A Brief Overview of the Diokletian's Palace in Split, Croatia

The Emperor Diocletian

In the 4th century, there lived an ambitious Roman centurion originally named Diokles (DEE-Oh-Klees). He had his eye on the throne. An Iliriyan of humble birth, he was promoted from soldier, to eventually head of the cavalry division.

A fortune teller told him that he would become emperor of the Roman Empire when he killed a boar. After killing boar after boar, he did not become Emperor. In September of 284, there is a good chance that he was involved in the assassination of his predecessor Emperor because later he commented "at last I killed the fatal boar".

At the Roman settlement Aspalathos, shortened to Spalatos, later becoming SPLIT. It was named after the multipurpose broom brush, he decided upon Split as the ideal location for his Palace. It was actually a retirement home, since he ruled from Nikomedia in modern day Turkey.

The Palace in Ancient Times

Each quarter of the rectangle had a distinctive function.  The seaside was residential and commercial, the northern block was divided between the military and a clothing factory where the Emperor's purple robes were manufactured.
Each quarter of the rectangle had a distinctive function. The seaside was residential and commercial, the northern block was divided between the military and a clothing factory where the Emperor's purple robes were manufactured.

The Eastern Half of the Roman Empire

Nicomedia (or Nikomedija) was the eastern seat of the Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D.  From there the Diocletian ruled Africa, Asia and Asia Minor.  A fortified city, its ruins are in modern day Turkey near the city of Izmit.
Nicomedia (or Nikomedija) was the eastern seat of the Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D. From there the Diocletian ruled Africa, Asia and Asia Minor. A fortified city, its ruins are in modern day Turkey near the city of Izmit.
This yellow flower is used to make a reddish colored oil and dye.  The reeds of the flower are soaked in water into tiny strands which are used to make rope and weave sacks.
This yellow flower is used to make a reddish colored oil and dye. The reeds of the flower are soaked in water into tiny strands which are used to make rope and weave sacks.

An Important Water Source

Sulfur for the Bath Houses

In those days, the thermal bath house was the focal point of society, like today's coffee house or cocktail bar. Within the bath house were reading rooms, library and other social meeting places. There was the cycle of hot water, cold water, wet steam and dry steam, much like today.

The palace was built on the shores of the Adriatic in the modern day Split harbor. most likely chosen because of the high degree of sulfur in the water. The sulfur purified the water and provided the healing, theraputic water that was needed for the thermal bath houses on the eastern side of the Palace.

To this day, a sulfur bath house of sorts is located on one of the main streets, Marmont Avenue (Marmonova), which is named after the French general who lived in Dalmatia in the early 19th century. This "toplica" or bath house was a place for sauna and spa therapy in a beautiful old building built in the early 20th century in Secession style, an early forerunner to Art Deco. Marmontova Ulica (Marmont Avenue) lies beyond the western wall of the Palace, since the city outgrew the Palace walls in the Middle Ages.

Water for the city inhabitants and the Clothing Factory

Water was brought from the hills beyond the city walls. It was first pumped from the mountains at a rate of 1,100,000 m3 per day, enough to support a settlement of 170,000 people.

The water came into Split for the army and inhabitants of the Palace. The water also served a processing need in the clothing factory, requiring a great deal of water. A reinforced and improved version of the original aqueduct that the Diokletian built is still being used to this day.

Split Croatia and its location in Dalmatia

The Vestibule

Until the 16th century, traces of the Diocletian's mosaic could still be seen on the walls of the vestibule, located behind the Peristil.  There is an open air entrance in the center.
Until the 16th century, traces of the Diocletian's mosaic could still be seen on the walls of the vestibule, located behind the Peristil. There is an open air entrance in the center.

Twenty Year Construction that never completely ended

The palace began construction nearly the moment that the Diocletian became Emperor. Considering the formidable task required - build a Palace, two substructures, two upper levels - a Mausoleum, Army headquarters, Clothing factory... it was definitely "Mission Impossible", but the goal was realized. In 305 the Diocletian abdicated, retiring into its walls forever. However, the Palace was never fully completed. The city and the Palace continue to evolve in the past 1700 years. Late Antique architecture (which is basically categorized as beginning with the Diocletian), followed by early Christian / early Romanesque from the 5th to 10th centuries, Old Croatian (from the 9th century onwards) architecture are present, as well as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Secessionist, and more. New additions, modifications, and improvements in the styles of 1700 years can all be found within the parameters of the city.

On the Money

On the back side of the 500 Croatian Kuna note is a picture of the Ancient Diocletian's Palace.  Built in 300 A.D., it was patterned after a Roman army camp with two main roads intersecting in the middle, four sections and sixteen towers.
On the back side of the 500 Croatian Kuna note is a picture of the Ancient Diocletian's Palace. Built in 300 A.D., it was patterned after a Roman army camp with two main roads intersecting in the middle, four sections and sixteen towers.

The Peristil at night / First Ruler

The arch in the center is the entrance to the Vestibule.  Here, the Diocletian would emerge to greet his public.  What a spectacle!
The arch in the center is the entrance to the Vestibule. Here, the Diocletian would emerge to greet his public. What a spectacle!
The first symbol in Europe of a Ruler, who may have been Prince Krešimir or another early Croatian king.  It can be found in the Temple of Jupiter on the Peristil.
The first symbol in Europe of a Ruler, who may have been Prince KreŇ°imir or another early Croatian king. It can be found in the Temple of Jupiter on the Peristil.

