Diocletian's Palace in Asphalatos, then Spalato and today Split

Diocletian's Palace in Asphalatos, then Spalato and today Split

Early the next morning we drove into Split with Robi, because we were finally going to the well-known old town of Split and to Diocletian's Palace, which actually forms the nucleus of today's city of Split.

As a local city guide, a parking space was quickly found and through colourful market stalls on the right and left of the path we headed towards Diocletian's Palace, which has also developed into the commercial and core centre of Split over the centuries.

The most famous city gate, Porta Caesarea

diokletianspalast split 01The Roman Emperor Diocletian had an extensive palace complex built for the last years of his life; after a century of constantly changing regents, he was the first emperor to actually experience his transition into retirement after a long reign. As an emperor who felt committed to his homeland, he had this palace built near his birthplace Dioclea (also Dognidolatz), near Solin. The building was built in record time between around 295 and 305 AD. Even back then, Diocletian's Palace was characterized by its exceptional strategic location in the center of the Roman Empire. Parts of the wall date back to the 2nd century BC. The eastern part of the city walls has been preserved to this day; this part was built from large stone blocks. The most famous city gate, Porta Caesarea, had octagonal towers on both sides. In the middle was the space for the cars, on the left and right were the passages for pedestrians. From there a road continued over “five bridges,” as the remains of the arches are called today. The road branched, one leading south and the other north, inland.

Composite structure of Roman villa and palace architecture

diokletianspalast split 03Architecturally, it is not just a palace, but rather a composite structure of Roman villa and palace architecture, military and urban architecture as well as sacred architecture. The palace, which was rectangular in plan, occupied an area of around 30,000 m² (around 215 × 180 meters). The building was clearly demarcated from the outside by strong walls with square corner towers and additional projecting towers on the facades, except on the south facade facing the sea. Based on the underground halls, which were only uncovered a few years ago, the dimensions of the former palace can be clearly understood, as the load-bearing support systems of the basement also continued on the ground floor. The halls in the basement were hidden by rubbish and construction rubble for many centuries; for a better view, some rooms have been preserved as they were at the time.

Three temples and the Diocletian mausoleum

diokletianspalast split 05Inside the palace, a cross street (Decumanus), as was usually the case in military camps or cities built by the Romans, and a longitudinal street (Cardo) divide the palace into roughly equal parts. In the northern areas, archaeological excavations revealed the remains of two large buildings with rectangular floor plans, the functions of which have not yet been fully clarified. Perhaps these buildings were military installations.

To the south of the palace, to the left and right of a central peristyle, were larger courtyards with cult monuments (three temples and Diocletian's mausoleum); In the southern quarter there were remains of the imperial apartment with many different room shapes. The actual residential wing served as a place of residence for various emperors or as a place of exile for those who had fallen from grace. Galla Placidia stayed here in 424 with her son Valentinian III before he went to Italy to overthrow the usurper John. In 461, the general Marcellinus used the palace while serving as magister militum Dalmatiae. The deposed Emperor Glycerius lived in the palace from 474 until his death in 480, and in the same year his successor Julius Nepos died of a poison attack in the palace. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the palace also fell into disrepair and served only as a military post.

Mausoleum of the imperial couple Diocletian and Prisca

diokletianspalast split 06Due to the continuous attacks on Salona, the residents there were forced to look for new locations that would offer protection. Most of the Salonitans who had fled and survived found refuge in the well-fortified palace of Spalatum and made themselves at home there. They converted the palace complex into a city. Today the former palace still forms the eastern part of the old town of Split and is full of shops, markets, squares and the Cathedral of St. Domnius, which in ancient times was the mausoleum of the imperial couple Diocletian and Prisca and formed the centre of the palace. The palace could never be taken by the invading "barbarians", so Spalatum - like many other Dalmatian cities - remained as a stronghold of the late Roman world - while invading peoples took over the hinterland. Also interesting in this context is the use of the word “hinterland”, which has been preserved in the Croatian language to this day.

Over the centuries the original architecture was changed, but the inhabitants of this city, called Salonae Palatium in Latin, then Split, knew how to use the structure of the palace under Byzantine, Venetian and Austro-Hungarian rule, using it as little as possible to damage.

Fish market in the palace's commercial district

diokletianspalast split 07It is thanks to the foresight of the residents that modern people have the opportunity to look into more than 20 centuries of cultural history in Split, to discover details from a wide variety of eras and cultures and thus to at least gain an insight into the cultural history of humanity. We were deeply impressed by the variety of details present, which can only be described if you take the time to examine them extensively.

We were also fascinated by the fish market in the trading area of the palace, as you would at least expect flies or smells from the goods being traded. There was no sign of it. The reason for this was quickly explained, because there is thermal water here whose composition prevents odor and therefore no flies can be found. Exactly which substances in the thermal water are responsible for this is still being researched.

We were then invited to the premiere of the Split region's latest promotional film in the hall of the tourism organization, so we briefly interrupted our tour of Diocletian's Palace. There should also be another surprise, but more on that later.

Please read as well:

The Klis Fortress - bulwark to the Split peninsula

Salona - next destination of our tour along Roman road system



Life | Outdoors