Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace

Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace

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Palace of Diocletian

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Palace of Diocletian, ancient Roman palace built between 295 and 305 ce at Split (Spalato), Croatia, by the emperor Diocletian as his place of retirement (he renounced the imperial crown in 305 and then lived at Split until his death in 316). The palace constitutes the main part of a UNESCO World Heritage site that was designated in 1979. It is the largest and best-preserved example of Roman palatial architecture, representing a transitional style half Greek and half Byzantine.

It was built as an imperial city-palace and a sea fortress, as well as a country house of vast proportions and magnificence, covering an area of 7 acres (3 hectares). The north-south walls extended 705 feet (215 metres), with walls measuring 7 feet (2 metres) thick and 72 feet (22 metres) high on the Adriatic side and 60 feet (18 metres) high on the north. There were 16 towers (of which 3 remain) and 4 gates: Porta Aurea (Golden Gate) in the north, Porta Argentea (Silver Gate) in the east, Porta Ferrea (Iron Gate) in the west, and Porta Aenea (Bronze Gate) in the south. The roughly rectangular ground plan was like that of a Roman military camp—i.e., with four arcaded avenues 36 feet (11 metres) wide meeting in the middle. Guards, slaves, and household servants were accommodated in the northern quadrants. The imperial apartments (state rooms) were in the two southern quadrants, along the width of which ran a 524-foot-long and 24-foot-wide arcaded grand gallery (probably for promenades and the display of art) that was open to scenic views of the sea and the Dalmatian coast. The Temple of Jupiter and the mausoleum of Diocletian were located in courts of the imperial section. The mausoleum was converted to a cathedral in 653 by the first bishop of Split it is noteworthy for its fine frescoes, marble pulpit, and Romanesque carvings. The Temple of Jupiter was subsequently transformed into a baptistery, to which a beautiful Romanesque campanile was added in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The Avars badly damaged the palace, but, when their incursion was over (c. 614), the inhabitants of the nearby ruined city of Solin (Salona Diocletian’s birthplace) took refuge within what remained of the palace and built their homes, incorporating the old walls, columns, and ornamentation into their new structures (that area now comprises the nucleus of the “old town” of Split). For further treatment of the palace and its surroundings, see the article Split.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace - History

Peristyle (Peristil)

Peristyle, as the central square of the Palace, intended for the Emperor Diocletian celebrated as the living son of Jupiter, finds its place among many temples. The Emperor would appear under the architrave of the central part of Protyron, and his subjects would approach him, kneeling down, kissing the hem of his scarlet cloak, or they would fall in front of him, their entire body to the ground.

The red colour of the granite columns emphasises the ceremonial function. Namely, ever since the Emperor Diocletian the colour purple became the imperial colour. With the construction of a new city square with the town hall (Pjaca) in the 13th/14th century, Peristyle became a religious centre. Today it boarders from the West with Palaces of Split noble families Grisogono, Cipci and Skočibu&scaronić, as they lean on its authentic columns and arches. With their Renaissance and Gothic architecture they themselves became monuments.

Owing to its unique beauty and unusual acoustics, Peistyle became the ideal theatre scenery, perfect for opera classics and works of ancient literature, but also the stage where abundant urban life continues. Having your coffee on the steps circling Peristyle is a unique experience, one of the closest touches of a modern man with the ancient heritage, not only Roman, but also Egyptian, as the Peristyle is closely watched over by a 3500 old and perfectly preserved sphinx, the witness of Split's history in making. This is why John Paul the II in amazement said " Dear God, how many feet have stepped through here", and this is why citizens of Split think of Peristyle as the centre of Split and the entire world.

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Diocletian had ordered the construction of the heavily fortified compound near his hometown of Spalatum in preparation for his retirement on 1 May 305 AD. [1] The site chosen was near Salona, the provincial administrative center of Dalmatia, on the southern side of a short peninsula, On the basis of Roman map data (known through the medieval parchment Tabula Peutingeriana), there was already a Spalatum settlement in that bay, the remains and size of which have not yet been established.

