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Diocletian's Palace (Croatian: Dioklecijanova palača, pronounced [diɔklɛt͡sijǎːnɔʋa pǎlat͡ʃa]) is an ancient palace built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town of Split, Croatia. While it is referred to as a "palace" because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading as the structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian's personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian
Native name
Croatian: Povijesna jezgra grada Splita s Dioklecijanovom palačom
Peristyle, Split 1.jpg
View of the peristyle (the central square within the Palace) towards the entrance of Diocletian's quarters
LocationSplit, Croatia
Coordinates43°30′30″N 16°26′24″E / 43.50833°N 16.44000°E / 43.50833; 16.44000Coordinates: 43°30′30″N 16°26′24″E / 43.50833°N 16.44000°E / 43.50833; 16.44000
Built4th century AD
Criteriaii, iii, iv
Designated1979 (3rd Session)
Reference no.97
State Party Croatia
Official name: Dioklecijanova palača
Diocletian's Palace is located in Croatia
Diocletian's Palace
Location of Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian in Croatia

The complex was built on a peninsula four miles southwest from Salona, the capital of Dalmatia (Roman province). The terrain around Salona slopes gently seaward and is typical karst, consisting of low limestone ridges running east to west with marl in the clefts between them. Today the remains of the palace are part of the historic core of Split, which, in 1979 were listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Sites.



Reconstruction of Diocletian's Palace in its original appearance upon completion in AD 305 (viewed from the south-west)
The modern-day center of Split, with Diocletian's Palace, in 2012 (viewed from the north-east).

Located near Salona, the provincial administrative center of Dalmatia on the southern side of a short peninsula, Diocletian had ordered the construction of the heavily fortified compound near his hometown of Spalatum in preparation for his retirement on 1 May 305 AD.[1]. On the basis of Roman map data, known by the medieval cut ("Tabula Peutingeriana"), there was already a Spalatum settlement in that bay, the remains and size of which have not yet been established.

The beginning of the construction of Diocletian's palace has not exactly been established. It is assumed to have begun around 295, after the introduction of the Tetrarchy (the rule of four). Yet ten years after that decision, when Diocletian abdicated in 305, the palace seems to have still been unfinished, and there are indications that some works were taking place while the emperor was residing at the Palace. It is unknown under whose architectural ideas the palace was built and who its builders were. The complex was modeled on Roman forts of the 3rd century era, examples of which can be seen across the Limes, such as the bridgehead fort Divitia across the Rhine from Cologne.[2]

However, the engraved Greek names Zotikos and Filotas, as well as many Greek characters, indicate that a number of builders were originally from the eastern part of the empire, i.e. Diocletian brought with him masters from the East. Still, it is highly likely that a large part of the workforce was of local origin. The basic materials came from close proximity. The white limestone comes from Brač and some of Seget near Trogir; tufa was extracted from nearby riverbeds and bricks were made in Spalatum and other workshops located nearby. The building as a whole did not have an immediate role in Roman construction in the past. Its source comes from the basic function and position adjustment.

At Carnuntum, people begged Diocletian to return to the throne in order to resolve the conflicts that had arisen through Constantine's rise to power and Maxentius' usurpation.[3] Diocletian's reply: "If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed."[4] a reference to the Emperor retiring to his palace to grow cabbages.

Diocletian lived on for four more years, spending his days in his palace gardens. He saw his tetrarchic system fail, torn by the selfish ambitions of his successors. He heard of Maximian's third claim to the throne, his forced suicide, and his damnatio memoriae. In his palace, statues and portraits of his former companion emperor were torn down and destroyed. Deep in despair and illness, Diocletian may have committed suicide. He died on 3 December 312.[5][6][Note 1]

Reconstruction of the facade to the sea

With the death of Diocletian, the life of the palace did not end, and it remained an imperial possession of the Roman court, providing shelter to the expelled members of the Emperor's family. In 480, Emperor Julius Nepos was murdered by one of his own soldiers,[7] reportedly stabbed to death in his villa near Salona. Since Diocletian also had a residence in the area, it might have been the same building.

