My sister’s colleague had recommended we see Diocletian’s Palace in the city of Split Croatia. But where was it? It didn’t seem to have a website. It didn’t seem to be a museum. We walked through the Old Town of Split but couldn’t find it. But then we discovered……..
on a tour with an enthusiastic archeologist and art historian named Ana, that the former Diocletian Palace complex is sooooo big over half of the Old Town of Split is located inside its walls.
Diocletian was a Roman Emperor and he built the palace on the waterfront as a place to retire after he abdicated as emperor. He only lived in the palace for four years before he died.
The limestone palace is simply massive and might more correctly be called a fortress because when it was built it included housing for the emperor’s army. Now the whole interior of the palace grounds is filled with restaurants and shops and apartments. The fact that UNESCO declared the palace a world heritage site in 1979 has helped to protect it.That means any renovations or alterations must meet strict guidelines which can cause headaches for landlords but helps to maintain the beautiful old architecture. I’m standing in the window well of what was probably Diocletian’s living room. Ana told us only a handful of Split residents actually live inside the former palace walls now. Virtually all of the apartments have been turned into rental units for tourists and currently sell for around 3000 euros a square meter making them prohibitively expensive and out of the price range of most Split citizens. Here’s an artist’s rendition of the main square of the palace in the 1700s. Here is Dave in that main square today absolutely jammed with tourists many from the large cruise ships that pull into Split each day. The morning we visited a bridal couple was posing for photos in the historic square.
Our VRBO host here in Split recommended places to eat inside the Diocletian Palace grounds and I have to say they have all been fabulous. We had a cinnamony lamb ragu one night, mussels with figs and French fries another, a spinach pasta called agnolotti with cranberries and skuta cheese another, and last night Dave had a smoky oxtail and chateaubriand risotto and I had a melt in your mouth tangy grilled sea bass with cauliflower cream and zucchini. Ana took us into the Diocletian Palace grounds through the Silver Gate where the military would have entered And out through the Golden Gate where the royal family would have entered the palace. Probably the most visible landmark inside the palace complex is this bell tower on St. Dominus Church. The church was built on the site of the Mausoleum for Diocletian. The emperor was orginally buried there but his sarchophogus has since been destroyed. Diocletian was a well known persecutor of Christians and ordered the beheading of Dominus, a bishop who lived in Dicoletian’s hometown of Salona.
So it is somewhat ironic that a Christian cathedral named for the bishop Diocletian had killed now stands on Diocletian’s burial site.
One night after our tour with Ana when we already knew that basically most of the Old Town of Split was located inside the Diocletian Palace grounds we were walking and I heard another tourist say just as we orginally had, “But where is the palace?” Someone nearby, perhaps a Split resident said, “You’re in the palace right now.”