The beginning of the construction of Diocletian's palace has not exactly been established. It is assumed to have begun around 295, after the introduction of the Tetrarchy (the rule of four). Yet ten years after that decision, when Diocletian abdicated in 305, the palace seems to have still been unfinished, and there are indications that some works were taking place while the emperor was residing at the Palace. It is unknown under whose architectural ideas the palace was built and who its builders were. The complex was modeled on Roman forts of the 3rd-century era, examples of which can be seen across the Limes, such as the bridgehead fort Divitia across the Rhine from Cologne. [2]

However, the engraved Greek names Zotikos and Filotas, as well as many Greek characters, indicate that a number of builders were originally from the eastern part of the empire, i.e. Diocletian brought with him masters from the East. Still, it is highly likely that a large part of the workforce was of local origin. The basic materials came from close proximity. The white limestone comes from Brač and some of Seget near Trogir tufa was extracted from nearby riverbeds and bricks were made in Spalatum and other workshops located nearby.

At Carnuntum, people begged Diocletian to return to the throne in order to resolve the conflicts that had arisen through Constantine's rise to power and Maxentius' usurpation. [3] Diocletian famously replied:

If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed. [4]

This was a reference to the Emperor retiring to his palace to grow cabbages.

Diocletian lived on for four more years, spending his days in his palace gardens. He saw his tetrarchic system fail, torn by the selfish ambitions of his successors. He heard of Maximian's third claim to the throne, his forced suicide, and his damnatio memoriae. In his palace, statues and portraits of his former companion emperor were torn down and destroyed. Deep in despair and illness, Diocletian may have committed suicide. He died on 3 December 312. [5] [6] [Note 1]

With the death of Diocletian, the life of the palace did not end, and it remained an imperial possession of the Roman court, providing shelter to the expelled members of the Emperor's family. In 480, Emperor Julius Nepos was murdered by one of his own soldiers, reportedly stabbed to death in his villa near Salona. [7] Since Diocletian's palace was in the area, it might have been the same building.

Its second life came when Salona was largely destroyed in the invasions of the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century, though the exact year of the destruction still remains an open debate between archaeologists. Part of the expelled population, now refugees, found shelter inside the palace's strong walls and with them a new, organized city life began. [8] Since then, the palace has been continuously occupied, with residents making their homes and businesses within the palace basement and directly in its walls. [9] St Martin's Church is an example of this trend. Today many restaurants and shops, and some homes can still be found within the walls.

In the period of the free medieval commune, between the 12th and 14th centuries, there was a greater architectural development, when many medieval houses filled not only Roman buildings but also a large part of the free space of streets and docks. Also completed in this period was the construction of the Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius, which inhabits the building that was originally erected as Jupiter's temple and then used as the Mausoleum of Diocletian. [10]

After the Middle Ages, the palace was virtually unknown in the rest of Europe, until the Scottish architect Robert Adam had the ruins surveyed. Then, with the aid of French artist and antiquary Charles-Louis Clérisseau and several draughtsmen, Adam published Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia (London, 1764). [11]

Diocletian's palace was an inspiration for Adam's new style of Neoclassical architecture [12] and the publication of measured drawings brought it into the design vocabulary of European architecture for the first time. A few decades later, in 1782, the French painter Louis-François Cassas created drawings of the palace, published by Joseph Lavallée in 1802 in the chronicles of his voyages. [13]

Today, the palace is well preserved with all the most important historical buildings, in the center of the city of Split, the second-largest city of modern Croatia. Diocletian's Palace far transcends local importance because of its degree of preservation. The Palace is one of the most famous and complete architectural and cultural features on the Croatian Adriatic coast. As the world's most complete remains of a Roman palace, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European, and world heritage.

