Diocletian Palace in Split is an antique palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian that dates back to around year 300. It was built five kilometers southwest from Salona, the then capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. The remains of the palace are the center of the old historic part of the city of Split, and the palace has been placed on the UNESCO’s List of World’s Heritage Sites in Europe in 1979.
The old Roman maps show that settlements called Spalatum existed at the time of the palace’s construction, but the exact size of the settlement has never been established. The correct start date of the construction or the end date of it is also a mystery, but some sources allude that the construction started in 295 during the reign of four – Tetrarchy – and finished sometime after 305 when Diocletian abdicated from the Roman throne and took permanent residence in his new palace.
It is unknown who were the builders, but some of the symbols which were found engraved in the building allude that at least some of the builders were from the eastern parts of the empire, however, most of the workforce was probably from Salona and Spalatum.
Materials for the Diocletian Palace were transported from the places in the vicinity of the palace. White limestone was transported from the Island of Brač, tufa was harvested from the bedrock from the rivers found nearby and bricks were manufactured in plants located in the palace’s vicinity.
In its shape, the palace looks like a Castrum. Castrum was a type of military fortification from the Roman times. Its outer walls are rectangular and its towers follow the principals of military architecture. Due to the fact that the palace was located a fair distance from any major settlement, with neighboring Salona being five kilometers away, the city walls were heavily fortified. All of the outer walls have been well preserved with the exception of the western wall. The inside of the palace is reminiscent of the military camp architecture as well. The two major streets are placed vertically in aspect to one another which is a prime example of military architecture.
There are four entrances into the Diocletian Palace, three from the land and one from the seaside. The legend is that Diocletian wanted the entrance from the seaside so he could enter the palace straight from the ship. The palace is split into two pieces. The northern part of the palace was used for military personnel, warehouses, and service staff. The southern part of the palace was more representative as this was the part of the palace where Diocletian resided. The two parts of the palace even had different facades. The southern part was built on top of basements, and this was due to the effort to level out the southern and northern part of the palace.
In the southern part of the Diocletian Palace, there were openings that were open to the sea’s influence. The small gate located there are called the Brass gate, while the gates located on the western and eastern side of the palace were called the Iron and Silver gate. The main entrance to the palace was located on the northern side of the building, where the Golden gate was located. It is believed that there were statues of Jupiter and the four Tetrarch above the Golden gate.
One off the two main streets, Cardo leads to the Peristyle, which is an open space that is located below the emperor’s quarters and is one of the most famous attractions inside the palace today. As noted, Peristyle is an open space that is rounded with columns upon which there are arches that add a unique look to the room. Peristyle is also a place where many cultural and other events take place today. Emperor’s mausoleum is located on the left side of the Peristyle, the Cathedral of Saint Dominus has been constructed atop the Emperor’s mausoleum and is still in place today. On the right side, there are three temples. One of the temples is the temple of Jupiter, while the other two are the temple of Venus and Cybele. However, the other two are just an assumptions in terms of who they belong too, as this still hasn’t been confirmed.
Emperor’s quarters are of square floor plan looking from the outside, and of round floor plan from the inside, that is topped with a dome. Other than the top level of the quarters – which are not well preserved – there is another level of the quarter located below the upper level. The lower level of the quarters is well preserved in contrast to the upper level. Both levels had the same floor plan. The quarters spanned through the entire length of the southern forefront of the palace. The quarters also feature a working plumbing system – Diocletian aqueduct – that brought fresh water to the emperor. This system is 9 kilometers (about 5,6 miles) in length and it is still functioning to this day.
Today, this area, especially in the summer is used as a space for events at the palace and its excellent acoustics often serve as a stage for many musical and dramatic spectacles.
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