Split with Palace of Diocletian


Split history starts with Diocletian’s Palace which was built between 295 and 305, and is the most important and best preserved Roman building in Croatia. It was built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian (c. 235-316) who was born near Salona and was known as the re-organiser of the Empire and a persecutor of Christians. His decision to spend the last years of his life here can be explained by its closeness to Salona (see below) and the existence of medicinal sulphur springs in the area. Diocletian came to Split only after his abdication (305) and once he died the palace was left to the Emperor’s family. Thus it became a refuge for persecuted members of that family, and the last Roman Emperor, Iulius the Nephew hid here and died (480) surviving the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The ground plan of the palace is in the form of an irregular rectangle, fortified to the east, north and west with towers. The eastern and western sides are 215 m in length and the southern and northern walls are 180 m. The palace covers an area of 38 500 ml. Its form unites elements of Roman villas and fortified castles. It was built of stone from Dalmatia (Brae, Trogir) and some stone was brought from Egypt, Greece and Italy. The northern wall of the palace is the most ornate, as it faced Salona. Originally it was fortified with six towers, of which only the two on the corner have been well preserved. The wall is divided up by large win- dows in the upper part, and in the centre is the Golden Gate (Porta aurea), decorated with niches, pilasters, consoles and semicircular arches over the entrance. There were statues of the tetrarchs (four emperors) over the cornices. Over the gate there was originally a passageway for the guard, and in the Middle Ages battlements were added for the same reason. In the outer passageway over the Golden Gate in the early Middle Ages the early Christian church of St. Martin’s (Sveti Martin) was built. The altar rail remains in situ with an inscription and ornamental moulding with a memorial to the priest Dominic, a barrel vault and windows with stone bars. This church was an early Romanesque triple-naved basilica to which Iuraj Dalmatinac added a Gothic chapel (St. Arnir) on its J southern side in 1444 and carved a relief with the scene of The stoning of St. Arnir (s. Kastel Lukšić). Beside the church there is an elegant Baroque bell tower (18th century) and nearby a huge statue by Ivan Mestrovic’ of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin; s. Nin). The eastern wall of the palace has been well preserved. In the centre is the Silver Gate (Porta argentea) which is similar to the northern gate, in a humbler form, and the wall ends with a tower on the corner of Hrvojeva street and the promenade, Riva. The western wall is least visible because of buildings built later right up against the wall. In the centre is the Iron Gate (Porta ferra) which is in the same forrn as the eastern gate. In the outer passageway over i the gate is the early medieval church Our Lady of the Bell-tower (Gospa od Zvonika; St. Theodore, Sv. Teodor). The church has an early Romanesque bell-tower dating from the end of the 11th century, the oldest in Split. On the altar rail, the prior of Split, Purmin, is mentioned. In the church a particular feature is ‘al. the early Renaissance lunette with a scene of Our Lady the Protectress (1480) and the Romanesque Madonna and Child in the Treasury of the Cathedral also comes from this church. The southern facade now runs along the promenade (Riva). In the Roman era the sea came right up to the wall and thus the Bronze Gate (Porta aenea) was used by boats. The lower part of this entrance was rnost ornate and monumental. Over the lower part there was a porch with arcades (crypto-porticus) and the bronze gate led into the ground floor rooms of the palace, the cellars, which occupied the entire southern side of the building. The cellars have been very well preserved, and the western side is open to the public. The palace was the centre of the future city of Split. It experienced a transfor- mation during the 5th and 6th centuries when new inhabitants moved in. At the end of the last century there were 280 houses in the palace with 2 600 inhabitants.

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