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Diocletian's Palace (Split, Croatia)

Diocletian's Palace (Split, Croatia)

The fortress-like palace was built by Roman Emperor Diocletian on the coast near his hometown.



Diocletian, palace, Ancient Rome, Római Birodalom, Croatia, Mediterranean, Rome, Dalmatia, Dinaric Alps, emperor, imperial period, fortress, province, history, antiquity, Mediterranean Sea, architecture, culture, church, port, gate, mausoleum, Adriatic Sea

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  • Is it true that the area of the palace exceeds 30 thousand km² (11,583 sq mi)?


  • harbor

The construction of the palace began around 295 A.D. Diocletian was at the height of his power at that time and had the building complex built to enjoy his retirement there. A decisive factor in choosing the location of the palace was that Diocletian was born near the town of Salona, the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. It was also an important factor that the abundant supply of water and sulfur made textile production possible (and very profitable).

Diocletian’s Palace, located at the foot of the Dinaric Alps along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, was far from Rome, although it was not completely isolated. There were about 9,000 people living in the palace after it was completed. It was supplied with water from the Jadro River near Salona.

  • - A barrier built on the seaward side of the harbor. It gives protection from currents and waves.
  • - These probably decorated the imperial quarters thus emphasizing the palace-like structure of the southern part of the building complex.

Diocletian had the palace built right on the shore. This served the defense of the palace and made the transportation of people and goods easier.

It is generally held that the entrance facing the sea was Diocletian’s private gate as it opened to the imperial quarters.

As the palace was built on a peninsula, its harbor was probably protected by an artificial breakwater from the waves of the open sea. It is likely that the landward side of this anchorage was used to disembark ships and unload trading vessels.

  • center

Diocletian’s Palace comprises various architectural elements. It features elements of military camps (castra), palaces (palatia) and country residences (villas).

The eastern and western sides of the rectangular palace are equal in length, measuring 215 m (705.4 ft), while the northern and southern sides are 175 m (574.1 ft) and 181 m (593.8 ft) long respectively. As a result, the floor plan of the palace resembles a trapezoid. The area of the building complex exceeds 30,000 m² (322,917 sq mi).

The east-west decumanus divides the palace into two parts. The buildings of the northern part are simpler compared to the more decorated buildings of the southern part. The temenos, which houses religious buildings, is located south of the decumanus. As we move towards the sea, this is followed by buildings connected to the actual imperial quarters.

The eastern, northern and western walls have watchtowers and huge gates that reflect the fortress-like structure of the palace. However, the seaward side is more graceful and more decorated, emphasizing the palace-like structure of the building.

The outer walls are 15-20 m (49.2-65.6 ft) tall and 2.1 m (6.9 ft) thick on average. There are a total of 16 towers. The Golden, Silver and Iron Gates are protected by two towers apiece while the seaward south side has no towers at all.

The metals in the name of the gates probably refer to historical eras that are found in Greek and Roman mythology as well. The Golden Age was a time of peace and prosperity.

The palace has four entrances. The Porta Aurea (or Porta septemtrionalis) is the northern gate of the palace, one of the ends of the cardo. This highly ornate main entrance leading to the palace can be accessed through the Salona–Aspalathos road.

Diocletian was laid to rest in an ornate, octagonal mausoleum, each side measuring 7.6 m (24.9 ft) in length. The octagon is a symbol of the transition from earth to heaven. The mausoleum is surrounded by 24 Corinthian columns. It has a tiled roof and the walls are 3 m (9.8 ft) thick on average. The circular burial chamber is 21 m (68.9 ft) tall at its center with a diameter of 13 m (42.7 ft). There is a frieze on the inside of the walls and there are sculptures in the niches. Diocletian’s sarcophagus is found at the center of the burial chamber.

The Temple of Jupiter was built from 295 until 305 A.D. The rectangular temple stands on a pedestal. There is a portico supported by six columns leading to the entrance and both ends of the gabled roof are closed with tympana. The one above the entrance has a relief depicting gods and heroes.

According to the traditional view, the temple was dedicated to Jupiter, Roman chief god, god of the sky and of lightning. The cult of Jupiter was of utmost importance during the reign of Deocletian, as he considered Jupiter his patron god.

Diocletian was Roman Emperor from 284 until 305 A.D. He laid the foundations of the Dominate by ending the Crisis of the Third Century. His reforms re-established the stability of the empire.

Diocletian was born in 244 A.D. near the city of Salona, in the Roman province of Dalmatia. His military career probably started during the reign of Carus. He was proclaimed emperor by the military after one of Carus’s son also died.

During the first two decades of his reign, he fought many wars but did not suffer the fate of his predecessors. Diocletian introduced the Tetrarchy in which he and Maximilian reigned as Augusti while Galerius and Constantius Chlorus reigned as Caesars. Even though the empire was no longer united, it became easier to defend and control. However, internal political struggles soon continued and economic (financial) problems also appeared. In addition, Diocletian's health deteriorated, and he voluntarily abdicated his throne in 305 A.D. (becoming the first Roman emperor to do so) and retired to his palace built in his homeland. However, he did not enjoy his retirement for long, as he died in 312 A.D. (?).

In the Augustan History, a collection of biographies of Roman Emperors written in Antiquity, Diocletian is referred to as 'vir rei publicae necessarius' ('the man whom the State needed').


Diocletian ruled as Roman Emperor at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century. He ordered the construction of his palace in 295 A.D. in his homeland, in the province of Dalmatia, to retire there. In 305 A.D. he voluntarily abdicated and spent the rest of his life in the building complex that stood on the shore of the Adriatic Sea.

Diocletian’s Palace features not only elements of palaces (palatia), but also military camps (castra) and country residences (villas). The palace’s uniquely divided structure, strong walls and watchtowers are all characteristics of castra. The decorated buildings of the imperial quarters and the seaward southern wall bear resemblance to palatia. While there are no towers on this side, the other three sides have a total of 16 towers.

The most ornate of the four gates is the northern Golden Gate (or Porta Aurea). Upon entering the gate, there is the north-south oriented cardo, one of the main axes of the palace. It intersects the other axis, the decumanus, at the center of the palace. The peristyle is an open space that follows the intersection of these two axes. It is flanked by Diocletian’s mausoleum on the east and the Temple of Jupiter on the west. Decorated buildings connected to the imperial quarters are found on the southern side of the palace. The Bronze Gate (or Porta Aenea) faces the harbor and the Adriatic Sea.

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