Last year in the New Year holidays we nearly freezed to ground traveling through the hills of Italy (Pisa, Bologna, Certaldo). Therefore, this year we decided not to leave far from the seacoast. Especially there is a beautiful country of Croatia next to us which is not less rich in historical and natural monuments than the old mother Europe .Our choice fell on the city of Split – the second largest city in Croatia. The history of this city is unique, it has grown from a small palace, the size of which was 215 m long and 180 m wide. The owner of the palace was the Roman emperor Diocletian.
He accomplished a lot in his service. But because our story concerns the Emperor only indirectly, about his military and government victories you can read in Wikipedia. On 1st May 305 Diocletian decided to abandon high public office in Rome and went to his “retirement house” that was painstakingly being built in the past 10 years on the Adriatic coast, not far from his home town of Salon.
Traditionally, for the convenience I note all the attractions on the map of Split.
The palace was built as a model of a Roman military camp. It had the shape of an irregular quadrangle and along the perimeter it was surrounded by thick walls.
The gates were located in each of the four walls: Golden (Porta aurea) in the north, Silver (Porta argentea) in the east, Bronze (Porta Aenea) in the south and Ferrous (Porta ferrea) in the west. To our times the clear semicircles of small arches and carved capitals of the Golden Gates, the tower side of the Silver and Ferrous Gates with the image of the goddess of victory over arch have survived.
Its southern side the palace is facing the sea. In this part there were richly decorated rooms of Diocletian, libraries, a refectory and terms and on top of the defensive wall there was a wide porch for walks and rest of the Emperor.
If you enter the territory on the side of the quay you will come to a long cool room- it is a basement of the Roman palace which was under the imperial repose. Today it is selling souvenirs.
If you pass through the cellars you get to the central area, framed by a colonnade – Peristyle. The Romans used it for ceremonies and today the square hosts an annual theater festival «Split Summer». Here, on the steps of the Peristyle, on the left side of the square (when you look from the basement) is located one of the most popular restaurants in Split – Luxor.
Behind us there is the entrance to the imperial apartments. It is designed as a portico with four columns made of dark red granite, built on a high podium with two symmetrical staircases. Once he was crowned with the quadriga bronze goddess Victory – its layout we have seen in the museum of Split. The entrance leads to the lobby – a large round room with a dome. I really wanted to see the famous “open” dome, but unfortunately, due to the repair, the lobby area was closed and there was only a narrow passage.
Once it was one of the state rooms in the palace with a marble facing and a mosaic floor. Hall led to the emperor’s private apartments, decoration of which differed unprecedented luxury. The walls were lined with marble of various colors, the floors were covered with a mosaic pattern. Rooms were decorated with expensive rare fabrics, marble sculptures and vases. Much of this was brought from the eastern countries or taken from the Greek temples and palaces. Unfortunately, there is nothing left from that beauty: a big part of the Emperor reposes was destroyed and rebuilt in the following centuries.
A bit further the imperial triclinium is located. It is a banquet hall which was isolated in a separate room under the influence of Greek traditions. Here the Romans ate, drank and were attached to other pleasures, laying on couches-wedges.
Temple of Jupiter
But back to the Peristyle. If you turn on a narrow street in front of the restaurant, a few meters in front of you the Temple of Jupiter will open. Construction of the temple went on simultaneously with the construction of the palace, at the end of the third century AD its entrance was decorated with two sphinxes, specially imported from Egypt by Diocletian. Totally, monuments of 12 Egyptian cats were established onthe territory of the imperial residence.
In the Middle Ages the church was rebuilt in the baptistery of St. John the Baptist. Today the tombs of Split archbishops Ivan II (X century) and Lawrence (1099), a marble slab with the name of the Croatian King Zvonimir and a large bronze statue of John the Baptist – the work of sculpture by Ivan Mestrovic are kept in store.
We could not get into the temple because of the Christmas holidays or non-touristic winter season it was closed. But we were able to visit the «heart of the Palace» in the mausoleum of Diocletian, and part-time Christian church.
And by the way, on the left of the Temple of Jupiter is the narrowest street in Split «Let me pass». It was very difficult to find it because it is not defined by any reference points and I had to pry the locals for its location.
The mausoleum where the emperor and his family were buried is located opposite to the restaurant Luxor. At one time it was the tallest building ensemble but it went under the ground and it seems to be lower and squatter now.
Large round room with a dome was once richly decorated with mosaics. Twinkling in the twilight, it gave the room a special mystique. There was a tombstone made of red porphyry in the center over the grave of Diocletian.