In November 1979 UNESCO, in line with the international convention on cultural and natural heritage, adopted a proposal that the historic city of Split built around the Palace should be included in the register of World Cultural Heritage. [14]

In November 2006 the City Council decided to permit over twenty new buildings within the palace (including a shopping and garage complex), although the palace had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. It is said that this decision was politically motivated and largely due to lobbying by local property developers. Once the public in 2007 became aware of the project, they petitioned against the decision and won. No new buildings, shopping center or the underground garage were built.

The World Monuments Fund has been working on a conservation project at the palace, including surveying structural integrity and cleaning and restoring the stone and plasterwork.

The palace is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 500 kuna banknote, issued in 1993. [15] [16]

The ground plan of the palace is an irregular rectangle measuring east: 214.97 m, north: 174.74 m, south: 181.65 m (adjusting for the terrain), with sixteen towers projecting from the western, northern, and eastern facades on the facades facing the mainland and four towers on the corners of the square are ground floor gives the palace a characteristic of the legionary forts similar to those on the Danube. [17]

Two of the six octagonal ground-floor towers were framed by three landing entrances, the six rectangular ground floors of the rectangular floor being between the corner and the octagonal. To date, three corner corners (except southwestern) have been preserved, and only the remains of octagonal and rectangular ones. Three well-preserved landings have been architecturally fragmented, especially the northern one, which was the main approach from Salona. The south, seaside gate, small, simple and well preserved. The facade walls of the palace in their lower parts are massive and simple without openings, and in the upper part they are exposed to large arches that are simple to the land, ie on the west, north and east facades. Subterranean portions of the palace feature barrel vaulted stonework.

Outer walls Edit

Only the southern facade, which rose directly from or very near to the sea, was unfortified. The elaborate architectural composition of the arcaded gallery on its upper floor differs from the more severe treatment of the three shore facades. A monumental gate in the middle of each of these walls led to an enclosed courtyard. The southern ’Sea Gate’ (the Porta Meridionalis) was simpler in shape and dimensions than the other three, and it is thought that it was originally intended either as the emperor's private access to the sea, or as a service entrance for supplies.

The North Gate Edit

The Porta septemtrionalis ("the northern gate) "is one of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally the Main gate from which the Emperor entered the complex, the gate is on the road to the north, towards Salona, the then capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and Diocletian's birthplace. It is probably the gate the Emperor entered after his abdication from the imperial throne on 1 May 305. [18] Today the 7th century church of St Martin can be found above the gate, and is open to the public.

The East Gate Edit

The Porta Orientalis ("the eastern gate") [19] is one of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally a secondary gate, it faces east towards the Roman town of Epetia, today Stobreč. [20] Probably in or around the 6th century, above the gate in the sentry corridor, a small church dedicated to St. Apolinar [21] was built. This coincided with the complex seeing an influx of refugees from outlying communities, similar churches were over the Golden Gate, the Iron Gate, and the Bronze Gate. The structure of this part of the wall and the door itself were later incorporated in various buildings in the following centuries, such as the Church of Dušica, which was destroyed in the Second World War. [19]

The West Gate Edit

Porta Occidentalis ("the western gate") [22] is one of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally a military gate, from which troops entered the complex, the gate is the only one to have remained in continuous use to the present day. During the persecutions under Theodosius I a relief sculpture of Nika, the Roman Goddess of Victory (which stood on the lintel) was removed from the gate, later in the 5th century, Christians engraved a Cross in its place. [22] [23] In the 6th century, above the gate a small church dedicated to St. Teodora. [24] This coincided with the complex seeing an influx of refugees from outlying communities, similar churches were over the Golden Gate, the Silver Gate, and the Bronze Gate.

The South Gate Edit

The Porta Meridionalis or "the southern gate" is the smaller of the four principal Roman gates into the Palace. Originally a sea gate from which the Emperor entered the complex by boat, via basement rooms in the Imperial Palace.

