Diocletian's Palace (Split)

Diocletian's Palace in Split


Diocletian's Palace is the ancient palace of Emperor Diocletian in Split. It was built around 300 by the Roman emperor Diocletian and resided in it after his accession to the throne (305) until his death (316). It was built in the bay of the peninsula 5 km southwest of Salona, the capital of the province of Dalmatia. Today, the remains of the palace are part of the historic core of the city of Split, which was inscribed on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites in Europe in 1979.


Measuring 215 m by 181 m with a walls 26 m high this palace is a marvel of the architecture of the late Roman Empire. Building material came from Egypt, Greece, Italy and other corners of the Mediterranean sea. No expanses were spared for the official residence of the emperor. In all it took 10 years to build the whole complex. The palace looked like a city within a city with four gates. Northern gate was called Golden Gate, south was called Bronze gate, eastern- Silver gate and western gate was called the Iron gate.


The south part of the palace that house emperor' headquarters, temples and other important administrative houses were separate by Krešimirovaroad also known as Decumanus that ran from west to east from the northern part of the palace. It housed servants and personal guard. Diocletian used this place as a place for residence after his voluntary abdication on May 1 305 AD. It is the first such act by the Roman emperor in the analogues of the empire's history. The legend states that after things started to fall apart at the absence of the strong ruler delegates came from Rome begging Diocletian to return. The respond stunned them. Emperor told them: "if you saw the cabbage that I grow here you wouldn't ask me to come back". It is one of the few examples in World history than a leader quits at the height of his power without pressure or circumstances.


Split Palace Reconstruction

Diocletian and Christianity.

Despite his success as an emperor Diocletian left a last mark on Christian Church for his persecution. It started in 303 then Emperor Diocletian along with Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issue a series of edicts against Christians. The difficulty of this endeavor was in popularity of the religion. Diocletian's own wife was Christian. So Roman authorities were advised to safe lives if Christians gave up their manuscripts. Bishops obviously did not want to carry out this blasphemous orders, but sacrificing their flock was also not part of the plan. Instead many wrote fake gospels to preserve lives of their fellow Christians and books of the Bible. Today journalists come out with "great" sensations about hidden mysteries and yet explanation is more trivial and simple. Large number of apocryphal writings were written by the Church, not its enemies. And purpose was not veneration, but preservation of true texts and people who read them.



Based on data from a Roman map, known for its medieval outline ("Tabula Peutingeriana"), there was already a settlement called Spalatum in that bay, the remains and size of which have not been determined to this day. The beginning of the construction of Diocletian's Palace has not been determined exactly. It is assumed that this was around the year 295, after the introduction of the tetrarchy (rule of four). However, ten years after that decision, when Diocletian abdicated in 305, the palace had not yet been completed, and there are indications that some work was going on while the emperor was staying in it. It is not known according to whose architectural idea the palace was built and who its builders were.

However, the engraved Greek names Zotikos and Filotas, as well as numerous engraved Greek letters indicate that a certain number of builders were originally from the eastern part of the empire, i.e. that Diocletian brought with him masters from the East. Nevertheless, it is very likely that a large part of the workforce was of local origin. The basic material came from close range. White limestone was brought from Brač and some from Seget near Trogir; travertine was extracted from the bed of nearby rivers, and bricks were made in Salonitan and other workshops located nearby. The building as a whole did not have a direct role model in Roman architecture until then. Its originality derives from its basic function and adaptation to position.



Its shape resembles a castrum - a military camp. The outer walls are almost rectangular, measuring 175-181 x 216 m, and the towers at the corners of the palace follow the tradition of military architecture. Since the palace was 6 km away from the nearest large city (Salona), it was surrounded by ramparts. And the internal layout of the palace is reminiscent of a military camp - cardo and decumanus, the main vertical streets correspond to the main camp streets via praetoria and via principalis. There were four entrances to the palace: three on the land side and one on the sea side. The entire space of the palace was divided into two parts, each with a different purpose. In the northern part were located buildings for service, army, warehouses, etc. In the southern, more luxurious part, which was raised above the vaulted substructures (the so-called basements of the palace) due to the alignment with the northern part, there were buildings intended for the imperial family. The facades were not the same either.

The most representative was the southern one, facing the sea. In the lower part (which was flooded by the sea in Diocletian's time) there were smaller openings and doors, the so-called porta aenea (Brass door). The east and west facades are similar to each other and without decoration, and the doors on them are called porta argentea (Silver Gate) and porta ferrea (Iron Gate). On the north façade was the main entrance to the palace with a double door with an architrave - porta aurea (Golden Gate), on which lay an arch with niches containing statues (probably Jupiter and four tetrarchs). Of the two main streets, the cardo led to the peristyle, an open space in front of the emperor's apartment, to the left of which was the emperor's mausoleum (today the Cathedral of St. Domnius). To the right of the peristyle were three temples. The first is Jupiter's, and the other two are today called Cybele's and Venus's, although those names have not been confirmed. The king's apartment was entered from the opposite side through the vestibule. The former layout of the rooms can be reconstructed with the help of ground floor halls, which are of the same layout.


