Diocletian’s Palace is a beautiful Roman palace that was built in the 4th century of the common era. Today, it can be discovered in the old town of Split, Croatia.
Believe it or not, you may have already seen the palace on tv! If you are a Game of Thrones fan, the Palace was used as the set for Mereen in season 4. It is here, in the catacombs underneath the Palace, that Daenerys locks up her two dragons after receiving complaints from the nearby villagers.
The large fortress was constructed on a peninsula 6km southwest of Salona, which was the capital of a Roman province at the time. Even though people refer to this as Diocletian’s Palace – it is actually not really a palace in its traditional sense. The palace covers a large area and resembles a fortress, with many buildings and sites within the palace grounds.
When it was first built, half of the palace was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest was for military purposes.
The whole complex occupied around 30,000 square meters. Today these ruins lie in the heart of the city of Split in Croatia.
The ancient fortress now is filled with numerous shops, cafes, restaurants, and also residences, located in the old buildings on narrow streets.
There are about 3000 residents live on the territory of Diocletian’s palace today.
Now you are probably wondering, who was Diocletian and why did he deserve such an amazing residence?
Who was Diocletian
Diocletian was a Roman emperor and reigned from 284 to 305 of the common era. He did not come from a noble family, and his success can be attributed to his military prowess. He rose through the military and become a cavalry commander of Emperor Carus’s army.
When Emperor Carus and his son Numerian died on a campaign in Persia, Diocletian was named as emperor. There was a struggle for power, and Emperor Carus’s surviving son claimed title to the position, but Diocletian defeated him in the Battle of the Margus.
After an amazingly long 21 years in power, Diocletian left the imperial office on 1 May 305. He was ill and wanted to retreat back to his palace, and after visiting the site of the palace, you will understand why he became the first Roman emperor to abdicate his position voluntarily.
Diocletian lived out his retirement in his palace in modern-day Croatia. Records state that he was fond of his vegetable gardens and would tend to them daily. Diocletian palace eventually evolved to become the core of the modern-day city of Split in Croatia.
History of Diocletian’s Palace
Origin of the Palace
The history of Diocletian’s Palace starts in around the year 295 of the common era, when Diocletian ordered the construction of the palace in preparation for his retirement on 1 May 305.
There were multiple reasons why he chose this site. One was that it was near his hometown of Spalatum. The second was because it was close to Salona, the provincial administrative center of Dalmatia.
It is unknown as to who the designers or architects of the palace were, however, the design was quite a common look for Roman forts of the 3rd-century.
As mentioned above, Diocletian spent his last days in his palace gardens, and whilst it is not completely known how he died, some historians believe that Diocletian may have committed suicide on 3 December 312.
The second life of the Palace
Diocletian Palace was used to shelter refugees from Salona when it was destroyed by the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century.
Since that mass migration, within the walls of the palace have been businesses, restaurants, shops, and residences, meaning that the palace has been continuously occupied since the 7th century.
For this reason, Diocletian’s Palace is such an important structure because it is so well preserved. As the world’s best-preserved Roman palace, it holds a high place in the history of Rome, and therefore, the history of the world.
Sections of the Palace
The North Gate – Originally the Main gate where the Emperor entered the complex, today the church of St Martin is located above the gate, and is open to tourists.
The South Gate – Originally a gate accessible by the sea, the Emperor entered the palace through this gate by boat.
The East Gate – faces east and contains a small church dedicated to St. Apolinar.
The West Gate – originally a gate for the military and troops, the gate is the only of the four to have remained in continuous use till today.
Emperors Apartment – the building where the Emperor lived, the apartments formed a block in front of the coast.
The Palace Cellars – beneath the palace located at the southern end of the palace. In Roman times, their function was used as a storage area for the Palace.
Temple of Jupiter – the temple served to celebrate the Roman god Jupiter.
Peristyle – as the central square of the Palace, intended for Emperor Diocletian celebrated as the living son of Jupiter, finds its place among many temples.
Vestibule – the vestibule is an impressive sight to behold and was used to enter the residential part of the palace.
Today, Diocletian’s palace is an amazingly beautiful example of how the modern world can blend with the ancient.