Though the Dalmatian Coast is recognized more and more for its outstanding beauty and history, very few American tourists make their way to its shores. Split, Croatia is one of the hidden gems of Dalmatia. As a port city, Split welcomes numerous cruise ships each day. Most are there to enjoy the sunny weather and unique Dalmatian cuisine. Yet, a short walk from the modern shops and cafes leads to an ancient treasure, Diocletian’s Palace.
At the turn of the fourth century AD, the Roman emperor Diocletian constructed a massive palace on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic Sea (modern day Croatia). As the first Roman emperor ever to voluntarily retire from his position, Diocletian intended to use the Palace as his retirement residence. Diocletian took up residence in the Palace on May 1, 305 AD passing the time by tending to his gardens until his death in 311.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the Romans abandoned the site, and the Palace remained empty until the 7th century when nearby citizens sought refuge inside from the invading Slavs. Since that time, the Palace has been continuously occupied with homes and businesses inside its walls.
Today the palace forms the center of the city of Split, Croatia. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, Diocletian’s Palace is the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace and remains one of the most famous and interesting Ancient Roman tourist destinations.
Walking the castle grounds transports any visitor back to the time of Ancient Rome. Even Hollywood has utilized the ancient site. In 2014, the television show Game of Thrones used the Palace as a filming location. Before touring the Palace, I sat down on the steps of the courtyard, now an entrance to a café, and took in its beauty. The walls, buildings, and courtyard are constructed of white limestone and marble.
The courtyard serves as the starting point for a tour of the Palace. The first stop is the Cathedral of St. Dominus.
As I walked up the steps to the Cathedral, its spires piercing the sky and casting a shadow upon the steps, a 3500 year-old Egyptian Sphinx pillaged from the tomb of Pharaoh Thutmose III greeted me. The cathedral is one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the world. Though it is now a church, it originally served as a temple to the Roman god Jupiter and later as Diocletian’s mausoleum. History is serving up a bit of irony here. One Diocletian’s enduring marks on history is his persecution of Christianity. The Diocletian Persecution was the largest, bloodiest, and final Roman persecution of Christianity before Christianity became the majority religion of the Roman empire in the year 324 A. D.
After touring the cathedral, visitors are directed to visit the nearby Palace Museum. Inside, Roman relics and ancient Christian artifacts are mixed together. Of course, he most interesting exhibits display items related to the Palace’s famous resident. Of particular interest is a giant bust of Diocletian that was on display in Ancient Rome during his time as emperor.
After exploring this ancient ruins, the city of Split offers all the relaxing comforts of a modern coast city. Its many cafes provide the setting for marveling about a visit to the Palace. As the sun began to set, I thought about the enduring, ancient Palace and the beauty of Split. For me, Split was no longer a hidden destination, but one of the most interesting places I had ever visited.