Section of the palace wall

Its second life came when Salona was largely destroyed in the invasions of the Avars and Slavs in the seventh century AD, though the exact year of the destruction still remains an open debate between archaeologists. Refugees from Salona settled inside the Palace [8] when a part of the expelled population, now refugees, found shelter inside the palace's strong walls and with them a new, organized city life began. Since then, the palace has been continuously occupied, with residents making their homes and businesses within the palace basement and directly in its walls.[9][10] St Martin's Church is an example of this trend. Today many restaurants, shops and some homes can still be found within the walls.

In the period of the free medieval commune, between the 12th and 14th centuries, there was a greater architectural development, when many medieval houses filled not only Roman buildings but also a large part of the free space of streets and docks. The construction of the Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius, incorporating the Mausoleum of Diocletian into its architecture, dates to that period.

After the Middle Ages the palace was virtually unknown in the rest of Europe until the Scottish neo-classical architect Robert Adam had the ruins surveyed and, with the aid of French artist and antiquary Charles-Louis Clérisseau and several draughtsmen, published Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia (London, 1764).[11]

Diocletian's palace was an inspiration for Adam's new style of Neoclassical architecture[12] and the publication of measured drawings brought it into the design vocabulary of European architecture for the first time. A few decades later, in 1782, the French painter Louis-François Cassas created drawings of the palace, published by Joseph Lavallée in 1802 in the chronicles of his voyages.[13]

Today, the palace is well preserved with all the most important historical buildings, in the center of the city of Split, the second-largest city of modern Croatia. Diocletian's Palace far transcends local importance because of its degree of preservation. The Palace is one of the most famous and complete architectural and cultural features on the Croatian Adriatic coast. As the world's most complete remains of a Roman palace, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European and world heritage.

Cultural heritageEdit

View of the Peristyle in 1764, engraving by Robert Adam. The Peristyle is the central square of the palace, where the main entrance to Diocletian's quarters (pictured) is located.

In November 1979 UNESCO, in line with the international convention on cultural and natural heritage, adopted a proposal that the historic city of Split built around the Palace should be included in the register of World Cultural Heritage.[14]

In November 2006 the City Council decided to permit over twenty new buildings within the palace (including a shopping and garage complex), although the palace had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. It is said that this decision was politically motivated and largely due to lobbying by local property developers. Once the public in 2007 became aware of the project, they petitioned against the decision and won. No new buildings, shopping center or the underground garage were built.

The World Monuments Fund has been working on a conservation project at the palace, including surveying structural integrity and cleaning and restoring the stone and plasterwork.

The palace is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 500 kuna banknote, issued in 1993.[15][16]


The ground plan of the palace is an irregular rectangle (approximately 160 meters by 190 meters) with towers projecting from the western, northern, and eastern facades. It combines qualities of a luxurious villa with those of a military camp, with its huge gates and watchtowers. The palace is enclosed by walls, and at times, housed over 9000 people. Subterranean portions of the palace feature barrel vaulted stonework.

Outer wallsEdit

Only the southern facade, which rose directly from or very near to the sea, was unfortified. The elaborate architectural composition of the arcaded gallery on its upper floor differs from the more severe treatment of the three shore facades. A monumental gate in the middle of each of these walls led to an enclosed courtyard. The southern sea gate (the Porta Aenea) was simpler in shape and dimensions than the other three, and it is thought that it was originally intended either as the emperor's private access to the sea, or as a service entrance for supplies.

Palace's peristyle before and after recent restoration works

Inner layoutEdit

The design is derived from both villa and castrum types, and this duality is also evident in the arrangement of the interior. The transverse road (decumanus) linking the Eastern gate (the Silver Gate or Porta argentea) and Western gate (the Iron Gate or Porta ferrea) divided the complex into two halves.

Southern halfEdit

In the southern half were the more luxurious structures; that is, the emperor's apartments, both public and private, and religious buildings. The emperor's apartments formed a block along the sea front and were situated above a substructure because the sloping terrain demanded significant differences in level. Although for many centuries almost completely filled with refuse, most of the substructure is well preserved, and indicates the original shape and disposition of the rooms above.

