Seeing How a Complicated Palace-City Fits Together
More to visit in Split
It’s also really interesting to do a visit of the old Palace Basement Halls (Podromi) (40 kn per adult, just under US$6). It’s easiest to enter through the Brass Gate facing the Riva on the seafront (this used to be the emperor’s main entrance on the actual sea, so the sea has receded quite a bit). However, you can also approach from Peristyle, walking through the Vestibule and the arcaded passageway (now shopping stalls) connecting to the Brass Gate.
To the left and right of the gate is the start of the cellar visit. This huge area of cellars and basement halls really begins to give an idea of the size of this old palace—how grand and monumental it was. The Palace Basements are cool (a huge plus in the hot summer) and nicely done with information boards in multiple languages.
These ground-floor halls and corridors were originally the supporting substructure of the emperor’s massive residential quarters above and follow the same layout as the upper floor did. This basement substructure allowed the emperor’s palace to be above sea level, so the palace could have a projecting porch catching the sun and summer breezes. Very little of the substructure has been changed over the centuries, except for minor partition walls.
When you enter to the left, past the ticket booth, you come first to the huge vaulted main hall, with sturdy pillars to support the structures upstairs. In different rooms and corridors branching off this, you’ll see, to name some of the sights:
–a bust of Diocletian;
–petrified wood beams that supported floor boards. They were found under the floor level and probably date to Diocletian’s period, 295-305;
–an old stone press that was probably used for either grapes and/or olives, dating from the Middle Ages;
–original Roman sewer pipes, square outside and round inside;
–and a well (there were apparently two ancient wells).
This is the part of the palace where some of the villagers from nearby Salona (Diocletian’s birth place) escaped the rampaging Slavs in 641. The elite lived upstairs in what was once the emperor’s wing. They carved holes in their floor (the ceiling here) to dump their garbage and sewage. As the city started developing more above the substructures, the basement halls gradually filled up with debris and became inaccessible over time. Some fifty-plus years ago, cleaning and rehabilitation of the substructure started, and the cellars have allowed archeologists to derive the floor plan of some of the palace’s long-gone upper sections.
The section on the right of the Brass Gate entrance leads through now-ruined courtyards, a huge network of interconnected parts of the palace. Many have their ceilings missing, so they’re open to the air and you can see other parts of the old city. It’s a great experience of archeology in action, a way of seeing how a complicated palace-city fits together.
The cellars are now used for many purposes: as a museum exhibit, as art exhibition space, for concerts, for trade, flower and book shows.