At the end of the third century AD, the Roman Emperor
Diocletian built his palace on the bay of Aspalathos.
Here, after abdicating on the first of May in A.D.
305, he spent the last years of his life. The bay
is located on the south side of a short peninsula
running out from the Dalmatian coast into the Adriatic,
four miles from the site of Salona, the capital of
the Roman province of Dalmatia. The terrain on which
the palace was built slopes gently seaward. It is
typical karst terrain, consisting of low limestone
ridges running east to west with marl in the clefts
This palace is today the heart of the inner-city of
Split where all the most important historical buildings
can be found. The importance of Diocletian's Palace
far transcends local significance because of its level
of preservation and the buildings of succeeding historical
periods, stretching from Roman times onwards, which
form the very tissue of old Split. The Palace is one
of the most famous and integral architectural and
cultural constructs on the Croatian Adriatic coast
and holds an outstanding place in the Mediterranean,
European and world heritage.
In November 1979 UNESCO, in line with the international
convention concerning the cultural and natural heritage,
adopted a proposal that the historic Split inner city,
built around the Palace, should be included in the
register of the World Cultural Heritage.
The ground plan of the palace is an irregular rectangle
with towers projecting from the western, northern,
and eastern facades. It combines qualities of a
luxurious villa with those of a military camp. 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 was
simpler in shape and dimensions than the other three.
Perhaps it was originally intended as the emperor's
private access to boats, or as a service entrance
The dual nature of the architectural scheme, derived
from both villa and castrum types, is also evident
in the arrangement of the interior. The transverse
road (decumanus) linking the east and west gates
divided the complex into two halves. In the southern
half were the more luxurious structures; that is,
the emperor's apartment, both public and private,
and cult buildings. The emperor's apartment formed
a block along the sea front. Because the sloping
terrain created large differences in level, this
block was situated above a substructure. Although
for many centuries almost completely filled with
refuse, most of the substructure is well preserved,
giving us evidence as to the original shape and
disposition of the rooms above.
A monumental court, called the Perystile, formed
the northern access to the imperial apartments.
It also gave access to Diocletian's Mausoleum on
the east, and to three temples on the west.
The northern half of the palace, which was divided
in two parts by the main longitudinal street (cardo)
leading from the North Gate to the Perystile, is
less well preserved. It is usually supposed that
each of these parts formed a large residential complex,
housing soldiers, servants, and possibly some other
facilities. Both parts were apparently surrounded
on all sides by streets. Leading to perimeter walls
there were rectangular buildings, possibly storage
The Palace is built of white local limestone of
high quality, most of which was from quarries on
the island of Brac; tuffa taken from the nearby
river beds; and brick made in Salonitan and other
workshops. Some material for decoration was imported:
Egyptian granite columns and sphinxes, fine marble
for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops
in the Proconnesos.
Water for the palace came from the Jadro river
near Salona. Along the road from Split to Salona
impressive remains of the original aqueduct can
still be seen. They were extensively restored in
the nineteenth century.