Salona

roman ruins and archeological park

Before Diocletian's Palace and Split, there was an ancient city well known throughout the Roman Empire, Salona. The ancient Salona is situated on the delta of the river Jadro. The first inhabitants were the Illyrian tribe Delmati (3rd century BC), followed by Greek settlers (78 BC). In 48 BC, Caesar developed Salona as the Roman city and named it COLONIA MARTIA IVLIA SALONA. During the Roman Empire, Salona reached its architectural and economic growth. At the time of Diocletian's rule, Salona became the vastest Roman city on the east coast of the Adriatic and had a population of 60,000. In the 7th century, the city was attacked by Avars and Slavs. Residents fled to a shelter on neighboring islands, leaving Salona to decay. The beautiful Tusculum, built according to the country house of the Roman aristocracy in Tusculum, exists thanks to archeologist Monsignor Frane Bulić. Salona has the most important ruins near Split, Croatia.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

    LOCATION

    Salona is situated in the southern part of Croatia in the Jadro river valley  6 km north of Split. Nearby mountains such as Kozjak and Mosor provide natural protection from the inland. Favorable geographical position in the middle of the eastern Adriatic coast, proximity to islands, and good traffic connections have enabled the city to develop quickly and smoothly. The Jadro River brought a fresh water supply and positive economic development. The fertile fields, cattle breeding, and fishing enabled sufficient food production.

    HISTORY OF SALONA

    Salona has been an integral and essential part of the history of the Roman Empire and early Christianity for centuries. In pre-ancient times, proto-urban forms appeared on small hills. Later in antiquity, they transformed into urban centers. Salona did not survive the dramatic seventh century, and the urban development continued in another location, more precisely Split. 

    lIlyrian tribe Delmati defended Salona for almost 100 years and resisted the forces of the Roman army. When the Romans conquered Salona in 78 BC, it was populated with the local Illyrians, Greek settlers, and Italics, and now the Romans are also settling there. Salona was a very ethnically diverse area as many Roman cities. The honorary title of COLONIA MARTIA IVLIA SALONA was acquired by adhering to Caesar's side during the Roman Civil War. During the Pax Romana, after 9 AD, a time of prosperity followed for the Salona. The development of infrastructure and roads began, and the delivery of raw materials. Salona became the main center and port for Rome on the east coast of the Adriatic.

    During the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284-305), who built a nearby palace in Split, Salona gained in importance and became the vastest Roman city on the east coast of the Adriatic. An interesting fact is that Emperor Diocletian was born in 243 in the vicinity of Salona. Along with Jupiter as the main deity, the cults of Isis, Cybele, Mithras were created. In the middle of the 3rd century, a Christian community was developing. The urbanism of Salona changed with the spread of Christianity, especially after the Edict of Milan in 313. Christian buildings were created, moving the city center to the eastern part. Salona becomes a place of great Christian importance.

    The city was destroyed by the Avars and Slavs around 614. The surviving population, which managed to escape, took refuge on the nearby islands and in Diocletian's Palace. Here began the life of a new city, today's Split.

    Architecture

    The old town or Urbs Vetus was trapezoidal, surrounded by walls and towers, with streets Cardo (north-south) and Decumanus (east-west). The city center or the Forum is the place of all events. From the 1st century, the city spreads east and west beyond the walls. Salona is further fortified after the attack of Germanic tribes. While the old part is well planned, later extensions follow the terrain configuration more. On-site, you can find the city gates of Porta Caesarea, the Forum, the theater, the Amphitheater, the thermal baths, and other exemplars of the great Roman city. The longest axis reaches about 1,600 meters, and the widest is about 700 meters. The walled area is 72 hectares. The extent of the walls reaches about 4 kilometers, and the number of towers is up to 90.

    Remarkably, the first period of Salona was a Illyrian settlement. Remains of ramparts and objects of Greek origin found in Salona and its surroundings point that the Greeks were the inhabitants of this city as well. To this extent, Salona Split has remained in ruins, of which only a part has been well explored. However, even these parts deliver enough for us about their size and significance.