Inner layout Edit

The design is derived from both villa and castrum types, and this duality is also evident in the arrangement of the interior. The transverse road (decumanus) linking the Eastern gate and Western gate which divided the complex into two halves.

Southern half Edit

In the southern half there were more luxurious structures than the Northern section these included both public, private and religious buildings, as well as the Emperor's apartments.

Emperor's apartment Edit

The Emperor's apartments formed a block along the seafront, with an exterior square and circular floor plan, with a dome. From there, one approached the Emperor's apartment, which stretched 40 m deep along the entire south facade it is only partly preserved in the upper floor, but its ground-floor, translated substructures that directly bore it are almost completely preserved, so the overall layout and appearance of the upper spaces can be seen given the coincidence of the upper and lower floor plans. On the west side of the upper floor are preserved the remains of a dome hall and two halls with apses, and on the east side are parts of an octagonal dining room (triclinium) with three halls with a cross floor plan. The wall of the Western Cross Hall is preserved in full height. Diocletian's apartment was interconnected by a long room along the southern façade (cryptoporticus) [25] from which through 42 windows and 3 balconies a view of the sea was opened. Two baths were recently found north of the Emperor's apartment, one adjacent to the west and the other to the eastern halls. Although for many centuries almost completely filled with refuse, most of the substructure is well preserved and indicates the original shape and disposition of the rooms above.

The Vestibule Edit

A rotonda, that was once the first section of the imperial corridor in the Palace that led via the Peristyle to the Imperial apartments [26] of the Palace.

The Palace Cellars Edit

Set below what were the Imperial apartments, the Cellars of Diocletian Palace are a set of substructures, located at the southern end of the Palace, [27] that represent one of the best preserved ancient complexes of their kind in the world. [28]

Peristyle Edit

A monumental court, called the Peristyle, formed the Northern access to the imperial apartments in front of the Vestibule. It also gave access to Diocletian's mausoleum on the East (today the Cathedral of Saint Domnius), and to three temples on the West (two of which are now lost, with the third, originally being the temple of Jupiter, becoming a baptistery). There is also a temple just to the west of the Peristylum called The Temple of Aesculapius, which has a semi-cylindrical roof built of stone blocks, which did not leak until the 1940s when it was covered with a lead roof. The temple was recently restored.

Northern half Edit

The northern half of the palace, divided into two parts by the main north-south street (cardo) leading from the Golden Gate (Porta aurea) to the Peristyle, is less well preserved. It is usually supposed that each part was a residential complex, housing soldiers, servants, and possibly some other facilities.

Streets and annex buildings Edit

Both parts of the palace were apparently surrounded by streets, [29] leading to the perimeter walls through a rectangular buildings (possibly storage magazines). [ dubious – discuss ]

Building materials Edit

The Palace is built of white local limestone and marble of high quality, most of which was from the Brač marble quarries on the island of Brač, of tuff taken from the nearby river beds, and of brick made in Salonitan and other factories. Some material for decoration was imported: Egyptian granite columns, fine marble for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops in the Proconnesos.

Egyptian sphinxes Edit

The Palace was decorated with numerous 3500-year-old granite sphinxes, originating from the site [ dubious – discuss ] of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. Only three have survived the centuries. One is still on the Peristyle, the second sits headless in front of Jupiter's temple, and a third is housed in the city museum.

Diocletian's Palace was used as a location for filming the fourth season of the HBO series Game of Thrones. [30] The palace also hosted a task on the 31st season of the CBS reality show The Amazing Race. [31] [32]

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Parts are Still in Use Today

Within Diocletian’s Palace, there are 220 buildings, some of which completely deserted, while others are alive with music, residents, local foods and much more. Included within the original structure alongside the luxurious and spacious living space were three temples, a mausoleum, a military garrison, and a collonaded courtyard, amongst others. Not all of these features remain today, although many of which have survived through a treacherous history. Of those that have not survived, the remains that can be seen on a tour of the palace.

