Ruins are by definition decayed, neglected and abandoned structures. But not in Split. A closer look at Croatia’s second largest city reveals a very unusual scene. Here, life goes on in an ancient Roman palace that has been standing for almost 1700 years. The surviving façade of the palace that overlooks Split’s waterfront bursts with life and local color.
Where is Diocletian’s Palace?
Diocletian’s Palace is the centerpiece of Split, the very place where the city was born. The Roman emperor wanted to spent the last years of his life closer to his birthplace, Salona, so he built a huge walled complex that included streets, reception rooms, a temple, a bath house and extensive gardens. Diocletian spared no expense, importing marble from Italy and Greece and sphinxes from Egypt. The palace complex was of vast proportions covering an area of 7 acres.
The walls on the Adriatic side were 72 feet (22 meters) high and 7 feet (2 meters) thick. The fortress had 16 towers (of which only 3 remain) and 4 gates: Porta Aurea (Golden Gate), Porta Argentea (Silver Gate), Porta Ferrea (Iron Gate), and Porta Aenea (Bronze Gate). The Golden Gate (Porta Aurea) was the main entrance to the palace which the emperor used when he entered his new home for the first time in June, 305 AD, after his abdication.
About Diocletian’s Palace in Split
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the refugees fleeing the destruction of nearby Salona (the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia) transformed the palace into a town. Over the centuries the original palace suffered many alterations that gave the structure a fascinating allure.
At the heart of the palace is the Perystile – a monumental courtyard where the Emperor used to entertain his guests. From the Perystile there is a flight of stairs that takes you to a vast network of underground vaults. This is where the prisons and torture chambers where and where Diocletian used to persecute the Christians.
Diocletian’s Palace Today
Today some of these vaults are a bazaar where you can buy local crafts and souvenirs. On the other side of the Perystile is the Cathedral of St. Domnius. The cathedral which was originally built as Diocletian’s tomb, was later transformed into a Catholic church and serves today as the seat of the Archdiocese of Split. The cathedral bears the name of the Bishop who was decapitated by Diocletian in the city’s amphitheater.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christians went on to rededicate and demolish more of Diocletian’s constructions. The Cathedral’s crypt has become a shrine for St.Lucia, also martyred by Diocletian; also, only one of the Emperor’s collection of Egyptian sphynxes remains un-beheaded today.
Why You Should Visit Diocletian’s Palace
Diocletian’s Palace is a intricate mixture of ruins, an interesting combination of ancient history and modern life. A UNESCO Heritage Site since 1979, the Palace is the only ruin in the world where people still live. Within its white stone walls there are not only vestiges of an ancient civilization, but also numerous shops, bars, cafes, hotels and houses. The old Palace is living heart of Split.
Agness of eTramping
Split seems so charming and a great travel destination! The palace is stunning! How would you recommend exploring the city, car/on foot or maybe bike?
Old Town Split can only be visited by foot. It’s a pedestrian area. I haven’t seen anybody biking on those narrow alleys. However, there is plenty of space for biking outside Diocletian’s Palace, perhaps to the beaches or other areas in town.
Oh I LOVED Split! But it looks like we missed the Perystile! But I definitely want to go back one day and take my mom!
The Perystile was right in front of Diocletian’s Mausoleum. How could you have missed it?
Fabulous photos! Croatia is at the very top of my new destinations list!
Wow, really hard to comprehend how old the palace is! It really makes for a unique setting and great pictures. Looks like they have done a great job incorporating the ruins into the current day life.
It is really old indeed, Anisa.
Sally's Tips 4 Trips (aka Toddlers on Tour)
My partner and my first overseas holiday together was to Croatia, with the first stop in Split. You brought back some lovely memories of these sea side port.
Birgit | Groove Is In The Heart
So much history! It’s fascinating how such an ancient palace became the centre of modern day Split. I hope to visit this wonderful city in the near future…
I love the article. We have just completed the planning for our road trip from the UK to Croatia, and Split was one of the obvious destinations along the way. This piece has painted a picture of a place I am keen to explore, with interest in the Roman, and Post-Roman history of this city.
Thank you, Gary. I’d love to read about your experiences in Croatia. I loved visiting this country.
I absolutely adored the Diocletian’s Palace when I was in Split. It’s not a palace that has a doorway and an entree fee, you just find yourself standing in the middle of it and getting lost in it. Absolutely brilliant. You took some amazing pics!
Indeed it is, Esther. A very unique kind of “palace,” more like a fortress in my opinion.
Ruth | Tanama Tales
Oh Anda, I am a fan of Roman ruins. Therefore, I would love to visit this place in Croatia. To me, they do not look like ruins at all. So, it would feel a bit surreal that you are walking around an actual historical place. So awesome! #TheWeeklyPostcard
Hope you’ll make it to Split, Ruth. Croatia is an absolute “must” in my opinion.
Michelle | michwanderlust
A fascinating insight into the history of these remarkable ruins. It sounds like a truly unique place to visit! So glad that it’s still lived-in. So many ruins have that very “dead” atmosphere. Such a pity about the destruction of so many artifacts though. Humanity is way too keen on destruction in my opinion!
I agree, Michelle. There are so many great ruins in the world that have totally been abandoned.
Simply gorgeous! The juxtaposition of ancient and modern is interesting and inspiring. I would love to be sipping wine and people watching under the cnopies at this sun-kissed ancient palace.
This seems to be the ultimate in recycling. I’ve always wondered why so many huge ancient structures were abandoned instead of being repurposed. In this case, a palace fit for a king is also fit for the “commoner”.
You are right, Rhonda. The palace is a bewildering combination of old and new which I am not sure if I should like. It is however very interesting.
Split is so lovely!! Croatia was our first trip together and through your pictures I’m getting back some memories 🙂
Diocletian’s Palace looks fascinating. Full of history, but alive with modern day life. I love all the stone work and would love to be dining under those canopies in front of the facade.
The Riva (Split’s seaside promenade) is quite beautiful, Donna, and those cafés are indeed pleasant for dining.
annette @ A French Collection
I can’t help but notice the sense of juxtaposition in your stunning photos. Ancient stone walls and airconditioner; sphinx and camera laden tourists; crumbling facade and modern awnings – all highlighting the old and new.
Split is quite unique from this point of view, Annette. A living ruin.
We loved staying right inside the palace walls. It is such a vibrant, multi-faceted community with shops, restaurants, visitor accommodations and people’s homes. It hasn’t always been the nicest of neighborhoods. Our host told us his factory worker father had been given the flat, which the family has now converted to an inn, as a retirement gift by the communist government. The joke’s on them, though. It’s now a very pricey piece of real estate!
Hahaha! Quite a good joke, Betsy. We all know about the “gifts” of the communist governments. I’m sure though that any rat hole in Split must cost a lot of money nowadays.