Diocletian's Palace is everything I hoped it would be and more. So much more.
Getting photographs without the usual holiday crowds was proving extremely tricky yesterday, so this morning we get up at 06:00 to get out there while it is still reasonably quiet.
Coming out early might mean that I can get pictures without people in it, but it also makes for extremely difficult photographic conditions with dark shadows and washed out highlights.
It took a lot of editing at the post-processing stage to get some decent images. Obviously I should have brought a tripod and bracketed my shots, not just for the exposure but for the white balance too. Next time. You live and learn from your mistakes. Hopefully.
Ever since I first read about Diocletian and his wonderful palace some 35 or more years ago, I have had a desire to see it. I hope it doesn't disappoint...
An ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian as a future residence for his retirement in 305 AD, the word 'palace' is misleading, as it is more like a fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian's personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison. The bottom third as seen in this artist's impression, is where he actually lived.
Today the palace forms the centre of Split, and it has been added to many times over the years, with temples, churches, private residences, shops and restaurants making it a hotchpotch of living history. Today it is a warren of alleyways criss-crossing inside the original walls of the palace. It's like living, walking, eating and shopping in a museum.
Our apartment is within the walls of the original palace, making it easy to explore before breakfast.
It's quiet this morning, with more cats than humans. As you might have guessed - I am rather partial to cats!
Gregory of Nin
The Croatian bishop of Nin is famous for introducing the national language in the religious services in 926. Until that time, services were held only in Latin, which the majority of the population could not understand. Not only was this important for Croatian language and culture but it also made Christianity stronger within the Croatian kingdom.
Rubbing the statue's toe is said to bring good luck and the toe has been worn smooth and shiny as a result.
Originally located in the Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace, the statue was moved outside by Italian occupying forces during WWII. Currently, the statue sits just outside the Golden Gate.
The Golden Gate
As the main entrance to the palace, the Golden Gate was used by the Emperor Diocletian when he entered his new home for the first time on June 1st 305 AD. At the time it had double gates which acted as a trap for invaders, capturing them between the outer and inner gates into an enclosure. The inner gate was made of solid wood and the outer gate consisted of metal bars, which were lowered when invaders entered the enclosure. There are still tourist traps in the city of course, but of a different sort.
Like most of the Venetian coastal towns of its time, Diocletian's Palace is full of narrow alleyways surrounded by high walls, arches and courtyards.
Croatia is a major producer of lavender, and it has been labelled as one of the main Croatian souvenirs. Every other craft shop in in Split is selling items made from lavender.
In Roman architecture, a peristyle is an open colonnade surrounding a court; hence the name of the central court in Diocletian’s Palace.
The gate, called a prothyron, connecting the public square to the private quarters, was the only place a commoner would see the emperor as he addressed his people. On either side of the prothyron are little chapels stemming from far after the time of Diocletian; Our Lady of the Belt (1544) and Our Lady of Conception (1650).
Apparently, Emperor Diocletian was a great lover of Egypt and he acquired more than a dozen granite sphinxes (from 1500 BC) from Luxor. Only three sphinxes remain today including this one on Peristil.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius
Known locally as the Saint Dujam (Sveti Dujam), the cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Split-Makarska. The 7th century complex is formed from Dicoletan's mausoleum. The cathedral is regarded as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that remains in use in its original structure, without near-complete renovation at a later date. The structure itself, built in AD 305 as the Mausoleum of Diocletian, is the second oldest structure used by any Christian Cathedral.
The Romanesque bell tower of the St. Dominus Cathedral was constructed in the 12th Century.
This gate was originally called Porta Orientalis but was renamed into Porta Argentea (Silver Gate) by Venetians, which is what it is known as today. Like the Golden Gate, the Silver Gate also had a Propugnaculum, a defence system or human trap where invaders would be captured between the outer and inner gates. Over the years the gate has had churched added, been bricked up for security reasons and mostly destroyed by the ravages of war. In the 1950’s, the gate underwent a thorough renovation and re-opened.
Just outside the Iron Gates is the daily fish market. The seafood looks lovely, but we find it somewhat disconcerting that so many of the stall holders are smoking.
Beautiful grotesques decorate the walls on a building in Split.
Home and Eddie have the same idea as us this morning, and we keep bumping into them, such as here on the modern shopping street just outside the palace walls.
Seen in the window of a DVD rental store:
Trg Braće Radić (Fruit Square)
Now housing various shops and businesses, the square was once home to a bustling fruit market, hence its nickname.
