The old town of Split, the cultural centre of Croatia, has architectural legacies around every corner. One of its greatest treasures is Diocletian's Palace, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Croatian city of Split, as the central sea and ferry port head and heart of Dalmatia, can be described as a history book carved in stone. The cultural metropolis on the Croatian coast attracts visitors with a multitude of historical sights as well as a wide range of museums, galleries and theatres. We have named Split one of our 10 most beautiful cities in Croatia.
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Diocletian's Palace - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The famous Diocletian's Palace forms the centre of Split's old town and is one of our top 10 sights of Croatia. It was the seed from which Split was born, the city developed within its walls 1,700 years ago. Together with the historical centre of Split, Diocletian's Palace has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
PICTURES: Diocletian's Palace in Split
Origin of Diocletian's Palace
The Diocletian's Palace was built in the record time from 295 to 305 as a retirement residence for the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The palace is a skilful mixture of luxury villa and military camp with thick walls, a transverse and a longitudinal street and four imposing corner towers.
The strategic location in the centre of the Roman Empire was not chosen by chance. Up to 9,000 people once lived in Diocletian's palace, with the king's chambers to the south and the camps for servants and soldiers to the north.
Over the centuries, Diocletian's Palace was altered by a wide variety of peoples. However, the Byzantines, Venetians and finally the Austrians had enough respect for the time-honoured walls not to damage them too much. That is why Diocletian's Palace is still extremely well preserved today.
With an area of 40,000 square metres, the palace today occupies almost half of the entire old town of Split. A walk through Diocletian's Palace takes you through porticoes and past numerous Venetian and Romanesque buildings worth seeing.
Sveti Duje Cathedral
In the midst of Diocletian's Palace, the impressive Sveti Duje Cathedral towers unmistakably above the rooftops of Split's old town. Split's cathedral was built in 313 immediately after the death of the Roman emperor Diocletian on a circular floor plan and originally functioned as a mausoleum for the recently deceased ruler.
Until the 6th century, the ancient building housed the final resting place of Diocletian and his wife Priske. Afterwards, the mausoleum was converted into a church, the pagan symbols and also the emperor's sarcophagus were removed. The cathedral was dedicated to Saint Domnius (Sveti Duje), a martyr and the first bishop of Salona, whom Emperor Diocletian himself had murdered in 304.
The year in which the cathedral was built, 313 AD, was also the historic year in which Christians were granted freedom of worship, which is why Sveti Duje Cathedral is considered the oldest cathedral in the world. Even the construction of St. Peter's Bas ilica in Rome, which is considered the birthplace of the papacy, was started two years after it.
PICTURES: Sveti Duje Cathedral in Split
Visit to the Sveti Duje Cathedral
On entering the cathedral, it is worth taking a look at the ornate church door, one of the few well-preserved wooden doors from that period. In 1214, the local master Andrija Buvina carved 28 richly decorated scenes from the life of Christ into the dark chestnut wood.
Magnificent interior of the Sveti Duje Cathedral
When you step over the threshold, you are overwhelmed by the magnificent interior. Even the pews are hand-carved and date back to the 13th century. The roof of the cathedral is supported by 24 marble columns with richly decorated capitals.
The elaborately decorated pulpit by Master Mavro from the mid-13th century is made of green and black porphyry, a precious volcanic stone that was probably stolen from the ritually destroyed sarcophagus of the emperor. Numerous fantastic oil paintings and reliefs depict scenes from the life of Saint Domnius and the Virgin Mary.
The baroque main altar dates from the early 15th century and is one of the most beautiful in the country. The two stone altars to the right and left of the main altar in the form of magnificently decorated sarcophagi are dedicated to St Domnius and St Anastius. The latter was a simple labourer who also died as a martyr on Diocletian's behalf.
Sveti Duje Cathedral Bell Tower
The 57m high bell tower is just opposite the entrance to the cathedral. The tower was built by unknown builders in the 13th century and is one of the best preserved on the entire Adriatic coast.
