Diocletian’s Palace

sights / Historic

Lonely Planet review

Facing the harbour, Diocletian’s Palace is one of the most imposing Roman ruins in existence and the place you’ll spend most of your time while in Split. Don’t expect a palace though, nor a museum – this is the living heart of the city, its labyrinthine streets packed with people, bars, shops and restaurants. The narrow streets hide passageways and courtyards, some deserted and eerie, others thumping with music from bars and cafes, while the local residents hang out their washing overhead, kids play football amid the ancient walls, and grannies sit in their windows watching the action below. It’s an enchanting place.

Although the original structure was modified in the Middle Ages, the alterations have only served to increase the allure of this fascinating site. The palace was built from lustrous white stone from the island of Brač, and construction lasted 10 years. Diocletian spared no expense, importing marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and sphinxes from Egypt. A military fortress, imperial residence and fortified town, the palace measures 215m from east to west (including the square corner towers) and is 181m wide at the southernmost point. The walls at their highest measure 26m and the entire structure covers 31,000 sq metres.

Each wall has a gate named after a metal: at the northern end is the Golden Gate , while the southern end has the Bronze Gate . The eastern gate is the Silver Gate and to the west is the Iron Gate . Between the eastern and western gates there’s a straight road (Krešimirova; also known as Decumanus), which separates the imperial residence on the southern side, with its state rooms and temples, from the northern side, once used by soldiers and servants. The Bronze Gate, in the southern wall, led from the living quarters to the sea. Two of the gates, the Bronze and the Golden, are fronted by city landmarks: Meštrović sculptures of literary scholar Marko Marulić and the medieval bishop Grgur Ninski.

There are 220 buildings within the palace boundaries, home to about 3000 people. Each street has small signs at its beginning and end marking what you’ll find upon it: bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, museums. It makes moving around much easier, though one of the best things you can do is get lost in the palace – it’s small enough that you’ll always find your way out easily. In any case, once you enter the palace, forget about street names.

The best way to see the palace’s main sights is to follow our walking tour.