In front of the 17th century Milesi Palaca, stands the statue of one of Croatia's famous sons – the 15th Century Marko Marulić. Known as the national poet of Croatia and a Christian humanist, many consider Marko Marulič as the father of the Croatian literature.
Also on the square is the upmarket Croata shop, a tribute to the Croatian tie – I love their door handle!
To the south of the square, stands a 15th century Venetian tower, built to protect the city from local revolts and Turkish raids.
Narodni Trg (People's Square)
Commonly referred to as Pjaca, a Croatian form of the Italian word piazza, this 14th century square replaced the Peristil as the city’s central meeting area and it remains so to this day.
Romanesque clock with the remains of a medieval sundial in front of a larger, older belfry.
Recently remodelled following an architectural competition, the Riva Waterfront promenade lies between the walls of the historic Diocletan's Palace on one side and the Mediterranean – and Split Harbour - on the other.
Cafés and bars are shaded during the day by canvas “sails” which have a built in motor so that they can be turned vertically after dark night and used as projections screens. We are not lucky enough to see any film or other showing the two nights we are there unfortunately. Today we stop for breakfast at one of the many cafés. The food is disappointing but the view is good.
The Cellars of Diocletan's Palace
Visiting the cellars under what would have been the Dicocletan's private residence, gives us some idea of the scale of his home as the walls supported the palace above. There isn't much to see there now, just large, slightly eerie, empty halls.
In Diocletan's time this would have been the way to enter the palace by boat, as back then the sea reached all the way up to the Brass Gate which is now on the Riva. Noble guests (such as us) and goods would have arrived through this gate.
During the time of the emperor, the basement was largely used for storage, mainly food and wine.
Roman wooden beans which were used to support the ceiling structure.
The circular cellar room, which is directly under the Emperor's bedroom, was designed to have fantastic acoustics so that Diocletian would be warned if anyone was entering during the night, by the echoes left by anyone passing through. Emperor Diocletian's paranoia paid off as he was the only Roman emperor who died of natural causes.
Over the years since then, the basement has had various purposes, from living quarters, water storage area, garbage dump and sewage tank!
The cellars lead into a couple of little courtyards. Standing here, looking up at the surrounding walls and houses, it is incredible to think that this was first built some 1700 years ago and have been added to, bit by bit, over the centuries since then. This place in particular, gives me a feeling of being just a small cog in the large wheel of time.
All sorts of architectural styles can be seen here, from every epoch since the Dicocletian stood here himself, all those years ago. Quite humbling!
The cellars were drained, cleaned and excavated during the 1850s. Archaeological discoveries are still being made to this day, particularly in the far corners of the basement.
4th century meets 21st century – Roman mosaics and a modern flip-flop.
From the cellars we climb to the roof of the old palace, with great views of the various styles of architecture.
From the roof we enter the Vestibul, the foyer for the Emperor' residential quarters. The cupola used to be covered in mosaics and marble, these days it is a gaping hole.
The Vestibul provides great acoustics allowing klapa bands to perform traditional a-cappella songs there – they are very good!
And that brings us back out to the Peristil again. What a difference from early this morning! The square is teeming with people, tourists, selfie-takers, musicians, “Roman soldiers” posing for charity, people chilling with a coffee on cushions carefully placed on the steps, and big tour groups. I am so glad we came out at the crack of dawn for the photography!
On the steps, a guy is playing a pan drum, it's the first time I have actually heard one. Love it!
We seem to be walking around in circles now, and we soon find ourselves back in People's Square, where we take a break with a coffee accompanied by a very naughty ice cream; and spend some time people watching.
We wander around for a little while longer, past the candy store and the shoe shop – it seems gladiator shoes are the fashion this year!
By now the sun is high is the sky, and the temperatures have risen. We are hot and tired. Time for a siesta.
After a refreshing nap, followed by a refreshing shower, we head to the Riva for a refreshing drink.
And more people watching – one of my favourite pastimes!
Dalmatian in Dalmatia
It seems lace shorts are the in thing this year. Worn with gladiator sandals of course.
As the sun is setting behind the Peristil, we join Homer and Eddie for dinner.
Not a bad view from the table:
The food here is pretty good too!
Chicken stuffed with cheese, wrapped with ham and served on a bed of creamy mushrooms
White chocolate cheesecake
Apple strudel with cream and ice cream
As this is our last night together with Homer and Eddie, we take a final walk around Diocletan's Palace and finish the day with a few drinks on the Riva, watching the natural light fade and and artificial ones come on.
It is hard to say goodbye, to this beautiful city which has far exceeded my expectations, and of course our friends Homer and Eddie.
So long, goodbye Split, goodbye Croatia. Until next time.