Visiting Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia

The peristyle, or central square of Diocletian’s Palace

We stayed for a week in Split. Originally we only planned to stay for three days, but it was so useful as a central location to visit nearby sights such as Salona, Sibenik, Trogir and Krka Waterfalls. We soon discovered there was a lot to do in the city itself, so we added another four days. We never got bored, as it held our interest in the daytime as well as during the evening.

Because of the change of plans we ended up staying at two different locations, one close to the harbour and the other just south of Marjan Forest Park in a quiet residential neighbourhood up on a hill. We thought we were close to the park entrance but it turned out there was no direct access to the mark from our area. It was something we didn’t discover until after a lot of walking! While asking for directions a pair of friendly Germans who were doing a house-renovation offered to drive us to the park entrance some distance to the east, an offer we took with thanks. We bounced up and down with one of them in his lorry through the hilly streets, and I had a chance to try my rusty German with him as his English was equally limited.

We stayed in the two circled locations in Split. The beautiful Marjan Forest Park was on the left side of Split, and Diocletian’s Palace was next to the main harbour near the centre of the map.
Going up Marjan Forest Park
View of old Split (foreground) from the park

In use as a park since the 3rd century, a much smaller Marjan was offered as a park by Emperor Diocletian himself. It expanded over the centuries and in modern times has become a symbol of the city. It was so famous it became the subject of a famous Croatian song that has gone through three popular versions.

There are a number of sights on the hill, including open-air sound stages for events, a zoo and a tiny 13th century medieval church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, a saint associated with fishermen..

Going towards the centre of the city, the harbour was a focal point. It was busy, well maintained, and very walkable. It was crowded most of the day although you could find quieter sections further away from the shops and restaurants.

Split Harbour
An outdoor dining area close to the harbour with different restaurants on all sides

The palace is located in a central location and is easily accessible from the waterfront. Boasting the most complete remains of a Roman palace anywhere, it was a named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Needless to say, the palace is the most recognizable structure in the city. Although surrounded by a bustling waterfront and shops and malls all around, the palace area has retained much of its character,

Image of the original palace
The Silver Gate (or Eastern Gate) one of four principal gates around the palace
Another gate at night

The palace was just as popular in the evening, but the atmosphere was livelier. There were fewer day-trippers but lots of people having a good time taking a break from the nearby restaurants and surrounding shops.

We passed in and out of the palace a few times. The narrow alleyways around the palace were fun to explore
Everything was lit up at night, such as the Eastern Gate here

One of the main sights within the palace complex was the peristyle. It was a monumental court that was the main entrance to much of the inner complex. It was popular throughout the day, and included people dressed up as Roman soldiers looking for tourists to take their photo.

You won’t just see these guys in Rome

A walk inside the main square entrance leads to the vestibule, or atrium. Completed by the 4th century, it was part of the ancient palace and used as a grand meeting hall. It was once topped with a dome, but is open now. The vestibule was originally the entrance to the imperial apartments.

Approaching the vestibule

Inside the vestibule. We looked up as we walked inside, and the night sky came into view above us

From the vestibule we made our way to the cellars of the palace. Located at the southern end, recent archaeological research has determined that there were structures on the site 200 years before the palace was even built. Used continuously since ancient times, it functioned as a storage area during the Roman era. During the middle ages it was a residential area for refugees.

The palace cellars
Nearby Cathedral of Saint Domnius

Eventually we made our way back outside the palace and back into the busy shopping section. There were a lot of independent shops in the surrounding area selling everything from Game of Thrones-themed items to fancy chocolate and jewelry. We just enjoyed the food and left the shopping and souvenir-hunting to others. It was also interesting to see how residences had integrated with the historical section of Split, with people living in very old apartments around the palace.

A modern living space in a corner of the palace area
Pirja Fountain, with water exiting the fist and going into the cup
Nothing like stopping for an evening gelato while walking around

Diocletian’s Palace is a rare example of past and present coming together. Most of the ruins we have visited have been isolated or disconnected from the cities around them. The way Split has incorporated the palace and allowed it to retain much of its original appearance is impressive. We had a great time there, as it was a useful place to explore the scenery and history along the Dalmatian coast as well as being an interesting place to visit in its own right.

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