The Diocletian Palace in Split, Croatia, is one of the most important attractions in the world and by far the best thing to see in Split. Today, we’ll learn everything one should know about visiting Diocletian’s Palace.
This staggering symbol of history and culture, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979, the Palace represents the most valuable example of Roman architecture on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Emperor Diocletian chose this site for his magnificent Palace because it was close to its place of birth, Salona, which was located near modern day Split.
If you take a close look at the layout of the Palace, you’ll note the almost rectangular walls – a reflection of a Roman military camp, or ‘castrum.’
Two main streets, Cardo and Decumanus, dominate the interior structure and lead to many points of interest. These are the main streets that you can visit today, taking a trip back in history.
Planning to visit? I recommend booking a “skip the line” ticket for Diocletian’s Palace. Click here to check it out – a great deal!
Initially intended as a royal residence, this palace has withstood the test of time, keeping the essence of life within its walls intact for over 1700 years.
Its construction began around 295 AD, to be ready for Diocletian’s retirement in 305 AD. It was built with high-quality limestone and marble from Brac island and Seget near Trogir. As a fun fact, the marble is the same used for building the White House in the US.
For more fun facts about Croatia, make sure to read my previous article.
Diocletian Palace Gates: The First Attraction
To set foot in this historical wonder, you must pass through one of four unique gates, each named after a different metal.
These all lead to Split’s historic center and each can be considered an attraction – one that can also be seen from outside, without the need to actually get inside the palace.
Let’s learn a bit more about each of the gates of Diocletian’s palace and why they’re so important.
Bronze or Brass Gate
This is probably the best entry point into the Palace itself, and the place used by most guides and tours as an entrance.
This southern entry point, initially designed for sailing ships, greets you with the palace basement and underground cellars, home to exhibitions and souvenir stands.
In the basement area, you can find a map highlighting the structure of the entire palace. And walking through this gate, you can easily get into the main square of the palace called the Peristyle.
Moving onto the Silver Gate on the eastern walls, you will be entering the busiest passageway. This entrance is the busiest since it’s close to the green market (Pazar).
With its close proximity to Split ferry port, this gate is a popular entry point for many visitors.
The Silver Gate leads directly to the Decumanus street (today called Kresimirova street), the original east-west street that intersects with Cardo, the original north-south artery, at the Peristyle square.
Taking this route can take you to the next gate we’re going to talk about.
Further west, the Iron Gate welcomes you beneath the clock. This is why it’s commonly called the “entrance under the clock” or the “gate under the clock“.
An intriguing feature of this gate is the 11th-century bell tower from the church of Our Lady of the Belfry, the oldest preserved bell tower on the Adriatic coast.
A nearby attraction is the beautifully preserved patrician palace of the Cipriani Benedetti family, known for its distinctive arched windows. And, of course, the clock that it gets its name from, which has 24 figures.
The Golden Gate, located to the north, is the main entrance that once directly connected the palace to Salona.
This gate boasts intricate decorations, including statues of Emperor Diocletian and co-regent Maximilian.
Exiting this gate, you will find yourself face-to-face with the monument of Bishop Gregius of Nin (Grgur Ninski), a popular tourist spot. Back in the days, this gate was only used by the emperor and his family.
The Heart of the Diocletian Palace
At the center of the palace, you’ll discover the central piazza, Peristyle, framed by colonnades, sphinxes, and key architectural features such as the Cathedral of St. Domnius and Diocletian’s Mausoleum.
This is the oldest part of town and the main attraction, where you have plenty of things to see.
Here are the key sights not to be missed:
- Vestibule: The entrance to Diocletian’s private quarters, acting as an anteroom for visitors.
- Prothyron: The façade of Peristyle, leading to the royal chambers.
- Cathedral and Bell Tower of St. Domnius: To the east of Peristyle, stands the magnificent Cathedral of St. Domnius, a symbol of Split town.
- Emperor Diocletian’s Sphinxes: Out of twelve sphinxes Diocletian brought from Egypt, only one survives today.
- Temple of Jupiter: One of three original temples, located in the western part of the palace.
- ‘Let me pass’ street: The narrowest street in Split, connecting Peristyle Square to the temple of Jupiter.
- St. Martin’s Church: A hidden gem, this tiny church is nestled above the Golden Gate.
In order to make sure that you don’t miss anything important and that you can easily navigate the labyrinth of the streets in the old town area, I have to once again recommend getting a guided walking tour like this skip the line tour of Diocletian’s Palace.
Video tour of Diocletian’s Palace
Now, if you prefer the virtual experience (which is nowhere near the real one), I can share below this video tour of the Diocletian Palace.
It’s perfect for creating an impression about the place and prepare you for the actual visit:
Nestled within these ancient walls of Diocletian’s Palace, you will find a city within a city, living, and evolving, carrying the rich history of Split through the centuries.
By walking on its paths, you are not just exploring an ancient palace; you are walking through the heart of Split, and you can easily feel the rich history of the place.
Truly amazing, an definitely one of the best things to see not only in Split, but in Croatia as a whole. And once you’re done with it, make sure to also read about the best beaches in Split.
If you have additional questions – or if you want to share your experience visiting this marvelous piece of architecture and history, don’t hesitate to share your comments down below.