Diocletian's Palace

Diocletian's Palace is an ancient palace located in Split, Croatia, built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 4th century AD, and regarded as one of the best-preserved examples of ancient Roman architecture in the world.

It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and today is one of Croatia's most popular tourist destinations, attracting visitors from all over the world.

In this blog post, we will give an overview of the history of the Diocletian's Palace, its unique architecture and design, and provide suggestions on how to make the most of your visit to this marvelous place. Let's dive into Roman times!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

    HISTORY OF DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE

    Overview of Diocletian's life and reign

    Diocletian was a Roman Emperor who ruled from 284 AD to 305 AD. Born to an illyric family in the Roman province of Dalmatia, in the vicinity of the ancient city of Salona, he joined the roman military and over the years rose to prominence through the military ranks and eventually became one of the most powerful emperors in Roman history.

    Diocletian is known for his extensive reforms and administrative reorganization of the Roman Empire. He divided the empire into four administrative regions while executing military and economic reforms to help maintain the stability of the empire. Diocletian's reign marked a significant turning point in Roman history while his reforms and administrative changes continued to have a lasting impact on the empire even in the years following his death.

    Despite his firm rule, Diocletian was forced to abdicate from the throne in the year 305 AD due to health issues. He chose to retire to his imperial palace in Split, Croatia, where he lived for the rest of his life.

    The construction and purpose of the palace

    The palace was constructed as a retirement home for Diocletian and was intended to be a luxurious and fortified complex with apartments, public spaces, and a large central courtyard. He encouraged large infrastructural projects such as the construction of residential palaces or public baths in Rome. This was of utmost importance for his monetary reform and it symbolized might and authority.

    Focus on Diocletian's palace in the bronze model of Split.

    It is believed that Diocletian gave the order for the building of the palace in 295 AD. This was one of the greatest construction projects at that time involving a great number of workers, stonemasons, and artists necessary to build such a magnificent palace. Stone, the most important construction material, was brought from local stone quarries in Seget and Brač, on the other hand, materials such as marble or elements such as columns were transported from all over the empire, mostly from Egypt. Diocletian had over 200 columns and 12 sphinxes brought from Egypt to decorate the palace after having suppressed the Egyptian uprising in 297 AD. The residence was built in 305 AD just at the time of his retirement.

    Transformation of the palace into a city

    After Diocletian died in 316 AD, the palace remained the property of the Roman Empire serving as a residential palace of roman emperors. Julius Nepot was the last legal Roman emperor to have resided in the palace after his unlawful overthrow in 475 AD.

    As the Roman Empire was on its downward spiral, having been split into two parts, many barbaric tribes started to invade the territory of the empire from the north including Avars and Slavs. They reached the city of Salona in the vicinity of the Diocletian’s palace forcing the residents of Salona to flee to the palace and the nearby islands in search of safety.

    Diocletian’s palace took over urban life in this area with its new inhabitants starting to make modifications and transforming the palace into a medieval city. Ever since that event, the palace has been inhabited continuously and the city was expanding outside of the palace walls.

    ARCHITECTURE OF THE PALACE

    Overview of the palace's architectural style

    The palace was built as a combination of a Roman military camp and a luxurious villa, a fortified complex the size of a military camp including apartments, public spaces, and a large central courtyard. It is one of the most important pieces of late antiquity architecture and one of the first examples in history. This type of architecture was used to construct medieval castles all over Europe for centuries to come.

    Description of the palace's layout and main features

    Diocletian's Palace is a large and sprawling rectangularly shaped complex covering an area of approximately 30,000 square meters.

    Three land-side walls of the palace were built in military style with defensive towers, high walls, and three double gates, while the seaside was without towers serving as a dock on the ground floor with a south entrance to the basement halls and a facade of the emperor’s luxurious residence on the first floor. There were 16 towers in total but only three corner towers were preserved until this day. All three gates had double doors with an inner court which served for defense purposes in case of an attack. In the 16th century, gates were named Golden (north), Iron (west), Silver (east), and Bronze (south) gates.