A monumental court, called the Peristyle, formed the Northern access to the imperial apartments. It also gave access to Diocletian's mausoleum on the East (today the Cathedral of Saint Domnius), and to three temples on the West (two of which are now lost, with the third, originally being the temple of Jupiter, becoming a baptistery). There is also a temple just to the west of the Peristylum called The Temple of Aesculapius, which has a semi-cylindrical roof built of stone blocks, which did not leak until the 1940s, when it was covered with a lead roof. The temple was restored recently.

Northern halfEdit

The northern half of the palace, divided in two parts by the main north-south street (cardo) leading from the Golden Gate (Porta aurea) to the Peristyle, is less well preserved. It is usually supposed that each part was a residential complex, housing soldiers, servants, and possibly some other facilities.

Streets and annex buildingsEdit

Both parts of the palace were apparently surrounded by streets. Leading to[dubious ] the perimeter walls there were rectangular buildings, possibly storage magazines.

Building materialsEdit

Sphinx at the Peristyle

The Palace is built of white local limestone and marble of high quality, most of which was from the Brač marble quarries on the island of Brač, of tuff taken from the nearby river beds, and of brick made in Salonitan and other factories. Some material for decoration was imported: Egyptian granite columns, fine marble for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops in the Proconnesos.

Egyptian sphinxesEdit

The Palace was decorated with numerous 3500-year-old granite sphinxes, originating from the site[dubious ] of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. Only three have survived the centuries. One is still on the Peristyle, the second sits headless in front of Jupiter's temple, and a third is housed in the city museum.

Filming locationEdit

Diocletian's Palace was used as a location for filming the fourth season of the HBO series Game of Thrones.[17]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The range of dates proposed for Diocletian's death have stretched from 311 through to 318. Until recently, the date of 3 December 311 has been favoured; however, the absence of Diocletian on Maxentius' "AETERNA MEMORIA" coins would indicate that he was alive through to Maxentius' defeat in October 312. Given that Diocletian had died by the time of Maximian Daia's death in July 313, it has been argued that the correct date of his death was 3 December 312.[5]


  1. ^ Emperors Don't Die in Bed by Fik Meijer pp 114 2004
  2. ^ The Late Roman Army by Karen R. Dixon and Pat Southern pp34
  3. ^ Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 31–32; Lenski, 65; Odahl, 90.
  4. ^ Aurelius Victor, Epitome de Caesaribus 39.6.
  5. ^ a b Nakamura, Byron J. (July 2003). "When Did Diocletian Die? New Evidence for an Old Problem". Classical Philology. 98 (3): 283–289. JSTOR 420722.
  6. ^ Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 41.
  7. ^ Wilhelm Ensslin [de], "Julius Nepos", in Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Band XVI,2 (1935), S. 1505–1510.
  8. ^ Charles George Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference (1913) see also Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. 1967, De administrando imperio; Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik; English translation by R. J. H. Jenkins.rev.ed. : Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1967, 1985 and Thomae Archidiaconi. 2006. Spalatensis Historia Salonitanorum atque Spalatinorum pontificum – Archdeacon Thomas of Split: History of the Bishops of Salona and Split. Damir Karbić, Mirjana Matijević Sokol, Olga Perić and James Ross Sweeney,eds. Budapest: CEU Press.
  9. ^ Charles George Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference (1913) see also Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. 1967, De administrando imperio; Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik; English translation by R. J. H. Jenkins.rev.ed. : Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1967, 1985 and Thomae Archidiaconi. 2006. Spalatensis Historia Salonitanorum atque Spalatinorum pontificum – Archdeacon Thomas of Split: History of the Bishops of Salona and Split. Damir Karbić, Mirjana Matijević Sokol, Olga Perić and James Ross Sweeney,eds. Budapest: CEU Press.
  10. ^'sPalace.htm
  11. ^, Smithsonian, University of Wisconsin
  12. ^ Hogan, C. Michael, "Diocletian's Palace", The Megalithic Portal, A. Burnham ed., 6 October 2007.
  13. ^ Voyage pittoresque et historique de l'Istrie et de la Dalmatie rédigé d'après l'Itinéraire de L. F. Cassas par Joseph Lavallée (Paris, 1802).
  14. ^ Diocletian Palace
  15. ^ Features of Kuna Banknotes Archived 6 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ 500 kuna Archived 4 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Day 72: Filming in Diocletian's Palace & Žrnovnica". 27 September 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2014.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit