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Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia is a must-see! The Split palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most fascinating Croatia Roman ruins.
Palace Diocletian was built in the 4th century as a retirement seaside residence for the Roman Emperor, his family, servants and guards. The rectangular structure was two stories, fronted the sea and was built more like a fort than a palace.
Even though the Roman palace was abandoned and left in ruins, it remains one of the best preserved palaces of Late Antiquity. Exploring the Split, Croatia palace is one of the top things to do in Split.
History of Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia
Diocletian’s Palace – or Dioklecijanova Palača in Croatian – is the logical place to start exploring Split. It is, after all, the origin of what is now commonly referred to as the Split Old Town. Centuries of Split history are found inside the palace originally built by Emperor Diocletian.
Visitors who explore the Diocletian’s Palace UNESCO site can learn much about the history of Split, Croatia. However, it’s important to understand that while the basic structure of the palace still exists, it is no longer in complete form.
Diocletian Palace Split: A Timeline
Construction of the Dioklecijan Palace began in the year 298, after the emperor had successfully battled the Egyptians. The seaside location was chosen for its close proximity to Salona (now Solin).
Salona was the capital of the Roman Dalmatia Province where Diocletian was born. It is also believed that Diocletian specifically sought out the spot for the healing Sulphur water.
When Diocletian retired (or abdicated) in the year 305, he – along with his family, military and servants – moved into the Adriatic-facing palace. He lived there until his death in 311.
After he died, Diocletian’s Palace remained a part of the Roman Court, but it is thought that the palace was eventually abandoned.
The Split, Croatia palace was occupied again in the 7th century by Salona citizens seeking protection from the invading Slavs. The refugees turned the ruins of the Split castle into a city within itself.
Transformation of Diocletian’s Palace
Most of the structures and monuments within the palace were re-purposed: Diocletian’s mausoleum was converted into a cathedral and the basement halls were turned into a garbage dump. However, the outer walls and gates remained, as well as three of the Egyptian sphinxes that Roman Emperor Diocletian had used to decorate the palace.
There have been abundant changes to Diocletian’s Palace over the centuries resulting in a complete transformation of the historic lanes. By Medieval times, small churches, family palaces and residences were built inside the walls – and, today, shops, restaurants and tourist accommodations fill the space.
Yet, the original quadrant layout of the Roman emperor’s palace still exists, with gates – Brass Gate, Iron Gate, Golden Gate and Silver Gate – leading to the center Peristil (courtyard).
The Ancient Roman Palace of Diocletian Today
Fifty years ago, archaeologists began excavating the basement of the palace and, finding it to be impressively intact, have been able to put together more pieces of the past. With a better understanding of both of the palace and of the people who have lived in it, they were able to complete a Diocletian’s Palace reconstruction.
In 1979, Diocletian’s Palace was designated as an UNESCO Heritage site.
Palace of Diocletian Split: A Place for Locals and Tourists
However, even with the historic status, the inside of Diocletian’s Palace is a fantastic mix of locals and tourists.
In the mornings, a duo sings traditional songs for the tourists, but locals passing by will join in on their favorites. The sounds of their voices float down the alleys.
In the afternoons, kids play soccer in open courtyards and I can’t help but wonder how many other children have played in the same space over the centuries.
At night, locals and tourists can both be found at the cafes sipping drinks and in restaurants dining on Croatian fare.
Diocletian’s Palace Sights
One of the most fascinating aspects about the Diocletian’s Palace architecture is how much of it still stands. Regardless of the ample changes to the Split Old Town, many significant parts of the Roman ruins in Croatia remain.
Yet, it is important to understand that Diocletian’s Palace is not like Versailles in Paris or the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Those palaces are completely intact and well preserved. The Split palace has evolved with various parts of it torn down or built up – so much so that it has been integrated into the city landscape.
Therefore, the palace is open to the public – as what once were hallways are now alleyways and new housing structures were built in place of the grand palace rooms.
Diocletian’s Palace Tickets
There is no Diocletian’s Palace entrance fee. It is free to walk into the Split Peristyle, Diocletian’s Palace Vestibule and through palace gates. Also, there are no Diocletian’s Palace opening hours as the palace is public space. The best time to walk through the palace without fighting crowds, however, is late at night or early morning.
That being said, some of the specific sights within the palace do require a ticket. The ticketed sights are the Diocletian’s Palace Underground, Cathedral of Saint Domnius Treasury, Split Bell Tower and Split Jupiter Temple. Diocletian Palace tickets to the sights can be purchased in the Peristyle, either individually or in a money-saving bundle.
Diocletian’s Palace in Croatia is a fascinating historic site that should not be missed! While we do encourage wandering the streets inside the palace in Split, we recommend making it a point to seek out the following sights.
Peristyle Split, Croatia
Distinguishable by the monumental columns and arches, the Peristyle (also spelled Peristle Split) is the center of the palace. The Split Cathedral and bell tower stand on the east side. On the south side, above the stairs to the basement and behind the balcony (Prothyrum), is the Vestibule of the Emperor’s Quarters.
In his day, Diocletian would walk from his quarters, through the Vestibule to the Prothyrum and, in the courtyard below, his loyal subjects would bow to him. Today, the square buzzes with tourists and tour groups that filter in and out of the historic square.
“Gladiators” stand in the center and pose with tourists for photos (we are not sure if they accept tips or charge a fee, so ask first). An a cappella group sings songs in the vestibule (where they accept tips and sell CDs). Weary tourists sit on the steps surrounding the square or sip drinks at the outdoor seating of Café Luxor.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius, Split, Croatia
For us, the most prominent of the Diocletian’s Palace sights is the Cathedral of St. Domnius. Originally built as Diocletian’s mausoleum, it sits in the center of the Palace on the main square, Peristil Split.
The Split Cathedral was converted to a church after the fall of Rome. The Diocletian’s Palace tower was only added in the 13th century. Fun Fact: The bell tower took 300 years to build!
Visitors can get a free peek inside the Cathedral at Sunday Mass (which was one of the more beautiful masses we’ve attended). Just be advised that you will want to arrive early if you want a seat in the tiny interior.
That said, visiting the Cathedral with a ticket is a best way to tour the inside the church and focus more on the details of the architecture. The elaborate main altar is in the center of the room, where Diocletian’s Tomb once was.
A few original columns are all that is left from the original interior. There are altars on both sides of the main altar – one is dedicated to St. Domnius and the other to St. Anastasius.
Bell Tower Split, Croatia
The Bell Tower in Split, Croatia can be seen from afar, rising high above the Diocletian Palace walls. The best view of the bell tower is from the Peristle of Diocletian’s Palace, in the northwest corner of the square.
However, climbing to the top of the Split, Croatia Bell Tower offers 360-degree panoramic views of the Split Old Town, Adriatic Coastline and nearby Dalmatian Islands.
Diocletian’s Palace Basement
I was a bit skeptical about paying a fee to go into a ‘basement,’ but it was actually one of the most interesting Diocletian Palace sights. Information about the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace were presented on plaques (in English).
Archaeologists have been digging through the Diocletian’s Palace underground for the past 50 years. The contents of the well-preserved palace basement have helped in piecing together information about the palace and the history of Split, Croatia.
Why Visit the Basement of Diocletian’s Palace
The palace was built on land that sloped to the sea and the basement was built to support and level the upper floors of the palace. The cavernous rooms show an exact floor plan of the original residential area of the palace, which has been long gone.
After the fall of Rome, the palace was left to ruins. It was again inhabited in 641 by citizens seeking protection from the Slavs. As the residents moved in, they tossed their rubbish in the basement.
Recent excavations have found evidence of both temporary and permanent housing structures from the 6th and 7th centuries, as well as water wells and an olive oil press from early medieval times.
Walking through the vast, moisture-rich rooms of Diocletian’s Palace Basement allowed us to imagine what the decorated upstairs might have looked like.
Temple of Jupiter Split, Croatia
The Jupiter Temple Split is located down the narrow alley off the Peristil Square opposite the Split Cathedral entrance. The temple was built in the 4th century AD.
It was converted into a church in the 6th century – and in front of it is one of the Diocletian’s Palace sphinxes (although this one is headless).
Next to the temple is an alleyway, called Let Me Pass Lane – and it is the narrowest alley in the palace. We feature it and other sights on our Self Guided Split Walking Tour.