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A management plan for the historic centre of Split has recently been produced in order to improve the planning and coordination of activities which aim at better quality of life of its inhabitants and of the economy, while securing the long-term protection of cultural values of the place, and coping with the impact of growing tourism. The restoration and rehabilitation of the Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace is described as one of the most significant and the most extensive projects in the historic core of Split since its inscription on the UNESCO's World Heritage List 30 years ago. Started in 2004 as a stone cleaning operation, after a two-year survey of the as-found condition of the Roman colonnade and the surrounding buildings from later periods, it developed into a complex project including archaeological, geophysical and geo-mechanical research, consolidation of foundations and upper structures, cleaning and conservation of stone, plaster and other materials, lighting and presentation of this multi-layered monument. It is anticipated that the project will be completed by 2012. Apart from being an outstanding opportunity for young experts to gain hands-on experience in the most contemporary conservation and restoration procedures, the Peristyle project, together with other significant restoration works within the historic core, showcase the best conservation practice, and support the local economy by creating new jobs in conservation and maintenance of historic structures. Property value has risen and new uses, both commercial and cultural, have been attracted to the site.

Heritage Stewardship, vol. 3, no. 2 (Summer): 32.

2- Council of Europe Framework. 2005. Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society. Faro: Council of

Europe Framework. Internet. Available from: accessed 30 October 2011.

3 - Solar, Giora, and Shahar Solar. 2009. City of Split Historic Core Management Plan. Croatian version available from and accessed 30 October 2011.

4- Marasović, Duško. 2009. Historic Core of Split. Studies – Programmes – Realized Projects, Rehabiltation of the Historic Core, no. 5.

5- State of Washington. Department of Commerce. Historic Preservation. Internet. Available from http://www.commerce. accessed 30 October 2011.

6- Sunara has presented the Peristyle project nationally and internationally: International Institute for Conservation

Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, 2010 (poster), TRAINMONHER in Morelia, Mexico, and Split, Croatia, 2008 (lectures),

Restoration Fair Restauro in Ferrara, Italy, 2006 (lecture), Conference Use of Lasers in Conservation and Conservation

Science in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2005 (lecture and posters). Three exhibitions about the Peristyle conservation-restoration

Stone Sculpture

The overall conservation and presentation of the Peristyle is one of the largest conservation programmes in Croatia. The project, initiated in 2003, with completion planned for 2012, has been divided into several phases encompassing all segments of the restoration of the most important element of the historical centre of Split, ranging from rehabilitation of the foundations and the structure, and the cleaning and conservation of stone, plaster and other materials, to the final presentation of this multi-layered monument. In addition to the conservation itself and the new insights gained by the researchers and the general public, the project is also significant because of the practical application of a new, scientific approach to conservation. Thus, Croatia has joined the latest trends in the conservation of stone.

On the initiative of the Division for the Old City Core of Split City Council, in 2003 the Croatian Conservation Institute began a comprehensive conservation of the architectural complex of the Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace in Split. Prior to the inception of conservation interventions, documentation was compiled, the current condition of the property diagnosed, the degree of damage and the numerous causes of deterioration of the stone were established.

A far-reaching and thorough exploration, involving a large number of experts from different fields, made it possible to diagnose precisely the condition of the building. Several basic types of damage and pollution were recorded on the Peristyle: inorganic pollution (black crust – dark deposits up to 1 cm thick), organic pollution (biological growth), erosion of the surface layer of the stone, damage caused by penetration of rainwater into the structure of the building, damage caused by soluble salts, damage caused by corrosion of metal, and structural damage caused by various types of human activity.

Photo album 1/2

Several factors had caused the damage: the position of the building (vicinity of the sea and industrial plants), climatic conditions, exposure of prominent elements of the building to the activity of rainwater, biological colonization of stone surfaces and spaces in between construction elements, inadequate materials used in earlier interventions (iron, Portland cement), a polluted atmosphere and destructive human activity. The results of the explorations served as a basis for the selection of methods and materials that would be applied in repairs and protective interventions.

