Because the Roman Empire was so vast, it isn’t hard to find traces of it in parts of Europe outside of Italy. The Palace of Diocletian is one example. Commissioned by Diocletian, who became emperor in 284, it sits in the bay of Split in Croatia.
Diocletian may have been a Roman ruler but he was born in Croatia in what was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. He had the palace built as his retirement home. Unlike most other rulers of that time whose reigns typically ended with their death, Diocletian held power for 20 years and then retired. He returned to his native land, a beautiful country that today has the feel of both Western and Eastern Europe.
The palace is one of many Roman ruins in Croatia but it is unique in that it is still inhabited. After Diocletian died and the palace no longer was used, refugees from the area where Diocletian had been born settled in the palace after their city was destroyed by invaders. Wealthy refugees moved into the emperor’s apartments and those less fortunate turned the towers and the spaces above the gates into homes. Today, apartments still are part of the palace, nestled next to the portions that serve as a museum, and the palace makes up about half of Split’s old city. Shops and restaurants are also part of the palace, which looks more like a fortress. It is said to be the most complete remains of a Roman palace.
A tour inside reveals ancient walls, a bust of the emperor, sewer “pipes,” and much more. Built of limestone and marble, the palace is almost rectangular in shape and has towers the rise from its western, eastern and northern facades. Massive gates were on each side as well. The central square, or peristyle, is largely intact today and draws tourists from around the world.
Above photos, from left, a granite sphinx from Egypt, a bust of the emperor, sewer blocks, Roman arches in the peristyle
An unusual piece in the peristyle is a granite sphinx that came from the site of an Egyptian pharaoh some 3,500 years ago. The palace originally was decorated with several of the sphinxes – all from the same Egyptian site.
If you are a “Game of Thrones” fan, you will be familiar with the palace as some of the series was filmed there. Whether your interest is modern-day TV or ancient history, the palace is definitely worth a visit.
-post by JG