The entire perimeter of the wall was stretched with a relief frieze depicting hunting scenes of Eros. It included medallions with images of Diocletian and his wife Prisca, as well as the god Hermes in winged cap which is seeing off the souls of the dead to the underworld of Hades.
And here we will make a small remark. The emperor Diocletian was known not only for his military victories and state reforms. He also went down in history as one of the worst persecutors of Christians. More than once he arranged public executions of dissidents, not shrinking preachers and his own guards (remember the 5 Martyrs Church in Salon). Another martyred by Diocletian was the first bishop Salonsky blast furnace (Domnio or Domnion), or Douillet (Duje). Some believe that he was sent to preach in Dalmatia St. Peter with his apostles from 70. After the death Douillet was buried at the Salon in the Basilica of the bishop.
After the death of Diocletian’s palace was abandoned and for three centuries it was empty and unsociable. And so it would have remained standing if in 614 Salon was not attacked by the pagan tribes of Avars and the town was not burnt. The remaining residents were forced to seek for a refuge in a safe and fortified walls of an abandoned Roman castle. And once they had nowhere to go back – Salon destroyed almost everything- it was decided on the spot to establish a new city palace. At first it was called Spalato (Grand Palace), and then Split.
In a short time the palace took a city with a population of about four thousand people. Those who were richer built inside the palace walls of the house, the other sheltered premises of the former imperial residence.
It changed the face of the palace forever. Peristyle became the market area, new house included the arcades of the old walls in them and the sea has moved away from the palace walls giving a way to the waterfront.
It’s time to think about the spiritual component. Since the death of salons in Dalmatia there were no bishops. Then Pope John IV sent legate named John a native of Ravenna to Split in order he would have strengthened the faith of the new city. And his first step was the “birth of a saint” – the heavenly patron of the city. He had selected an already familiar to us first bishop Salonsky Douillet. His remains were first transferred to the Temple of Jupiter and then found their final shelter in Diocletian’s mausoleum.
All the imperial sarcophagus were thrown from the latter and there was organized the Cathedral of Saint Douillet. Thus, even after Diocletian’s death his fate was able to play on him the cruelest joke: the last refuge of the persecutor of Christians became the main Christian shrine. It is assumed that the church of St. Douillet is the oldest surviving Christian cathedral in the world! One of the elements of the temple is a carved decoration entrance gate that was built in 1220. They depict scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.
Earlier the gate was covered with gold but gold has not preserved until today. To look at the gate you need to go to the temple.
Beforehand confirm the hours of operation. For example, in winter it is only during morning and evening services.
In 1100 the bell tower was attached to the church, which today is a symbol of Split, and is shown in a lot of souvenirs. This concludes our tour through the and we go beyond its boundary.
Monument to Gregory Nin
From the Golden Gates we were met by a huge sculpture – a monument to Gregory Nin. In the X century he has achieved the right to preach in the Croatian language not in Latin, as was done before. Thus, he gave impetus to the preservation and development of the language and culture of Croatia. During World War II monument was cut into 3 pieces and buried in the garden near the walls of the palace, and restored after the war.
Now he fulfills the desires of tourists. You have to rub the big toe of the saint and make a wish. They say that all desires will certainly be executed. Judging by the fact that the toe of his left foot glitters, eager to make a wish is not small, and Jaroslav was seen among them.
The bell tower of Saint Rainier
Behind the monument to the bishop stands the bell tower of the Benedictine monastery of Saint Rainier. In former times this was part of the bell tower of the monastery which was founded in Split in 1060. The monastery existed successfully for more than eight centuries, but in 1877 the whole complex was completely destroyed by fire and only partly survived. Today, this magnificent tower is a reminder of past greatness of the monastery.
Layout of Split City
Our next point of interest is quite modern. This is a layout of Split – a ferrous map which is installed in the beginning of the waterfront, directly opposite the exit from the cellars of the Palace.
Church of St. Franjo
Passing along the waterfront, we bristle in the Church of Saint Franc which was built in the XVIII century by Italian architects. We did not go inside but they said that there were stored icons and murals dating from the XVII century. If you’re interested in it be sure to visit it.
To the right of the church there is a small square, made in the best Venetian tradition – the area of the Republic or Prokuratives. It is all about the main attractions of Split.
But before finishing my long story I’ll show you a bit of the city at night, decorated in honor of the New Year holidays.
If you decide to stay in Split for a few days take an advantage of profitable hotel booking. The lowest prices you can find here.
We ourselves stayed in these apartments. It is a 5-minute walk to the Golden Gates of the palace.
By the way, if you decide to follow our example, you can write to the owner’s e –mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate the promotion code to receive the discount: 10% -OFF-2015-2016
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