The walls

The floor plan of the palace was conceived as a rectangle, but the adaptation to the terrain, during construction, imposed minor deviations (east: 214.97 m, north: 174.74 m, south: 181.65 m). The front walls of the palace are massive in their lower parts and simple without openings, and in the upper parts they are soluble with large arched windows that are simple towards the mainland, ie. on the west, north, and east facades, and dissected by cornices, consoles, and half-pillars on the south façade facing the sea. The outer walls of the palace, except the western one, are largely well preserved to this day.

Sixteen towers on the front walls facing the mainland give the palace the character of a fort. The four towers at the corners are square in plan. Two of the six towers of octagonal layout framed three land entrances, six towers of rectangular layout were located between the corner and octagonal. To this day, three corner towers (except the south-western one) and only the remains of octagonal and rectangular ones have been partially preserved.

Three well-preserved land entrances to this day are architecturally dissected, especially the northern one, which was the main access from Salona. The south, sea gate, simple and smaller in size, is also well preserved.


The interior

Wide streets (cardo and decumanus), lined with porches, were accessed through a land gate through defensive courtyards (propugnaculum). The main streets merged in the center of the palace, along which to the south stretched an open space - the peristyle, bordered by pillars with arches. The sacral spaces east and west of the peristyle were framed by walls. In the eastern area, a monumental building with an outer octagonal and inner circular ground plan has been preserved to this day, vaulted with a brick dome and divided into two rows of pillars and wreaths, and a frieze in which the busts of Diocletian and his wife Priska are preserved. The building is bordered on the outside by a porch (peripterum), which has been largely preserved to this day. In earlier sources this building is mentioned as the Temple of Jupiter, and in more recent scientific literature as Diocletian's Mausoleum.

In the western sacral area, a small temple with a rectangular ground plan, vaulted with a coffered, richly decorated vault, is very well preserved to this day. According to earlier descriptions, it is the temple of John or Aesculapius, and according to more recent literature, the temple of Jupiter. Remains of two circular temples have recently been found in the same area. According to the description of the Split chancellor Prokulijan from the 16th century, the southern temple was dedicated to Cybele, and the northern to Venus. On the south side of the peristyle the middle staircase descends into the ground floor halls and connects the south door with the center of the palace. Two side staircases rise in the porch of the prothrone, from which the vestibule, the vestibule of the emperor's chambers, is accessed.


The emperor's apartment

This building is square on the outside and circular on the inside, vaulted with a dome. From there, the emperor's apartment was approached, which stretched to a depth of 40 m along the entire southern façade; it is only partially preserved on the upper floor, but its ground-floor, translated substructures that carried it directly have been almost completely preserved, so that the overall layout and appearance of the upper spaces can be seen given the coincidence of the upper and lower floor plans. On the west side of the upper floor are preserved the remains of a hall with a dome and two halls with apses, and on the east side parts of an octagonal dining room (triclinium) with three halls with a cross plan. The wall of the western cross hall has been preserved in full height. Diocletian's apartment was interconnected by a long room along the south facade (cryptoportic) from which a view of the sea was open through 42 windows and 3 loggias. North of the emperor's apartment, two baths were recently found, one next to the west and the other next to the east halls. In the northern part of the palace there were two buildings, bordered by main and peripheral streets parallel to the outer walls. Parts of the original sewer system were found in several places in the palace. The 9 km long water supply system supplied the palace with drinking water, and most of it is still in use today.



Peristyle - free space, surrounded by pillars and covered; lobby or hallway with pillars. The original name is Pločata sv. Dujma. (Cathedral Plaza) It consists of the peristyle of the former Diocletian's Palace.

It was located on the main cardo (cardo), the former Diocletian's palace, and in the northern part it intersected with its main decumanus (decumanus). On the sides it is bordered by two rows of Corinthian-style pillars connected by arches. The sides of the façade were decorated with two sphinxes, one of which is still almost perfectly preserved in the square. The facade of the square is divided into two parts: the upper leads to the Vestibule, and the lower by stairs to the magnificent basements of the palace. The facade leading to the Vestibule was decorated with three statues, one of which represented the emperor Diocletian, the other the god Jupiter while the third remains unknown.

Protiron, which was located on the south side, also contributed to the importance of the Peristyle, because from it the emperor Diocletian addressed the inhabitants of the other part of the palace. He also connected, separated, the northern part of the palace for servants, the army ... and the southern part where the emperor lived. On its western side were the baptistery (Temple of Jupiter), and the temples of Venus and Cybele, and on the eastern side of Diocletian's mausoleum, today's cathedral.

