The Royal Side of Split

The historical core of Split is a crazy maze of winding lanes and a chaotic jumble of architectural styles.

It all started with one man’s plans to build a retirement home…


Gaias Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus is thought to have been born near Salona (present-day Solin, 4 miles from Split). He rose through the ranks of the army to become Roman Emperor from 284 to 305.

Diocletian was liked well enough not to be assassinated which is why he was the first Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate and retire. He returned to the land of his birth to build a retirement palace on the Adriatic shoreline.

The eastern or Silver Gate.

Looking out the northern or Golden Gate, the main entrance to the Palace.

Looking at the Golden Gate and northern wall. The niches would have held statues of Jupiter and the four members of the Tetrarchy. The fact that there were large window openings on the exterior wall demonstrates that it was a palace rather than a defensive fort.

This is the original inner Northern gate. The Cardo, or wide north-south main thoroughfare would have led to the central court, called the Peristile. The narrow allies and chaotic street plan are due to centuries of construction within the walls.

Because the ground sloped to the sea, a large substructure foundation was constructed over which the emperor’s private living quarters were built to provide an unobstructed ocean view, cooling sea breezes, and a private verandah the length of the southern wall.

This large open area is from bomb damage suffered in WWII. The subsequent excavation revealed architectural discoveries from the imperial quarters pictured in the following two photo collages.

I am on a roof terrace looking into the collapsed domed ceiling of the vestibule to the emperor’s private quarters. It is currently undergoing restoration.

The original paved Decumanus leading East to West from the eastern gate to the Peristyle.

The Peristyle lined with pillars “borrowed” from Egypt. Because a Roman emeror was worshipped as a god, he would stand at the balcony and visitors would prostrate themselves in the courtyard.

Numerous 3500-year-old granite Sphinxes and pillars imported from Egypt are the oldest relics of the palace. This is the last surviving mostly-complete Sphinx.

This is the western wall of the Peristyle. Here one sees the “newer” construction around and behind the original Egyptian columns and facade.

On the east side of the Peristyle Diocletian built his own masoleum, an octagonal plan with corinthian columns. Many of these columns are originals from the 3rd century.

After the palace was abandoned by the Romans, it remained empty until the 6th and 7th centuries when Salona was invaded by Slavs and Croats and refugees settled in the remains of Diocletian’s palace. Over the centuries, a city was built within the palace walls reusing its masonry. 

 

Split is a UNESCO World Heritage City.

It is a ‘living museum.” This cafe is on the southern wall of Diocletian’s Palace.

Cafes, restaurants, shops, churches, hotels, banks and homes occupy space within the old palace complex.

Ancient Split is a fun city to explore.

Diocletian presided over Imperial Rome’s last, and greatest persecution of Christians. It is ironic that Diocletian’s own octagonal mausoleum was later consecrated as the Cathedral of St. Dominus (Sveti Dujam) in honor of the bishop of Salona, who was martyred on Diocletian’s orders – and that the emperor’s own sarcophagus was discarded in the palace basement.

Saint Dominus Cathedral was consecrated in the 7th-century and is considered to be one of the world’s oldest cathedrals due to it being established in a 3rd-century building (masoleum).

The 196′ high bell tower took over 300 years to build beginning in the 13th century and is a mix of several different architectural styles.

The wooden scaffolding in this alley helps these two buildings remain upright.

Old and new in Diocletian’s palace. How novel to stay in a hotel within the palace complex.

Through the centuries the basement was filled with refuse and sewage. It was discovered to be well preserved once it was excavated and is considered to exactly mirror the floor plan of the Imperial apartments above. The day I visited there was a modern art exposition displayed in the space.

Because of the excellent condition of the substructure, Diocletian’s Palace is the world’s most complete Roman palace.


 

For the last 4 weeks I’ve been walking through the narrow winding alleys of Split, each time discovering something new and interesting. This week I decided to take the Split Walking Tour because a good guide can bring a place to life! It was great. Our guide, Darko revealed additional fascinating details and information.

Foody Fact: On tour I learned that capers are flower buds harvested and processed from the Capparis Spinosa plant (also called Flinders Rose) which grows all over the walls of Diocletian’s Palace.

How did the city come to be called Split? It’s named after a wiry, yellow flowered plant called Broom which the Greeks called Aspalathos and which the Romans corrupted to Spalatum which eventually evolved to Split.

And that completes our tour of Split both inside and outside the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. (The previous post is a tour outside the walls.)

The sun was shining brightly on our last day in Split so we enjoyed one final coffee on the Riva. We would have liked to stay longer.

We’ve been on the road again touring The Balkans. We stayed two nights in Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina and are currently in another walled city – Kotor, Montenegro. 

I have many more great photos and fascinating stories to tell next time, when I…   Meet You in the Morning!

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