Posted by: viewfromtheriva | April 17, 2015

The ever-beating heart of Diocletian’s Palace: a palazzo comes back to life


In Carrarina Poljana courtyard, a former 15thC palazzo is coming back to life

In Carrarina Poljana courtyard, a former 15thC palazzo is coming back to life

What makes living in Split so endlessly enjoyable (you mean there’s more than some of the planet’s best air and water quality, food and wine?) is that the entire city echoes the past–a past whose living, palpable heart is the 1,700 year-old Palace of Diocletian.  A seminal figure in Roman history, Diocletian became Emperor of the Roman Empire when he was 40 and went on to be one of the oldest and longest ruling emperors ever, an astonishing 21 years (284-305AD).  Before he retired (one of only two Roman emperors who actually lived to do so!) he built a spectacular walled fortress in a harbor just 4 miles from where he was born, the capital of the Roman empire in Dalmatia, Salona.

His palace became the city where I now live.

Astonishingly, as many people today still live inside these walls as did during Diocletian’s time. And because the palace was never breached by any foe, those who did come to live here after he died felt so safe, they never moved out for almost 1000 years!

Creating a 125 sq. meter apartment like this one requires more than money. Because it is inside a UNESCO World Heritage site, various conservatots and other officials make sure that every ancient detail that can be preserved--even though only you and your friends will see them--must be.  This is why what normally might take 6-8 months to "rehab" takes 3-7 years.

Creating a 125 sq. meter apartment like this one requires more than money. Because it is inside a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, various conservators and other officials make sure that every ancient detail that can be preserved–even though only you and your friends will see them–must be. This is why what normally might take 6-8 months to “rehab” takes 3-7 years.

This had two profound results.

1.  Because three of the four Roman walls are still very much intact and the other is actually inside newer walls that were built over the ages, both the original Roman and many of the successive architecture “layers”–from 300AD to the 20thC–are still here! Compared to the museum-like atmosphere of many Roman “ruins” and “historic city districts” Split has a lived-in, neighborhood reality that truly is unique–a mostly complete one-time walled fortress of a Roman emperor filled with life, shops, hotels, apartments, squatters, millionaires–all living side by side in remarkable peace sharing the common thread of an unbroken 1,700 year-old history. Nothing torn down to make way for the new.  No “you can’t feel comfortable living or working here because I’m rich and you’re not.”  Although it doesn’t really make sense that a dozen different types of architecture crammed into a 525′ x 650′ rectangle would actually be beautiful or that squatters and millionaires could live within feet of each other, it works.  Everybody gets it and likes it.  A lot.

2.  Like a giant Lego set confined to a closet, Split grew so chock a block that living here was to say the least, intimate. When people finally began to feel more secure about living outside the walls, the resulting urbanization was uncommonly orderly, resulting in very distinct city neighborhoods that reflected the daily work as well as social status of their inhabitants.  Even today, 1,700 years later, the larger city is only 200,000.  But it’s heart, which all Splitcani listen to and dearly love, is still and will always be the palace.

When people from “away” fall in love with Split and want to live here, the choice of property inside these walls is VERY limited. And whether you are a local or from London, be prepared to spend a small fortune to buy and restore anything over 100 sq. meters.

All of which brings me to yesterday!  There I was enjoying sushi at Adriatic Sushi, a very pleasant outdoor/indoor restaurant in Carrarina Sq, (the interior walls are all original Roman from the 4thC) when I noticed some workmen poking around outside.

The walls of the interior dining room of Adriatic Sushi are original Roman from the 4thC!   The restaurant is right next to the palazzo that is being restored

The walls of the interior dining room of Adriatic Sushi are original Roman from the 4thC! The restaurant is right next to the palazzo that is being restored

I have always enjoyed exploring alleys and open doorways in the palace in the hopes of finding something intriguing, and I knew behind the door in the corner of this square there was a small courtyard with a Venetian era well–the one time palazzo of some wealthy merchant.

The flat actually goes around a corner and up a step to face north as well as west.

The flat actually goes around a corner and up a step to face north as well as west. More than half of the walls are Roman, which is how many “newer” buildings began–built into, next to, inside-of and even on top of existing original Roman structures..

“You want to see what we are doing inside,” one of the workers said.  Wow, do I, you bet!  Up I went with a friend and we had a great time walking around seeing what was done.  Even in its raw state, it will be glorious when it is finally finished.

Seeing it naked to the walls really is a classic example of how succeeding generations of palace dwellers built their houses into, on top of, inside or under existing Roman structures.

The centerpiece of this palazzo is a stunning Venetian Gothic, Moorish inspired window that at one time was looked out on the world below, but now, due to the centuries of construction inside the palace that used every square meter except for the streets (which actually ARE much narrower because of all the building!) it’s simply a fabulous interior artifact–an opening in a wall that like the Emperor who lived here, is now retired to enjoy the rest of its life as place for some books, flowers–hopefully not a TV!

Like an ancient boat resting in a sea that long ago became a valley, this gorgeous Venetian Gothic window with Moorish tracery will have a new life as an historic artifact

Like an ancient boat resting in a sea that long ago became a valley, this gorgeous Venetian Gothic window with Moorish tracery  no longer looks out on the world below, but will have a new life as an historic artifact.

Another day of accidental wonderfulness in Split.

I have enjoyed them before and absolutely look forward to enjoying more to come!

Coming?  Here’s our website: http://www.sightseeingcroatia.com

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Responses

  1. Good evening Very soon we will be traveling from Holland to Split for a city trip. I Have been search the web for a dance, theater event in Split between from the 6th and 10th of May. The website from the concert hall was not very helpfull. Do you have suggestions where my wife and I could enjoy a concert or dance performance. Your help would be greatly appreciated. I already got some interesting ideas from your website for our trip to Split. Hope to hear from you. Rick Dekker


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