    Manastirine and Tusculum

    The Manastirine site is outside the ancient Salona, north of the city. The site has the remains of a basilica and a cemetery. Remains here were found that date back from the 2nd century B.C. Bishop of Salonta Domino, who died a martyr’s death in the Salonitan Amphitheater on April 10, 304, was buried in Manastirine, and over his grave, a memorial chapel was built. The proximity of the tombs of other Christians to the tomb of the martyr Domino was important for religious beliefs (ad sanctos). In the 5th century, a basilica was built around the chapel. This large Early Christian open-air cemetery, sub divo, displays many sarcophagi which present remarkable artistry and craftsmanship. 

    Ancient sarcophagis and columns at Manastirine cemetery and Tusculum house in the background.
    Ancient sarcophagis and columns at Manastirine cemetery and Tusculum house in the background.

    Tusculum is a building erected in 1898 for Msgr. Frane Bulić, as a base for his research on Salona. He is the father of Croatian archeology and was the director of the Archaeological Museum in Split. Tusculum is located near the Manastirine and was built according to the summer houses of the Roman aristocracy. The interior of the Tusculum is beautiful, especially the Drawing Room where Bulić received visitors. Danish architect Ejnar Dyggve also lived in Tusculum when he explored Salona.

    City walls & Aqueduct

    The construction of the Salonitan city walls took several centuries. In the 2nd century B.C. old part of the city, Urbs vetus, was fortified by massive stone blocks, preserved around Porta Caesarea. During the Pax Romana (from the 1st century A.D.) Salona spread beyond the limits of its walls. The new suburbs on the west and east side were surrounded by walls and fortified with 90 towers. The wall stretched from the amphitheater in the west to the new city gate in the east, Porta Andetria. The wall's circumference was approximately 4,080 m. In the 6th century, walls were repaired to improve security and defense. Aquaeductus, a great water-supply mechanism, and 3850 meters long, was partially built into the walls to ensure the water supply to Salona. Porta Caesarea served as a place where water flowed through canals to supply the old part of the city. The aqueduct was enough to supply enough water for about 40,000 people.

    Episcopal Centre

    The Early Christian center in Salona was built in the 5th century A.D. The remains of Episcopal Centre consisted of twin longitudinal basilicas, a baptistery, and a bishop’s palace in the northwest part of the eastern city extension. Oratorium A is in the northern corner of the Episcopal Center. It is the oldest Salonitan church and the place where Christians secretly gathered for prayer before 313 A.D. In the cross-shaped basilica, in the south, Archbishop Honorius convened two church councils. All the Dalmatian bishops in 530 and 533 gathered in the Salonitan Episcopal Center.

    Ancient stone ruins in the shape of a church representing old basilica.
    Ancient stone ruins in the shape of a church representing old basilica.

    Porta Caesarea & Bridge of five arches

    Porta Caesarea, the eastern city gate, was built from massive stone blocks in the opus quadratum technique during the reign of Emperor Augustus. On each side, the gate had octagonal towers which had fortification purposes. Porta Caesarea had three entrances, one narrow side aisle for pedestrians and a middle one for carts. The gate had two floors. The upper floor was for guards. In the 4th century, an arch was carved with a relief depiction of Tyche Salonitana, a woman with a crown on her head, holding a flag with the city initials MARTIA IVLIA VALERIA SALONA FELIX. Part of the aqueduct was at Porta Caesarea, where water would flow and enter the canal network to the old part of the city (Urbs vetus).

    A bridge with five arches was erected in the eastern suburbs of Salona in the 1st century B.C. above the backwater of Jadro. The bridge was supported by a huge pillar and was significant for traffic. The road passed through Porta Caesarea and branched into two lanes, one towards Porta Andetria and the hinterland, and the other over the bridge leading in the direction of Epetium (Stobreč) and the Adriatic coast.

    Temple & Theater

    The theater was built in the middle of the 1st century A.D., which testifies to a high level of cultural and advanced civilization development. In the Roman world, with its dimensions (65 x 58 m), it was a medium-sized building. The theater had two seats that could accommodate about 3,000 spectators. In front of the auditorium was an orchestra with seats for upper-class citizens. They had a great view of the podium where the theatrical performance took place. Near the theater, located on the south side, was a temple dedicated to either the god Dionysus or Liber.