It is used as a space for major events in the Palace and due to its excellent acoustics it often serves as a natural stage and stage for many musical-scenic spectacles. Of these, the most famous is the traditional performance of Verdi's Aida during the Split summer.



According to its composition, Diocletian's Palace contains elements of the imperial villa, the Hellenistic city and the fortified military camp (castrum). From the point of view of construction in the palace, the spans were mostly overcome by the use of arches, ie vaults, which transmit forces obliquely to the foundations, while in the representative parts the spans were overcome by the use of stone beams. Solid, finely worked stone is used to build representative parts as well as all other parts that are exposed to higher stresses. Plastered or clad parts of the wall were built of fine stone, aligned at certain intervals with four rows of bricks. The vaults are made of light river stone (tufa), parts of higher concentrated stresses in the vaults are built of brick. The ceiling and roof constructions were wooden. Decorative treatment on architectural elements is characteristic of the way of working in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. From the dimensions of the preserved parts it follows that the palace was built according to a project that was quoted in Roman feet.

Use of materials from the palace
The Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice was built in part from the stone blocks of the eight towers of Diocletian's Palace, from the north and east walls, which were demolished by order of the Venetian providor Alvise Zorzi.



With the death of Emperor Diocletian in 316, life in the palace did not fade, and transformations began in the first centuries of the palace's life. Being owned by the Roman court, it provided refuge to exiled members of the imperial family, and the most important event was the demolition of Salona in the early 6th century when part of the exiled population found refuge within the palace walls and a new, organized city life began.

In the period of the free medieval commune, between the 12th and 14th centuries, there was a major architectural development, when numerous medieval houses filled not only Roman buildings but also most of the free space of streets and porches. In that period, the construction of the Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Dujma.


Romanesque art is also represented by the works of great masters such as Andrija Buvina who made the wooden doors of the cathedral in the 13th century and Juraj Dalmatinac, from whose workshops came the magnificent noble palaces in Venetian Gothic style with Renaissance hints (eg the Papalić family palace). In the cathedral is also his masterpiece, the altar of St. Staša.

Since the 7th century, the palace has lived as the city of Split, which has been expanding to the west since the early Middle Ages and has been closed by walls on several occasions. Adaptations of the sacral buildings of the palace into the Split Cathedral and the baptistery, the pre-Romanesque church of St. Martin and Our Lady of the bell tower, pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and other buildings, witness the uninterrupted life of the city and the emergence of new qualities, which with preserved parts of Diocletian's Palace form a whole of the greatest values ​​of architectural heritage.

Diocletian's Palace is not only a remarkable ancient monument, but also a national and world good. Together with the later medieval additions, it forms a valuable archaeological and historical-artistic complex and was therefore included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.


Basements of Diocletian's Palace

The basements of Diocletian's Palace are the covered and partly underground space in the southernmost part of the Old Town (part of the former Diocletian's Palace) in Split. These are vaulted, larger or smaller hall spaces and corridors between them. Their area is as big as an eighth of the entire former Palace.

They were formed during the construction of the Palace in a position with a slope towards the sea shore, in order to level the level of the southern, residential part, with other parts of the Palace. Their spaces have various shapes: basilica, central, central - cross, rectangular, etc. Their walls served as the foundations of the imperial residential buildings above them, so the shapes of their spaces probably coincided with the shape of these buildings, which disappeared with the design of houses and streets in Split in the Middle Ages. They were probably also used for storage, perhaps dungeon space.

Through their middle, as part of the main cardino (Cardo maximus) of Diocletian's Palace, the corridor that crosses from Pločata Sv. Dujma ("Peristyle") leads to the exit on the Riva, the so-called porta aenea (Brass Gate), the port gate of the former Palace, and which divides them into eastern and western parts. Along their southern side, along the walls of the Palace, there is a wide codnik from which access to certain areas of the Cellar.

In time they were almost completely overwhelmed, but the awareness of their existence in Split existed permanently (the old Split name for them is "Grote") and, with awe and piety, they were considered dungeons in which Emperor Diocletian tortured Christians. However, some more enterprising citizens of Split who had houses above them sometimes broke through their vaults and rearranged them into their own storage and basement spaces.

Their excavation began in the 19th century, and had its greatest momentum in the 1950s. to this day they are mostly discovered. The western part of the Cellar is completely preserved and is almost completely accessible for sightseeing. Their eastern part partially collapsed during the Middle Ages, but most of it is now discovered and accessible to the public, although much more valuable, medieval and later buildings and streets of the city, along with the old monastery and church of Sv. Clare, who were at the site of the collapse and in its vicinity.

What should perhaps be considered the true value of the Cellar and what makes Split unique in the world, is the fact that above their impressive, monumental spaces, for almost a thousand and a half years, is the living tissue of the city, streets and houses of Split.

Basements are used today as attractive fairs and exhibition spaces.