Jupiter Rising

Among the most imposing of all the ancient Roman ruins lining the Dalmatian Coast are those of a palace built by the emperor Diocletian (r. a.d. 284–305) for his retirement in his hometown of Split. More fortress than residence, the palace, which overlooks the Bay of Aspalathos, once covered an area of some 30,000 square meters and was laid out on a rectangular plan enclosed by a system of walls and towers. Monumental gates at the midpoint in each wall opened to porticoed streets, which led to enclosed courtyards.

The compound’s southern gate was far simpler in its design than the others, leading architectural historians to believe it may have functioned as a service entrance. Within the southern half of the compound was a suite of temples dedicated to Jupiter, Cybelle, and Venus, and the emperor’s mausoleum separated by a great peristyle court, which served as the northern entrance to the imperial apartments. The northern half of the palace complex contained barracks for garrisons and storage facilities or, according to a fresh interpretation, an imperial textile workshop.

Today, approximately half of the original building complex still stands, having been significantly modified over the centuries and having sustained substantial damage during Croatia’s struggle for independence in early 1991. However, the Great Peristyle Court and two buildings within the palace—the imperial mausoleum and the diminutive barrel-vaulted Temple of Jupiter—have in large part retained their classical forms. The latter served as a model for several later Renaissance buildings in Croatia, including the Cathedral of St. James in Sibenik and the St. John Orsini Chapel at Trogir. Diocletian’s Palace, which charts the evolution of architectural forms in the western Adriatic from the classical through medieval periods, was inscribed along with the historic core of Split as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

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