The city of Split owes the title of one of the most desirable tourist destinations to many things, but the old town holds a special place keeping it high on the list of worldly valuable monuments.
When entering the city of Split, before reaching the Diocletian’s palace you will be led by a 57 m high St. Domnius cathedral, or as locals say: “Sveti Duje”. The cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is part of the Diocletian's Palace complex.
The Palace represents castrum, a hybrid creation uniting roman villa and military camp. The stone was brought from all around the Empire and it took ten years for building the Palace.
The Palace has four entrances and most often people enter from the south side after enjoying the walk on the promenade or getting a coffee before they start exploring. This is a good route, as it can tell you the story about the Palace from the beginning…
Diocletian made the Palace for his retirement, but as he abdicated the throne earlier than planned, and moved in earlier, works on the Palace were never finished. His chambers were in the southern part of the palace, just above the cellars. This part was built without defensive towers, faced toward the sea with an emergency exit leading through the cellars. The southern entrance is also called Porta Aenea or the Brass door. Passing through the cellars you will see many locals selling handmade souvenirs with symbols of Split such as the Palace, promenade, St. Domnius cathedral, and more. Continue walking and exit on the Peristyle square, an open space in front of which the Emperor showed himself to his vassals as a living god. The Emperor would exit on a small balcony in front of Vestibul, a circular anteroom of his chambers, for occasions of religious ceremony.
Today, Peristyle is a place of many social gatherings, ancient & modern stories, dance, music, and fulfilling aimless wandering. Vestibul is one of the favorite places for klapa* singers and everyone having the opportunity to enjoy a capella singing.
On the eastern side of the square, and the Palace, the imperial mausoleum was built. Today, in that same place stands the Cathedral of St. Domnius. St. Domnius was the bishop and martyr of Solin and today he is celebrated as the patron saint of the city of Split and the Split-Makarska archdiocese. If you find yourself in Split on May 7 you have the opportunity to see a big ceremony and enjoy cultural manifestations throughout the day.
Below the mausoleum is the crypt of St. Lucy. Saint Lucy is a Christian martyr who was beheaded in 303 after a long period of torture. According to tradition, St. Lucy's eyes were taken out, and this is why she is considered the protector of sight and the blind. She is also revered as the patroness of farmers, tailors, scribes, porters, and blacksmiths. Feast of St. Lucy is celebrated on December 13 when believers take the water from the crypt to save their sight.
Just in front of the cathedral, you will see a well-preserved sphinx, brought from Egipt with the rest of the material used for building the Palace. This sphinx has a special place in the cultural and everyday life of the city of Split serving for years as a backdrop for the famous opera Aida.
3500-years old sphynx
Exit on the same side of the Palace is called the Silver gate. If you exit the Palace that way you will find the Split market, a place of many colors, fresh groceries, and typical local small talks. But, let’s get back to the Palace, and come back to the market before lunchtime :)
East entrance to the Palace (the Golden gate)
So, before leaving the central part of the Palace pay attention to a tiny passage just opposite the Cathedral and the sphinx. This is where you will find Jupiter’s temple and the tiniest street in Split called “Let me pass”. The Temple will amaze you with many architectural details, but the most incredible is the ceiling. Coffered temple vault consisting of 40 stone slabs with different face expressions presents a real work of art.
Now, let’s get back to the central part and head slowly to the north, or better said toward the Golden gate. The Golden gate was projected as the main entrance to the Palace. The gate had a double entrance with a defensive courtyard in the middle called a propugnaculum. Today you can often see random musicians enjoying its great acoustic. Like the other two doors, the Golden gate was also closed during the middle ages and the main entrance became the Iron gate on the western side of the Palace. Before you continue further take a look at the guard's hallway where stands little Church of St Martin from the 6th century. Although the church has been renovated, it is a world example of the preservation of the church interior. From this year St Martin’s church will be open for visitors.
Following the walls of the Palace toward the west, you will find today’s People square or Narodni trg and a bell tower with a 24 digit clock just in front of the Iron gate or Porta Ferrea. These are the best-preserved gate used for entering Diocletian's sulfur baths, but also to take punished legionnaires for stoning.
From here you can continue to stroll down the charming little streets and explore the architecture of family palaces, old houses or continue to explore the rest of the old town outside the walls of the Palace.
Explore Split, it has so many things to offer...
And don’t forget to visit the market!
*klapa - Dalmatian a capella singing