The bell tower of Split Cathedral was completed over a period of 300 years and therefore contained both Romanesque and Gothic elements. However, during its restoration, the Romanesque sculptures were removed. Some pieces of it are also on display in the Split Museum. The original diversity and liveliness of the bell tower was unfortunately somewhat lost as a result.
PICTURES: Bell tower of the Sveti Duji Cathedral in Split
Climbing the bell tower
The slender, semi-transparent bell tower can be climbed over 200 steps for a small fee. But beware: if you get a slight fear of heights, you should refrain from climbing it, because during the ascent from the stairs you can see permanently into the dizzying depths.
Once at the top, you are rewarded with a fantastic panoramic view of the architectural treasures inside Diocletian's Palace, over the roofs of the old town and the sea, and of Mount Marjan.
The treasury on the first floor of the sacristy contains valuable relics of St Domnius, a Romanesque image of Mother Mary from the 13th century, valuable mass vestments and goldsmith's work and a 7th century Gospel, the oldest in Split.
City gates of Diocletian's Palace
The almost 20-metre-high tower-fortified walls can still be easily seen today with their imposing city gates. Diocletian's Palace can be entered through a sea gate in the south and three land gates in the north, east and west. The four gates all bear metal names: Porta Aurea - Gold Gate, Porta Argentea - Silver Gate, Porta Ferrea - Iron Gate and Porta Aenea - Copper Gate.
Porta Aurea - Gold Gate
The Golden Gate in the north is the most beautifully designed of all, as it used to serve as the main entrance to the palace. The road from Salona to Split ended here. The octagonal towers that once flanked it have disappeared, but they are still reasonably well preserved at the iron gate to the west.
Porta Argentea - Silver Gate
At the Silver Gate in the east, there is daily market noise when not only fish, but also fruit, vegetables, schnapps and souvenirs are offered for sale at the fish market. Just opposite the Silver Gate stands the 17th century church of Sveti Dominik.
Porta Aenea - Copper Gate
The rather plain copper gate in the south leads to the Riva, Split's picturesque harbour promenade.
Podrumi - Palace Cellar
Just as high up, the Diocletian's Palace goes deep down, into the podrumi, literally translated as "cellars". These corridors, some of which are surprisingly high, lead past numerous souvenir stands at the copper gate under the palace today. The Podrumi are the best way to understand its enormous dimensions.
PICTURES: Cellar vaults in Diocletian's Palace in Split
Peristyle - colonnaded courtyard
At the peristyle, formerly the entrance to the imperial living quarters, the underground passages come to light again. The Sveti Duje Cathedral and three temples to the west of the palace, of which only the Temple of Jupiter (John's baptistery) remains today, could also be reached via the podrumi.
The emperor used to receive his state guests in front of the magnificent backdrop of this impressive colonnaded courtyard. Today, the peristyle houses several cafés and is used for concerts and other cultural events.
Also remarkable is the granite sphinx that can be seen at the peristyle. It originates from the site of Pharaoh Thutmosis III in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and is an incredible 3,500 years old. Originally there were four sphinxes to guard the emperor's final resting place. One is in the city museum, one has completely disappeared and the fourth is located - albeit without a head - in front of the Temple of Jupiter.
Temple of Jupiter
Somewhat off the beaten track in Split's old town lies a relatively inconspicuous temple that was once dedicated to the Roman father of the gods. Like the imperial palace, the Temple of Jupiter was built at the end of the third century under the then Roman Emperor Diocletian.
The Temple of Jupiter is located at the end of the narrow alley Kraj Sveti Ivana west of the peristyle of Diocletian's Palace and only about 100 metres from Sveti Duje Cathedral. Away from the big tourist crowds and since the temple is usually closed, it is usually wonderfully quiet in its surroundings. The temple can be entered on request at the cathedral. Here you can also buy combined tickets for the temple and the cathedral bell tower.
