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A Month in Europe: Diocletian’s Palace

When the Emperor Diocletian decided to retire, he built himself a palace on the other side of the Adriatic. This got him out of Rome, where it was hot and dirty and full of enemies, to a sea view in the small town of Split in Croatia. It was modeled upon the Roman military camp and enormous.

And because it was so large, and nice, the palace is still here. It’s one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Only no emperor lives in it. Instead the palace has been carved up for dozens of useful modern purposes. Shoe stores, hotels with jacuzzis on the roof, restaurants, cafes. There’s a synagogue and here, in this photograph, the remains of a church dedicated to St. Michael, built sometime in the medieval period.

This is the outer wall of Diocletian’s palace. The church builders simply burrowed into the thick wall to create this apse, finishing it off nicely in a Romanesque style. I took this picture standing on the pavement of what used to be the nave, where the pews were. The walls of the little church were long ago disassembled and carted away, and all that’s left now is what we see here, at the edge of a plaza in the middle of the old city.

But wait, there’s more! Look at the windows above the former church. This was the upstairs at Diocletian’s place. Modern windows have been popped into the wall, complete with shutters, double-paned glass, and even some flower pot holders. And if you can read the sign there? It’s a massage parlor and spa. I am absolutely certain the emperor would have disapproved. But it’s now a living and useful space, contributing to the economy of Split and the muscle relaxation of the inhabitants.


3 thoughts on “A Month in Europe: Diocletian’s Palace”

  1. Fascinating. I’d love to see plans of the original complex contrasted with the current building.
    Are there any histories of the complex available in English?

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