Located in the heart of the city of Split, the palace complex was constructed in preparation for the retirement of Roman Emperor Diocletian in 305 AD. The location was chosen by Diocletian as he was born, and spent his childhood, nearby in the town of Solin. He lived in the palace for the last 10 years of his life dying in 316.
Built of local limestone and white marble, some of the materials however came from as far away as Egypt, as were a number of granite sphinxes, two of which can still be seen in the palace. Construction was started in 293 and the palace took 10 years to build. The complex was situated on the sea front so that the Emperor could access the palace directly from his ship. It has a form of an irregular rectangle shape (approx. 215 x 180 meters) similar to a Roman military camp and covers an area of approx. 3 hectares, which also included a barracks for troops, and is protected by defences consisting of walls 2 metres thick and 22 metres high on the Adriatic side and 18 metres high on the north side. There were 16 towers, 3 of which remain, and it had four gates, the ruins of which can still be seen. It has 4 arcaded avenues 11 metres wide, which converge in the middle of the complex.
The complex contains the State Rooms, which are the Emperorís apartments. These were located on the southern side facing the sea and include an audience hall. The complex has offices, storage facilities and baths, together with courtyards and gardens. Originally with three temples, only one of the which - the Temple of Jupiter - has survived and which was converted to a baptistery. It also contains Diocletianís Mausoleum, which is octagonal in shape.
A courtyard, known as the Peristyle, provided access to the Emperorís apartment and also to the mausoleum. The mausoleum is enclosed by 24 columns. The interior is circular in shape with four semi-circular and four rectangular niches. Diocletian's sarcophagus, stood in the centre. Above the niches are eight Corinthian pillars in red granite, with another eight smaller ones above those. The mausoleum was converted to the Cathedral of St Domnius at the end of the 6th century, reusing materials from the original mausoleum, and was consecrated in the 7th century.
The Bell Tower of the Cathedral, 57m in height, was added in the 13th century but underwent extensive reconstruction at the beginning of the 20th century. This allows access to the top of the tower, providing good views over the surrounding area.
The Peristyle also provided access to the three temples within the complex. The Emperorís apartments in the southern section can still be seen as they were well preserved, probably as a consequence of them being filled with rubbish for many centuries.
The substructure consists of a number of halls. These were excavated in 1956 and now contain a museum and stalls selling souvenirs, although their original purpose was to level the structure. The rooms consist of a number of barrel-vaulted rooms which lay below and support the promenade above.
The northern section of the palace is less well preserved. This is thought to have been where the soldiers and servants were accommodated and where the storage facilities were located.
After the death of Diocletian in 316, the city was abandoned until the 7th century when, over a period of time, parts of the palace were adapted for the people living in the area. It was during this period that the mausoleum was rebuilt and converted into a Christian church with five-tiered bell tower, and the Temple of Jupiter came to be used for Christians baptisms.
Over time, much of the antiquities were destroyed or stolen, including the sarcophagus of Diocletian, and its fate is not known.
Additional works resulted in the palace being incorporated into the City of Split as it developed, yet the original palace can still be seen and provides an impression of how it was when used by Diocletian.
In 1979 the palace and surrounding historic city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Currently the World Monuments Fund is working on a conservation project at the palace, which includes the cleaning and restoring of the stone and plasterwork and also the surveying of its structural integrity.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.