The conservation work, aimed at repair and protection of the Peristyle, began in 2004. In the first phase (2004-2005), the northern section of the eastern Peristyle colonnade was repaired. The work encompassed removal of cement patches made in previous restoration campaigns and metal elements anchored in the stone. Thereafter organic pollution was cleaned away and dark deposits were removed from the stone surface using a laser (this method allows for the original stone patina to be preserved), joints were filled, drip edges were mounted on protruding architectural elements, cracks were repaired, injections were administered, unstable stone elements were fixed, reconstructions were made in both natural and artificial stone, and desalination was carried out.

Photo album 2/2

In 2006 and 2007, the work continued on the southern section of the western colonnade and the façade of the Skočibučić-Lukaris Palace, since it had been decided that its interior would be refurbished to suit the needs of the Museum of Sacred Art. During the conservation of this important stratified architectural complex, which includes, in addition to the ancient colonnade, various Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements, the only methods that were applied were those previously tested during the first phase of the work on the Peristyle. However, this situation was far more complex and demanding, because the Palace façade consisted of not only limestone and granite, but also plaster, which was in rather poor condition. During this phase of work, conservator-restorers specializing in stone sculpture were joined by their colleagues who are experts in wall painting, mosaics and stucco, and the treatment of the stone elements progressed in parallel with the work on the plaster.

In 2007 and 2008 (phase three), the northern section of the western colonnade was restored, together with the façade of the Grisogono-Cipci Palace, with the remains of the ancient arch standing by the ancient main street, Decumanus, at graound level.

In the fourth phase (between the end of 2008 and the middle of 2010), the southern section of the eastern Peristyle colonnade was restored. In parallel, the work began on St. Roch's church in the northern part of the Peristyle, which houses the Tourist Office. The restoration encompassed probing of plaster layers, reconstruction of missing elements of stone profiles in the interior, cleaning of the façade and bell-gables, and reconstruction of segments of the southern side wall, which incorporates elements of the architrave of the colonnade of the portico of the Decumanus, and the northern pylon of the final arch of the eastern Peristyle colonnade. This period of conservation was extremely dynamic: along with the restoration of the southern section of the colonnade, inception of the work on St. Roch's church, and geomechanical and archaeological explorations, scaffolding was also mounted by the northern section of the eastern colonnade to allow the necessary investigation of the condition of the repaired architecture, and the material used, five years after the beginning of conservation interventions.

In late 2009, a new phase of work began with the conservation of the façade of the Protiron, together with its Renaissance chapels, the passage leading to the Vestibule and the Vestibule's main portal. Due to the complex nature of the work and the large surface it encompasses, the plan is to complete this phase by the end of 2012. During this period, the work on the façade of St. Roch's church should also be finished. The final point of these two phases of work, and of the entire project of protection and restoration of the Peristyle, will be a solution to the issue of protection and presentation of the Egyptian sphinx, located in the south-eastern corner of the Peristyle. (During the conservation interventions, it has been protected by a wooden box).

The project, at first envisaged as cleaning of the ancient stone architecture, has turned into a complex conservation work which encompasses all the aspects of renovation and presentation of the Peristyle, from the rehabilitation of the foundations and the structure, through the cleaning and conservation of stone, plaster and other materials, to the final presentation of this multi-layered monument. The interventions performed have slowed down degenerative processes, and ensured easier reading of the decorative elements and marks left in the stone by the original tools, which were hidden by a layer of centuries-old black scab. Experts from various fields have participated in this programme, and, thanks to its scope and the several years of its implementation, it has played a significant role in the professional development of a new generation of young conservator-restorers specializing in stone.

This programme is additionally valuable for the contribution it has made to the methodology of conservation work on stone monuments. During its implementation, high standards have been set for the profession, and a new, scientific approach has been used to replace the traditional approach, based on apprenticeship. Thus, Croatia has joined the latest trends in the conservation of stone.

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