Waking up bright and early (is 10am early?), grabbing some much-needed coffee and breakfast, we stood at the harbour entrance of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia ready to undertake our own self walking tour of this historic Roman Monument.
We had already seen much of Split’s City Centre yesterday and we purposely left the imposing Diocletian’s Palace for today so we can see every crook and nanny in this city within a city.
But first, we need to know more about Diocletian’s Palace.
Diocletian’s Palace: An Overview
Without a doubt, this is where you’ll spend most of your time in Split as Diocletian’s Palace is actually a city within the city of Split. Don’t expect any glamour and modern furnishings as you expect from a normal Palace. In truth, this isn’t a Palace at all. It’s a labyrinth of twisting streets pressed closed together by the many shops, restaurants, bars and even people that cause jams within. It’s a thrilling experience as you are unsure what to expect round the corner and wonder if you will ever find your way out. If you’re lucky, you might stumble upon deserted passageways and courtyards that may have prying eyes in the corner that watches your every move. It could be a statue or not. You just never know what dark secrets this enchanting place has for the discerning visitor.
Built from white stone from the nearby island of Brac, Diocletian’s Palace was built over 10 years by order of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, in 295AD who wanted a retirement palace. Although he is celebrated by today’s city residents for bringing a beautiful building within their home, he wasn’t a nice fellow actually. He’s particularly noted for his dogged and ruthless persecution of early Christians who he had put to death and tortured in gruesome ways. Since his death, Roman rulers used his Palace as a retreat enjoying the array of architecture that Diocletian has imported from within his empire including Sphinxes from Egypt and rich marble from Greece. As an imperial residence Diocletian’s Palace doubled up as a fortress; an advantage many Middle Ages rulers used.
The Palace is extremely large measuring 0.2km across and 26m high. There are four gates corresponding to the compass and each named after a metal such as the Northern Gate being called the Golden Gate and the Western Gate called the Iron Gate. Inside there are 220 buildings and home to 3000 people (that’s cramped!) who I believe couldn’t find their way out again. There are street names fixed upon the buildings but it’s so hard to navigate that you can’t help shrugging your shoulders and opt to get lost.
Using Lonely Planet’s Self Guided Walking Tour (Two Hours) in their Croatia book, we went to find out the landmarks of the city that is Diocletian’s Palace. We were in no rush and generally took most of our time exploring and dining within the old city walls.
Here’s a selection of what we saw:
Gregorius of Nin
Don’t forget to rub the big left toe of the Gregorius of Nin to bring yourself good luck from this 10th Century Croatian bishop who fought for the right to use Old Croatian in church services! Watch as people walk by, shooting out a hand to bring themselves good fortune…or satisfying their foot fetish.
Built by a prestigious noble in the Middle Ages who lived in the Palace, the Town Museum houses a wide variety of items including drawings, cots of arms, weaponry and plenty more to satisfy the history buff within you. Don’t forget to check out the entrance gate, which is carved in elaborate Gothic style.
Temple of Jupiter
You can worship in the Temple of Jupiter guarded by a black granite sphinx imported from Egypt. Grand and overstated, this is definitely a sight to see. The temple is still revered by the residents today as parades in Roman attire still showcases life and respect for the old Roman Gods.
Cathedral of St Domnius
This was originally built for the final resting place for Diocletian. (He sure loves to overstate his importance doesn’t he?) Still utterly preserved to this day, you can marvel at the 24 columns that surround the Cathedral in octagonal form. Check out the entrance doors where it depicts the life of Christ in the fashion of small Romanesque squares. It’s easy to spend time here getting lost as you explore the extravagant belfry with two lions and sphinxes guarding the entrance, the Roman Baths or the exuberant Treasury overflowing with gilded items.
Make sure you arrive in the morning in the Vestibule of the Cathedral of St Domnius where the ground floor has great acoustics. So much so that the Klapas, involving a bunch of eye pleasing men getting in a circle singing mournful songs of love and rousing chants of patriotism in different harmonies, performs here at this time of day.
For a true haunting, explore the Basement Halls underneath Diocletian’s Palace. Still preserved in time, you may just be the only ones here in this quiet space only for the faint hubbub of noise and footsteps of the city above.
You can easily spend all day in Diocletian’s Palace although for us it was not by choice as we kept getting lost plenty of times! But if you need time to sit and have a refreshing drink, there are plenty of quirky and eyebrow raising bars for you to remember your time there!
Here’s some pictures what we saw in our lost state in Diocletian’s Palace:
As the day drew to an end, there was one final thing to do in Diocletian’s Palace. That is to have a night out. But that’s another story…
Have you been inside Diocletian’s Palace? What did you see?
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