The last port day on our recent Med cruise was Split, Croatia. You may recall that we missed our first scheduled port day in Dubrovnik, Croatia, because high winds delayed our departure from Venice. Winds picked up again as we headed into Split, and the ship couldn’t dock. We were supposed to arrive in the morning and depart at 5:00. The ship was finally allowed to enter the harbor in the early afternoon, and the captain fortunately postponed our departure time out of Split until 7:30 pm. That only left us five hours in port, but it was enough to make a tour of Diocletian’s Palace.
When the Roman emperor Diocletian retired in the 4th C AD, he returned to his roots in Split, Croatia, and built a huge retirement complex there. It was part palace, and part military garrison, but it was large enough to house 9000 people within its walls. Diocletian could step right from his boat onto the palace steps of the South Gate.
You can see the walls of the palace from the ship’s dock, and it is a 10-minute walk to reach the now land-locked South Gate. The old town of Split has grown in and around the palace. It was abandoned for several hundred years after the fall of the Empire, but it is not a ruin–it forms the skeleton of the modern city. The palace has been continuously occupied since the 7th century and is a World Heritage Monument. Residents of the city have shops and apartments within the walls, and go about their daily lives there as others have for the last 1300 years.
The main courtyard of the palace is the Peristyle, which contains the entrance to the royal apartments. It is to the right in the picture above. Diocletian’s mausoleum is behind the large columns. The darker gray columns are Egyptian granite, and are similar to the columns that hold up the portico of the Pantheon in Rome. They were carved in antiquity long before these Roman buildings were constructed–if you look hard into the far corner of the Peristyle, you can see a sphinx carved in black basalt, which was also booty taken from Egypt.
You pay to enter the mausoleum (which is now a church), and you can also climb the adjacent bell tower for a nice view of the city.
It was cold, rainy, and windy during our port day here, and not everything was open. Unfortunately we could not enter the Temple of Jupiter. After we saw what we could of the antiquities, we paid for entrance into the underground part of the palace. It had filled up with garbage and detritus over the centuries, but has recently been excavated. Supposedly the design of the palace mirrored the subterranean architecture of the basement halls. I am usually disconcerted by the artworks and installations that are often placed in sites like these in Europe; however, I did like the paintings below from an exhibition in the basement halls. It seems like the painter has taken inspiration from the early medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch.As you wander the vast chambers below the palace, you really do feel like you are in a movie set. When I returned home, I found the wiki for Diocletian’s Palace, and noted that some scenes from Season 4 of Game of Thrones was filmed here. The following images are from two of those scenes.
By the time we finished our tour of the palace underground, it was dark. We made a circumnavigation of the Palace from the outside, and admired the drama of the floodlit walls.
There is so much more to see along this coastline, but I think we made good use of our few hours there.