PICTURES: Temple of Jupiter in Split
Origin of the Temple of Jupiter in Split
The construction of the Temple of Jupiter took place from 295 to 305 as one of the three temples of Diocletian's palace, but has not been completed to this day. Legend has it that the emperor found the construction work on the temple too noisy after he had moved into his palace. Only the foundations of the other two temples, dedicated to the goddesses Venus and Cybele, have been found opposite the temple of Jupiter.
As early as the sixth century, some 200 years after the liberation of Christianity, the Temple of Jupiter was rededicated as a baptistery. The crypt under the temple is dedicated to St. Thomas and houses the tombs of the archbishops Ivan II and Lawrence from the 8th and 11th centuries.
Visit to the Temple of Jupiter in Split
Guarding the entrance to the baptistery, also similar to the cathedral, is a headless sphinx made of black granite . It was brought from Egypt at the behest of Diocletian and is a fabulous 3,500 years old.
Simple interior of the baptistery
The interior of the Temple of Jupiter consists of a single room whose carefully crafted coffered vault is a splendid example of early Renaissance art and is still almost original.
A bronze statue of John the Baptist, sculpted by Ivan Meštrović, a famous Croatian sculptor, faces the visitor from the back wall.
Baptismal font with historically valuable depiction of the king
In front of it is the baptismal font made of some marble relief panels that were attached to an altar in Split Cathedral in the 11th century. On it, among other things, is a depiction of the Croatian king Zvonimir, supposedly the oldest image of a European king on a stone sculpture.
Statue of Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski)
The famous statue of the Bishop of Nin is located in the north of the old town opposite the Gold Gate outside the walls of Diocletian's Palace and has strikingly brightly polished toes. No wonder - kissing or stroking his monumental feet is said to bring good luck.
The 8-metre-high statue was created in 1929 by the Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović, who was also known and active beyond the country's borders. Other works by the master can be admired in the Meštrović Gallery. The same statue, on a smaller scale but with an equally shiny toe, can also be found in the pretty salt town of Nin near Zadar.
To the west of Diocletian's Palace is the medieval extension of the city. The Illyrian, Roman, Venetian and Croatian history of Split can be traced in the Museum of Archaeological Monuments of Croatia with 3,000 exhibits.
Split harbour promenade
The Riva, Split's beautiful harbour promenade, also deserves special attention as the city's landmark. The wide, palm-lined promenade offers magnificent views of the harbour and Split's bay, where fishing boats, luxury yachts and sailing ships cavort on its azure waters.
From the harbour, ferries take you to every island in Dalmatia. Numerous cafés vie for guests here and on nice days it is very difficult to get a free seat at all.
If you've had enough of Split's historic architectural monuments and often noisy and crowded alleys, take a walk up Marjan Mountain. The mountain, which sits enthroned on Split's peninsula to the west of the old town, is home to an idyllic park and is known as the city's green oasis. Numerous hiking trails lead to the top of Marjan, from where a dreamlike panorama of Split spreads out.
Nightlife in Split
After sunset, the golden-lit buildings in Split's old town exude a very special atmosphere. Street artists use the narrow streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a stage and the numerous restaurants, clubs and bars ensure a good mood with Croatian specialities and live music. Tasting wines in a dignified atmosphere at Zinfandel, dining on romantic fish at the harbour or dancing the night away from ghetto to gaga - everything is possible at night in Split.
Tip: Even in summer, a night in Split pays off. When the heat of the day has gone, sightseeing away from the mass tourism is a good idea. Because most Croatian holidaymakers can be found in the summer months on one of our 10 most beautiful islands in Croatia or on the 10 most beautiful beaches in Croatia....
PICTURES: Old town of Split by night
History of Split
Split was founded around 500 BC by the Illyrians, who were displaced by the Greeks less than 200 years later. After the Greeks came the Romans, who built Split's first port, and under Emperor Diocletian the large-scale expansion of the city began.
Under Venetian rule in the 15th century, the political and economic decline of the flourishing port city began. It was not until the end of the 18th century that the Habsburgs made Split a seaside metropolis again and built magnificent residential buildings and administrative buildings between promenades and avenues. A stroll through the old town still reveals many of these imposing architectural monuments.
PICTURES: Old Town of Split