The Peristil

The Pearl of the palace is the Peristil, which is named after the encirclement of columns around an open pavilion. These columns were both pale and rose colored granite and imported from Egypt. Along with the 200 columns arrived several dark colored sphinxes, also from Egypt. One lies before the entrance to the Split Cathedral and another before the entrance to Jupiter's Temple.

The Peristil was the grand stage of the Diocletian, who was referred to as the Son of Jupiter. When he arrived "on stage" at the Peristil, which was a little like his personal living room, the crowd roared and bowed down prostate before him.

On the eastern side of the Peristil was the Diocletian's Mausoleum, which was later converted into the Split Cathedral known as Sveti Duje (named after the Patron Saint of Split). On the western side of the Peristil is the Temple of Jupiter, as well as two other unfinished temples, presumed to be the temple of Venus, goddess of love, and of Cybelia, the goddess of fertility.

Located within Jupiter's Hram is a stone carving of the first depiction of a king in all of Europe. Historians say it could be Petar KreŇ°imir. It is from the 9th century - the first, and oldest of its type - a true cultural treasure.

Sveti Duje - Split's Cathedral

In front of the octagonal shaped cathedral, which was once the Emperor's mausoleum, is the open air court (the Peristil) used for festivals, events and constant traffic of tourists and locals.  The Christian cathedral is among the oldest in the world
In front of the octagonal shaped cathedral, which was once the Emperor's mausoleum, is the open air court (the Peristil) used for festivals, events and constant traffic of tourists and locals. The Christian cathedral is among the oldest in the world

Cathedral Sveti Duje

The former Mausoleum of the Diocletian became the oldest Christian church known in Europe after the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It is small but culturally explosive. Three altars for two deceased saints in the Split area - Saints Dominus and Anastasia (from Salona) were persecuted and killed by the Diocletian around 304 A.D. These two are the patron saints of Split. With Romanesque styled bell tower, artistic stone carved lions, the Mausoleum turned Cathedral is characteristic of Split - a pagan turned Christian cultural mecca.

The Bell Tower of Sveti Dominus

Imposing high and visible from ever aspect of the city is the impressive bell tower (Zvonik) of Sveti Duje. Its deep ding donging nearly shake the city walls. It is both beautiful and impressive looking. Visitors can climb up into its towers to get a beautiful view of the city and the Adriatic sea, looking out over the islands in the distance.

Ancient marble relic

The Diocletian's own serving platter, unearthed in the substructure. From carved marble, it is 1700 years old.
The Diocletian's own serving platter, unearthed in the substructure. From carved marble, it is 1700 years old.

Beautiful Scenic and Cultural Croatia (Hrvatska)

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Comments 13 comments

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

Really awesome stuff! I love the Roman's feats of engineering. Thanks for putting all this information together and sharing it. Voted up and interesting.


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 4 years ago from West Virginia

Loved the story, history and pictures. A great hub.


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Thanks, Natasha! Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the votes :) I did have to dig a little for some of those photos, but it was worth it - many people don't know about this Palace.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

This is just amazing--I love the photos, the links and the history. You've just given me a wonderful " armchair tour" which really makes me want to visit for real. Thanks and thumbs up.


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Thanks Lady Guinevere, love your name, btw. Thanks for stopping by! When people comment then I know I succeeded in making it good :) Best regards, ECAL


Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

What a great overview of Diocletian and his palace! In all my history, art, and architecture classes, we never really covered the late emperors, so this was very interesting to me.


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

He was kind of interesting because he wasn't a Roman but an Illiric, you could say he was a minority. He also had a humble family upbringing. Although he gets a bad rap for his persecution against the Christian faith, he was also very progressive, organized and frugal in a time of excessive waste and corruption.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

I had never heard about this Diokletians Palace before. I learn much about the history of this palace. Thanks for share with us. You have done a great job by writing this information. Voted up and useful!

Prasetio


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Thanks again, Prasetio. If you want to learn more details about the Palace, there are links to follow. Each has its own history, since the Palace is 1700 years old (it has seen a lot in its day)! Amazingly enough it still looks sturdy and impressive. With a Mediterranean climate, it has visitors year round from all over the world. Best regards, Ecal


nArchuleta profile image

nArchuleta 3 years ago from Denver, Colorado

Fabulous. I minored in Balkan history, but I'd forgotten a lot of what you've publisehd here. Split is my paradise -- when I'm there, I just love wandering around the palace, soaking in its beauty. I can do (and have done) that for hours. Thanks for the memories! Very well-written.


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 3 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Hi nArchuleta! Thank you for the kind words. Just as an FYI, the word Balkan is a Turkish one meaning mountain. People here hate the word (just like people from San Francisco hate being called Frisco Babies, lol). Anyway, really happy you stopped by and thanks for the follow, too! Anastasia


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 22 months ago from Ontario, Canada

How interesting. One day, I want to visit this palace and enjoy everything you have described here.


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 20 months ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Come and visit...

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