    The Amphitheatre

    The remains of the amphitheatre built in the second half of the 2nd century are located in the northwestern part of the ancient Salona. The amphitheatre had an ellipsoidal shape measuring 125 x 100 meters. The gladiatorial fights that took place there could be watched by 17,000 spectators. 

    The auditorium was divided into three floors. It seems that area had a canvas to cover in case of rain or hot sun. Seats for the Province governor were on the south side of the auditorium, and seats for city judges were on the opposite side. The main entrances, portae pompae, to the east and west were for the fighters. On the south side below the auditorium were two rooms where gladiators worshiped Nemesis, the goddess of revenge and destiny. 

    View over the remains of the ancient amphitheater built in ellipsoidal shape.
    View over the remains of the ancient amphitheater built in ellipsoidal shape.

    In April 304 A.D. during Diocletian's persecution of Christians, Bishop Domino, the priest Asterius and four Praetorian Guards were executed in the amphitheatre. 

    The Venetians had the amphitheatre demolished in the 17th century for strategic reasons during wars with the Turks. Only parts of the monumental building have been preserved.

    City necropolises

    Roman law forbade the burial of the dead within the city walls. Therefore, the areas around Salona served as burials where necropolises formed along the roads. The north necropolis is the ground for the best known Salonitan martyr cemeteries, Kapljuč, Manastirine, and Marusinac.

    Marusinac

    Marusinac is a cemetery complex with two basilicas and a mausoleum. The Christian martyr Anastasius was buried in Marusinac. One of the basilicas, built in the mid-5th century, was dedicated to the memory of the martyrdom of St. Anastasius.

    Kapljuč

    Kapljuč is the oldest Salonitan cemetery basilica (The Five Martyrs Basilica). The basilica was dedicated to the priest Asterius and four Roman guards. East of Kapljuč is a small site known as the cemetery of 16 sarcophagi. Sarcophagi belonged to both pagans and Christians, and during the fall of Salona, they were broken and robbed.

    Ancient stone ruins of basilica at Kapljuc cemetery.
    Ancient stone ruins of basilica at Kapljuc cemetery.

    Present-day Salona - archaeological Park

    Discovered ruins of the Salona locality present a small part of the ancient city which used to be a metropolis in this part of the Adriatic Sea in the first centuries A.D. As a place of great historical importance, mainly discovered by Monsignor Frane Bulić in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Salona locality should have been better-taken care of and preserved. There have been no major investments in the last half-decade. Therefore, ancient tombs are overgrown with grass. The tasks for improving the site include the isolation of Manastirine and the city basilica complex from pedestrian traffic, fencing the excavations, regular conservation of old walls, and reconstruction of individual buildings. Locality Salona is under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Museum in Split, the oldest museum institution in Croatia.

    Furthermore, the development of the Salona Archaeological Site Management Plan, commissioned by the City of Solin, is underway, which seeks to introduce a new model of archaeological site management for better evaluation, presentation, and sustainable development of this cultural asset.

    FAQs

    You can get to Salona from Split with your car, taxi or a local bus.

    If you plan to go with your car, you should take one of the main roads heading out of the city in the direction of the airport. You will arrive on the big crossroads in Solin called Širina where you should take a right turn towards the city center of Solin. After 500 meters you will see a sign and a left turn in the direction of Salona.  On the left side stands hotel Salona Palace and a big parking lot where you can park your car.

    If you are planning to go to Salona with a bus, you should take the bus number 1 that goes from HNK (Croatian National Theater)  station and leave the bus  at the last bus station called Starine.

    Split Hinterland Tour

    Split Hinterland tour is a private tour that includes historical and natural sites on the slopes of Kozjak and Mosor mountains. Tour starts with the ancient Roman city of Salona and continues with Klis fortress that holds a breathtaking view and rich history. Ethno-agro park Stella Croatica brings perfect display for Dalmatian plant traditions and Vranjača cave, the best geomorphological phenomenon in Split area.

    Coastal Tour

    Coastal tour is a private tour from Split that takes you on a journey of Dalmatia. Archeological site of the ancient city of Salona, Vitturi castle in Kaštela and UNESCO city of Trogir are the main sites of this tour. With many facts and stories from your tour guide and monuments on-site, you’ll get an insight into the history of Dalmatia from its beginning till today.