was an odd blend that was not structurally sound – the bell tower in place today is the result of much reconstruction. 

Views of the Belltower and Cathedral, Diocletian's palace, split, Croatia

Below: The Peristyle was the Palace’s Central square. The darker columns were shipped from Egypt (clearer in the photo above) while the Sphinx dates back 3500 years.

peristyle (main square) of Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

egyptian sphinx at Diocletian's palace

.
Below: Views from the top of the bell tower. Be warned that the climb is not for those with a fear of heights. In the first photo, note the hole in the building directly below – that’s the vestibule (photo further below).

Views of the sea (and the vestibule) from the belltower of Diocletian's palace, split (1)

Below: Views towards the North Gate and the mountains of the interior.

Views of the mountains from the Belltower of Diocletian's Palace, Split

 

Right next to the bell tower is the small Cathedral of Saint Domnius (in the photo below, to the left of the bell tower). Amazingly, this structure was Diocletian’s mausoleum. By the 7th Century the region had converted to Christianity. The new inhabitants of the palace desecrated some of Diocletian’s relics, removed his body, and turned the mausoleum into the world’s first Christian church, naming it after a bishop (Saint Domnius) martyred in the Diocletianic Persecution. Saint Domnius is also the patron saint of Split.

belltower of Diocletian's palace

.
Below: Above the entrance of Saint Domnius Cathedral.

Above the door at Saint Domnius Cathedral, Diocletian's palace, split

Below: Inside the tiny but very intricate Cathedral.

Cathedral of Saint Domnius in Diocletian's Palace, split, croatia

.
Below: The crypt below the Cathedral (i.e Diocletian’s old mausoleum) was turned into a chapel dedicated to another persecuted martyr (St. Lucy). 

Crypt in Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

 .
Diocletian’s Temple of Jupiter (seen below) wasn’t spared by the Christians either. The Temple was dedicated to the Roman gods, Diocletian included (he thought himself a god). Christians beheaded the Egyptian Sphinx that guards the temple’s entrance, then converted it into a baptistery dedicated to St. John. That’s a statue of Saint John the Baptist in the Temple.

The Christians had their revenge on Diocletian and it is ironic that everything he stood for and built has ended up as Christian sites of worship. Diocletian would be turning in his grave (if he had one…nobody knows what happened to his remains after the desecration of the mausoleum).

Jupiter's temple, Diocletian's palace, Split, Croatia

Entrance of Jupiter's Temple

 .
The domed Vestibule (below) is one of the most impressive remnants of Diocletian’s Palace. At the time it was a dramatic entry way into his private quarters. Today it is a spot where cappella singers perform Dalmatian folk music (because of the great acoustics).

Vestibule (with views of Belltower) at Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

.
Below: Stepping out of the Vestibule brings you back to the Peristyle (the main square). 

Peristyle (Central Square) of Diocletian's palace

Below: Buildings around the main square. Note the Venetian-inspired windows on the building to the left. 

Buildings off the Peristyle (Central Square), Split, Croatia

 

The gates of the palace contain some of the most impressive  ruins. The Silver Gate (on the Eastern side of the palace) is pictured below. Note the white-tiled foundation of the palace. It is beautiful (and slippery). It is not marble however; most of it is limestone which has become shiny and used with time.

views of the Silver Gate (eastern gate) of Diocletian's palace, split Croatia
Silver Gate, Diocletian's Palace

 .
Below: Views from just outside the Silver Gate, the bell tower prominent. 

Eastern wall of Diocletian's palace, split, croatia

.
Below: Palace walls on the south side. In Diocletian’s time the sea came right up to the wall and the boats could dock right at the foot of the palace.

Southern wall, Diocletian's palace, Split

views from the southern walls of Diocletian's palace, Split Croatia

.
Below: Split’s city museum. Again, Venetian-style windows on the right which indicated a family’s wealth. You can also see a Rennaissance-style window (on the left) which came in style in the 16th century.

City Museum, Split, Croatia

 .
Below: One of the great attractions of Split is that people live within the palace walls. Everywhere you look you see signs of life.

Buildings inside the Iron Gate, Split (2)

housing inside the walls of Diocletian's palace, split, Croatia

 .
Below: The Iron Gate (the Western Gate of the City) is our favorite. Massive, it has a small church with a beautiful Romanesque bell tower right above the door.

Iron Gate (western gate) of Diocletian's palace, split, croatia

Below: Heading outside the Iron Gate brings you to a beautiful square nicknamed ‘Pjaca‘ by locals (Narodni Trg is the official name). It is our favorite place to come for a beer while watching people come and go.