    Northern gates of the Diocletian’s palace from outside the palace.

    The palace is divided by two intersecting streets splitting the palace into four parts with a large courtyard called Peristyle in its heart. Southern sections were residential chambers of the emperor while the northern sections had facilities used to accommodate the emperor's guard, slaves, and livestock.

    The central square of the palace is a large open space surrounded by columns and covered with a barrel-vaulted roof with a beautiful south facade called Protiron. This was the hub of the palace and was used for public gatherings and religious ceremonies worshiping the emperor, who proclaimed himself a son of Jupiter. On the eastern side of the Peristyle was the Diocletian’s mausoleum, now transformed into the cathedral of Saint Domnius. On the western side of the yard were two smaller temples and a bigger one dedicated to Jupiter. The only one preserved today is Jupiter's temple which served as a baptistery during medieval times. 

    If you go through the doors of the Protiron you are entering the Emperor’s residence through the Vestibule which served as the entrance hall. It’s a round-shaped building with semicircular niches where sculptures were standing. Behind the Vestibule, one would step inside Diocletian’s residence with more than 50 different chambers and rooms. Moreover, a dining chamber and thermal baths were located in the eastern part of the residence, and two huge chambers that probably served as the official emperor's protocol chambers could be found in the western part. A huge promenade was located along the southern wall composed of 42 openings with arches and loggias offering a stunning view of the sea and the islands.

    Round shape ancient building with an open circle top called Vestibul.

    Substructions under the Diocletian’s residence, are basement halls that at some point were used as storage rooms ideal for keeping food, oil, wine, and weapons. You can access the basement halls from Peristyle or the dock on the southern walls. The preserved condition of the basement halls and its ground plan made the reconstruction of Diocletian's residence possible.

    Throughout the palace, there are also many impressive architectural features, such as intricate carvings, decorative reliefs, and marble statues such as the sphinx on the Peristyle square. These features, combined with the palace's overall design, make Diocletian's Palace a unique and impressive architectural feat that has stood the test of time.

    EXPLORING DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE TODAY

    Diocletian's Palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Croatia, attracting visitors from all over the world. The palace is located in the heart of Split, and it's the central and integral part of today’s old town. The Old Town also includes parts outside of the palace walls built during medieval times of Venetian rule over Split and both together form an impressive historical complex listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The preservation of the palace and the old town has helped maintain the cultural heritage of the city of Split, and it continues to play an important role in the city's identity.

    As a tourist attraction, Diocletian's Palace offers visitors a unique blend of history and culture, as it combines the ancient ruins of a Roman palace with the modern city of Split. It provides a unique insight into the life of a Roman emperor and serves as a testament to the impressive architectural and engineering skills of the time.

    Visitors can wander the palace's well-preserved walls, doors, halls, and courtyards, admire its impressive architectural features, and visit its religious structures, such as the Temple of Jupiter and the Mausoleum of Diocletian, today’s cathedral of Saint Domnius. Entrance to the palace is free of charge but some sites require entrance fees such as the basement halls and cathedral of Saint Domnius.

    Here is the list of sites you definitely must see in the palace:

    • Peristyle
    • Vestibule
    • Jupiter’s Temple
    • basement halls
    • cathedral of Saint Domnius
    • northern and western gates

    In addition to its historical significance, Diocletian's Palace is also a bustling hub of activity, with a variety of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, and museums located within its walls. Two museums that are located within the palace walls are the Museum of the city of Split and the Ethnographic museum. You can also climb to two viewpoints, the bell tower and the roof of the Vestibule. Visitors can enjoy traditional Croatian cuisine in many restaurants and shop for souvenirs on almost every corner while exploring the palace, making it an ideal destination for both history buffs and travelers looking for a unique cultural experience.

    Overall, Diocletian's Palace is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Split or the Dalmatian coast. Its combination of history, culture and modern-day amenities make it truly unique and unforgettable.

    Now it’s up to you to explore it!