Ethnographic Museum, Split, Croatia
The Ethnographic Museum features interesting displays about the early citizens of Split.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of information in English (at least not during our visit). However, we spent some time looking at the traditional clothes, lacework, furniture, weapons and tools that were on exhibit.
One of the gems in the Ethnographic Museum was the Church of St. Andrew de Fenestris. Originally, it was an open room in the palace that was transformed into a church in the 7th century. Only fragments of the altar and stone work remain.
Pro Tip: Guests of the Ethnographic Museum are able to climb to the top of the Palace Vestibule, which offers fantastic views of the Bell Tower, Peristyle, rooftops and sea!
Split City Museum
The Split City Museum is tucked down Papaliceva Lane in the depths of the palace. On the ground floor of the museum, visitors can learn about the history of the Emperor along with Diocletian’s Palace facts and information.
The museum is spread over several floors and features art and artifacts that showcase the history of the city.
Diocletian Palace Gates
In its original construction, the Split Roman palace was rectangular in shape (520 x 620 feet) with four gates, one on each side. The main east-west street connected the east and west gates, while the north-south street connected the north and south gates. The two main streets crossed in the center of the palace on the north side of the Peristil Square – which divided the palace into 4 quadrants.
The two southern quadrants, facing the sea, were the living quarters of the emperor and his family. The northern quadrants were reserved for military, servants and working factories.
Golden Gate Split
The Golden Gate is the north gate of the palace. It is the most grand and preserved of the four gates. The Golden Gate served as the main entrance to the palace on the road to Salona. Featuring arched windows and decorative pillars, the gate had a defensive courtyard, that was a last measure against enemies.
Top Tip: Step outside the gate and look back toward the palace to appreciate the size of the original structure. Outside the gate is the 28-foot-tall statue of the 10th-century Bishop of Nin. It’s said that rubbing his toe brings good luck!
Bronze Gate Split
The unmarked and inconspicuous Bronze Gate is the southern entry from the Split Riva into Diocletian’s Palace basement. Before land was reclaimed for the Riva, the gate led directly to the Adriatic Sea. Once inside the basement, visitors can walk up the steep staircase directly into the Peristyle.
Silver Gate Split
The Silver Gate is the eastern gate, which leads to the Split Green Market. Nearly as opulent as the northern Golden Gate, the Silver Gate features a wall of arched windows. The gate has seen numerous modifications throughout history, as evidenced by the varying walls around it. However, attempts have been made to restore the Silver Gate as best as possible to its original construction.
Iron Gate Split
The western gate, Iron Gate, connects the palace to People’s Square. During Diocletian’s time in the palace – and more so in the Middle Ages – a city began to grow to the west of the palace walls. The Iron Gate connected the budding city to the interior of the palace. Over time, the palace and city blended together – and the gate was radically transformed.
Diocletian’s Palace Map
Use this link to Google Maps and visitors can also pick up a Split Tourist Map at the TI on Peristyle Square.
Diocletian Palace Tour
Your Diocletian Palace experience can be enhanced with the knowledge of a local guide who can explain in detail the Split Roman ruins.
You can embark on a Free Split Walking Tour for a self guided stroll through the palace and old town.
However, for visitors who want a better understanding of the palace, we recommend booking a Diocletian’s Palace Walking Tour. Find top rated tours on Viator or through a trusted tourist agency, like Adiona Travel.
Top Tip: Many Split, Croatia Game of Thrones scenes have been filmed inside Diocletian’s Palace. GOT fans can join one of the popular Diocletian’s Palace Game of Thrones Tours – Get the Details!
Travel Tips for Your Split Vacation
If you are just in the early stages of planning your trip to Croatia, the Palace of Diocletian may be what has lured you to visit Split. While Diocletian’s Palace is a top attraction in Split, Croatia there are more things to see and do!
In fact, Split is one of the best cities in Croatia to visit. In addition to the Roman ruins, visitors can spend lazy days on Split beaches, hike to the top of Marjan Hill, or set off on one of the many Split day trips.
We want to know: Have you visited Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia? What were your impressions of the Diocletian Palace Sights? Tell us in the comments!
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