Narodni Trg Square (Pjaca) just outside western gate of Diocletian's palace

  .

The cellars of the palace have to be seen, especially if you are a Game of Thrones fan (we have not had a chance to see the series but it is very popular and there are several tours in Split dedicated solely to visiting filming locations used in the series). The cellars are accessed from the southern gate (the Bronze Gate) which had direct access to the sea. They are vast and massive and in Diocletian’s time they were used for storage. Today the cellars house a lot of kiosques selling tourist stuff. It is the quickest way to get from the Peristyle (Main Square) to the Seaside promenade (Riva).

cellars of diocletian's palace
underground cellars, Diocletian's palace

.
Below: exiting the Bronze Gate (the Southern gate) brings you right to the Riva. This is the place to hang out with the beautiful people and watch families in the early evening. Very trendy. Again, see how the modern is integrated into the ancient palace walls.

Riva in Split, Croatia

Cruise ship in setting sun, Split, Croatia

 

Some practical information

– Diocletian’s Palace is not big. If you walked across it East – West or North – South you could probably go gate-to-gate within 3 minutes. But there are a huge jumble of little streets, all of which deserve to be explored. This post highlighted the historical attractions in the palace but I’ll have one coming up featuring all the beautiful little streets and alleys that make exploring Split so amazing.
– Residents say that tourists often come to them asking “where’s the palace?”. They answer “you’re in it”. Again, it’s a ‘living’ museum and people go about their lives in what was the palace. You can go into a bank and see within it a step or wall dating back to Roman times. Quite amazing.
– A recommended company for walking tours (and they do a Game of Thrones Walking Tour) is Splitwalkingtour.  We did the tour with Lucia and it was very informative.
– While you can wander around and explore many of the above, some of the sites you have to pay for to gain access. It is worth getting the 45 Kuna (about 6 USD) ticket at the entrance of the Cathedral. This will give you access to 1) the Cathedral, 2) Bell Tower, 3) Crypt, 4) Treasury, and 5) Jupiter’s Temple. It shouldn’t take you more than 2 hours to do all that but it is worth it.

.

Feel free to ask any questions, I’ll help you out best I can 🙂 . Thanks for reading!

 

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you haven’t subscribed yet and want to get our posts and newsletters sent to your email, just insert your email address below:

SHARE

Comments

  1. Incredible! We almost went to Croatia this year; Split and Dubrovnik were the biggest attractions to us. Thanks for all the great pictures!
    Katrina Elisabet recently posted…Countdown to #EurSoGypsyMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Wow, you’re quick. I barely pressed the ‘publish’ button 🙂
      Thank you so much for the comment Katrina. Dubrovnik on our list and look forward to seeing it. Just love being in Europe and seeing all this history.

      • Your posts seem to magically appear right when I log into my blog feed, so it’s great timing! 🙂 Are you guys going to be visiting Plitvice as well?
        Katrina Elisabet recently posted…Countdown to #EurSoGypsyMy Profile

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          I’m so not technically savvy and I’ll have to look into ‘blog feeds’. But great, always happy when people get our stuff before I even start distributing it.

          We’ll try to see Plitvice if we can. Otherwise we have one closer which is (Krka) which is an alternative. Did you go to Plitvice and was it worth it for you? I hear people say they love and and others say they were disappointed…

  2. This looks fascinating. I think Split just moved up a few places on our list. Thanks for the sample.
    Tom Bartel recently posted…Trip Totals: Accounting for our WhereaboutsMy Profile

  3. Wonderful photo’s and I loved reading about the history. I’m like Tom Bartel – Split has climbed up my list.. I can’t wait to see this myself 🙂
    Paula Wheeler recently posted…An Italian Love AffairMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks so much Paula! Always nice when others get inspired by a post – I recently read a post on Kotor, Montenegro and it’ll be part of our itinerary when further south. So many beautiful sites in the region.

  4. Lovely images! This place is gorgeous. How cool that it’s a living museum. How cool is that??? Some parts remind me of Malta 🙂
    Kemkem recently posted…Bebel Gilberto – Fab Friday Find MusicMy Profile

  5. Like the map – Can I nick that idea? Would be good for the Sultan Ahmet area of Istanbul. It is where all the historical landmarks are
    Natalie recently posted…The Hagia Sophia of Istanbul : A Story of 3 CitiesMy Profile

  6. Great photography… so inspirational 🙂
    Laura recently posted…Let’s Go Fly A KiteMy Profile

  7. I really enjoyed wandering the alleyways in Split. I hope to go back and spend more time there. A wonderful side trip from Split is Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is about two hours by bus.

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!

*


CommentLuv badge

css.php