Visiting the Diocletian Palace in Split is one the highlights and should not be missed when you visit the city. It is a fascinating place to explore. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site as it is one of the best-preserved monuments of Roman architecture in the world.
What’s the best part of the Diocletian Palace? If you are a Game of Thrones fan you will recognize many of the sites, especially those filmed inside the palace in series 5. But, seriously, there is so much more to see and enjoy.
Who was Diocletian?
He was a Dalmatian, who came from a modest background. He soon rose through the ranks of the Roman army. In November AD 284 he was chosen by the soldiers, to avenge the death of Numerian. Having accomplished this he was hailed emperor on 20 November AD 284 and assumed the name of Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletian as his Imperial title.
There are four gates, one in each wall named after a metal: Golden, Silver, Iron and Bronze that guard the entrance to the city. The Bronze gate leads from the basement of Diocletian’s Central Hall is now filled with souvenir stalls and takes you to the Riva. The gates are not around today, but the pillars and archways that held them are still there as a reminder of a bygone era. If you want more detailed information on the gates then this is a great guide.
Guide to visiting the Diocletian Palace
The Diocletian Palace was built as a military fortress as well as an imperial residence and fortified town. The palace is 215 metres from north to south and 180 metres wide covering an area of 38 700 square metres.
Building began in the 4th century and no expense was spared. The beautiful stone was transported from the island of Brač. Marble came from Italy and Greece and the columns and sphinxes from Egypt. The palace took around 10 years to complete.
Within the walls, there are numerous buildings and homes. It is a delight to wander through the maze of streets that are now filled with restaurants, trendy boutiques and apartments. I came across a couple of courtyards that were totally deserted. This is quite hard to believe when you consider that around 3000 people live within the walls of the palace.
Sphinx at Diocletian Palace Split
The vestibule was the entrance to the residential part of the palace and was used only for ambassadors and to impress people. There is a hole in the roof which I found rather strange, but the space is quite impressive. The vestibule has fantastic acoustics and there was a klapa (traditional Croatian version of cappella) group performing an impressive piece of music. I was so enthralled, sadly I did not record it, but I hunted down something suitable on YouTube. If you like this type of music you will really enjoy this clip. In 2012 klapa was included in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius
Originally built as Diocletian’s mausoleum the octagonal shaped building was converted into a church and consecrated at the turn of the 7th Century. This is somewhat ironic because Diocletian was known far and wide for his persecution of Christians.
It is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that is in use in its original structure. The structure itself was built in AD 305. The bell tower was added much later in the 12th century. If you are prepared for a climb the views are amazing.
The crypt below the cathedral is eerily quiet and quite chilly even on a hot day. It is now a chapel dedicated to Saint Lucy.
The Temple of Jupiter
The location of this temple was chosen specifically to show the connection between the emperor and Jupiter, the Roman god of thunder, heavens and king of the gods. The temple was much later converted into the baptistery of St. John and the crypt below became the church of St. Thomas. There is a striking modern bronze statue, by Ivan Meštrović, of St. John the Baptist placed probably where the statue of Jupiter stood.
Visiting the Diocletian Palace is magical at any time of the day, but if you are looking for solitude it is best to get there early in the morning before the crowds arrive. Split is charming and if you like old cities then this is a perfect place for you to spend a couple of days soaking up the atmosphere.
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