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Croatia: Diocletian's Palace

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Diocletian's Palace | Croatia | Europe

[Visited: August 2009]

When we walked through the North Gate and left the modern part of Split behind us, we directly felt we stepped into history. Narrow streets, arched passages, small courtyards, and old houses proved to be only the first hints of what was to come. Soon, we arrived at the Peristil, a colonnaded street right in the heart of the old town, once giving access to the imperial apartments, temples, and the mausoleum of Diocletian. It was here that the complexity of Diocletian's Palace fully surfaced. Classical Roman architecture and marble columns are integrated into buildings of much more recent origin, and make for an intriguing mix of antiquity and modernity. Actually, the entire old walled town was originally built as a palace by Roman emperor Diocletian.

Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): View of the cathedral from below

Anticipating his retirement in the early 4th century, Diocletian decided to have a palace built at the end of the 3rd century. As there had already been a Greek town here, Aspálatos, he did not actually found Split. Not only did he spend his last years here, he also had a mausoleum built, for himself, in the middle of the palace. While drawings of the authentic palace as it probably looked like depict a marvellous palace with defensive towers, giving it the appearance of a military stronghold, the original plan still defines the entire area to this very day. After the Romans abandoned Diocletian's Palace, people moved in, and it was converted to a town in its own right. Most buildings of the Roman era have a different function now: what once was the Temple of Jupiter has been turned into a baptistery, palace buildings have been turned into museums, and what were the basement halls is now being used by streetvendors.

Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): View from the bell-tower of the cathedral: the port of Split

The most striking change, however, is that the building once housing the remains of Diocletian has been turned into the cathedral St Domnius of Split. Irony is, that Diocletian was a persecutor of christians during his reign. The most interesting and baffling experience is to enter his mausoleum. Once you step into the circular building, and look up at the ceiling, it is clear that this is a cathedral unlike any other. Corinthian style columns, the decorated frieze on top of those: you could think you are in a pantheon. But then there are the unmistakeable attributes found in churches: an altar, sculptures of former religious leaders, and of course Jesus on a cross. We were so impressed by the scene that we stayed to just watch and marvel at this unique interior. It was only when a tour group entered that we moved to the small museum upstairs, housing some amazing artifacts. After our visit to the cathedral, we climbed the adjacent, and much younger, bell-tower for the best views over Diocletian's Palace and the port of Split. It also allowed us a good overview of the original Roman planning and medieval additions to this exceptional city.

Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Originally the mausoleum of Diocletian, converted to cathedral: ceiling of this unique building
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Colonnaded street of the Peristil with the mausoleum-turned-cathedral on the left
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Port of Split seen from inside the bell-tower of the cathedral
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Detail of the sarcophagus at the entrance of the temple of Jupiter
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Close-up of the fine carving in stone of the doorpost of the temple of Jupiter
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Street lamp and Roman arches at the Peristil
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): One of the many alleys in Diocletian's Palace
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Diocletian's Palace can be accessed through four gates: this is the North Gate
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): One of the clear remainders of the Roman architecture: the Peristil
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): The Roman temple of Jupiter was turned into a baptistery
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Access to the palace through East Palace Gate
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Underground basement halls with vendor and stalls
Picture of Diocletian's Palace (Croatia): Statue of Gregorius of Nin, a 10th century religious leader who fought for the right to hold mass in Croatian

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