Diocletian’s Palace in Split was built as a residential villa to which the Roman Emperor Diocletian retired after his abdication in 305 AD. This globally best-preserved sample of late antiquity Roman architecture, combines features of an Imperial Palace and a fortified Roman Castrum, while displaying a layout of a typical Greco-Roman town. The name Palace is traditionally utilized to indicate that the structure was intended to function as an Imperial Residential Villa, a place where a Roman Emperor and his family would reside. Diocletian’s Palace in Split evolved into a city after the fall of the nearby capital of the province of Dalmatia, Salona around 640 AD.
Diocletian’s Palace in Split: Historical Development and Value
Diocletian’s Palace in Split is one of the first urban units to be inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979 and represents the world’s best preserved late antiquity work of architecture due to its degree of preservation and the phenomenon of unique architectural layering which it exhibits, combining forms of Late Antiquity, Early Christian, Byzantine and Medieval art.
According to UNESCO the substructures of Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, along with the historical core and the surrounding walls, is the globally best-preserved sample of a residential Imperial Roman Complex from the late antiquity Era.
From the 7th century AD its transformation into a medieval town begun and it has since then evolved into a unique example of a ”living monument”, hosting commercial activities, and contemporary residential structures.
Throughout the centuries the inhabitants adapted parts of the Palace, so that both the interior buildings, and the appearance of the exterior walls was significantly altered. But the original outlines and the initial layout of the Palace is still easy to distinguish.
Why Was Diocletian’s Palace Built?
After having ruled the Roman Empire for over two decades, Emperor Diocletian abdicated in 305 AD, forced by a progressive disease. As early as in 295 AD, he ordered his retirement Palace to be built for him in his native region of modern-day Central Dalmatia.
Diocletian’s Palace in Split :The Choice of the Location
The Palace was intentionally built in the well protected bay of ancient Aspalathos, facing the Central Adriatic islands and only a few km away from the capital city of the Roman Province of Dalmatia, Salona. In addition, the choice of its exact location was determined by one additional factor:
Elderly and ill Emperor took advantage of the naturally large concentration of Sulphur springs found in the area and arranged his imperial thermae inside the Palace for therapeutic purposes. The imperial Thermae were located on the southern part of the Palace on both eastern and western sides.
The Egyptian Sphinx of Diocletian’s Palace in Split
The Egyptian sphinx at the Peristyle is the oldest artifact of the town. Estimated to be around 3,500 years old and dating back to the reign of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Tuthomosis the 3rd .
It is located right in front of the former Mausoleum. It was brought as war trophy after Emperor Diocletian’s successful military campaign in Egypt in 297-298 AD.
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All The Temples of Emperor Diocletian’s Palace in Split
The Eastern Temenos included: Emperor Diocletian’s Mausoleum also referred to as the Jupiter’s Temple, converted into a Christian Cathedral in 5-6th century AD. The Cathedral’s Bell tower with its 57 meters of height, and a combination of Romanesque and Gothic style was built between the 13th and the 16th century.
The Cathedral’s precious artwork includes: Andrija Buvina Romanesque wooden door, the right side altar dedicated to the Patron of Split St. Domnius, work of Bonino of Milan from 1427. St Anastasius altar created in 1448 by Juraj Dalmatinac, a leading Dalmatian sculptor of late Gothic-Renaissance era.
The Western Temenos accommodated a circular-layout temple of the Anatolian Magna Mater Deorum: Cybele, still visible inside today’s Sacral Museum of Split. A shrine dedicated to the Roman counterpart of greek Aphrodite: Venera was located in what Luxor café is today.
Finally, the Small Temple: Erected on a podium above the crypt of St Thomas, and initially topped with a bell tower and a porch with a series of columns. Later in history an Egyptian sphinx was placed before its entrance.
The original western colonnade of the Peristyle was incorporated into the noble palaces built during the middle ages.
The Prothiron and the Vestibule of Emperor Diocletian’s Palace in Split
At the southern part, the Prothiron highlighted with the Syrian arcuated lintel was a pre- entrance balcony where the Emperor would appear in a carefully staged ceremony and address his subjects.
It led to the so called Vestibule, which had a function of a formal waiting hall and a frontier between the public and the private spaces.
At both sides of the Prothiron we find later additions: Renaissance and Baroque Christian chapels build in high-middle ages. Finally, the northeast corner of the Agora hosts the 16th century church of St. Rok.
The Substructures of Diocletian’s Palace in Split
Directly beneath the Prothiron we find a staircase leading to the substructures of the Palace. This basement area is composed of over 50 vaulted chambers and arched galleries of different shapes and sizes known as Podrumi meaning the cellars in Croatian.
Their practical function was elevating and leveling up the southern part of the Palace that was built on a slightly sloping terrain. As today’s best preserved part of the initial Palace design, the basements provide us with a chance to mentally reconstruct the original appearance of the residential floor, which today is in ruins.
The Eastern part of the cellars is located beneath the Imperial dining area, while the western part reflects the initial appearance of Diocletian’s residential chambers.
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Diocletian’s Palace Architecture | How was Diocletian’s Palace Built