The Palace that Became a City

Split, Croatia

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The Greek settlement of Aspálathos was founded between the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. near the city of Salona which in the first century B.C. became a Roman colony and the capital of the province of Dalmatia. Around the year 295 A.D. Emperor Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus (ruled A.D. 284 – 305) ordered work to begin on a retirement Palace near his birthplace. The building had a rectangular plan and resembled a fortification, with series of towers on three sides, while the south side, facing the sea, was opened on the upper level by an arcaded loggia running along the whole length of the façade. The Palace comprised the imperial apartment, the central square (Peristyle) between it and the main east-west street (decumanus), the sacred areas of the Mausoleum and of the temples, and the imperial manufacture of textiles (gynaeceum) in the northern half of the structure. After the death of Diocletian the Palace remained in the possession of the imperial family.
Split, Reconstruction of Diocletian’s Palace by Hébrard (1912)   


It was gradually transformed into a fortified settlement called Spalatum, which obtained all the attributes of a city following the fall of Salona in the 7th century, when the refugees came to live within its walls. As a part of the Byzantine Empire, the town had varying but significant political autonomy.
In the early Middle Ages the Croatian state (later the Kingdom of Croatia) occupied the central Adriatic coast and its hinterland, while the cities remained under Byzantine rule. For short periods of time Split came under Frankish, Venetian and, in the 11th century, Croatian rule. In the following centuries Split developed an increasingly Croatian character.
From the early 12th century Split became an independent commune under the sovereignty of Hungarian kings. The Palace became too small for the flourishing city, which spread to the west, doubling its surface. The western part was fortified with new walls, and a new communal square was formed next to the town hall. The Venetian Republic took over the city in 1420, and held it for 377 years (1420 – 1797). The autonomy of the city was reduced: the highest authority was a prince-captain, always of Venetian birth. Despite this, Split developed into a significant port-city, with important trade routes to the Ottoman-held interior through the nearby Klis pass. Culture flourished as well, Split becoming the fulcrum of Croatian literature. Many fine Palaces were built in the town in this period. After a brief period of Napoleonic rule (1806–1813), the city was allocated to the Empire of Austria by the Congress of Vienna. Large investments were undertaken in the city during that period. The Roman aqueduct was restored, a breakwater was constructed, a railway was introduced, new streets were built and parts of the ancient fortifications were removed.
After the end of World War I and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, Split became the most important port in Yugoslavia. In WWII some of the port facilities as well as parts of the old city were damaged by bombing raids. After 1945 the city experienced its largest economical and demographic boom. Dozens of new factories and companies were founded, with the city’s population increasing three times. In the period between 1945 and 1990 the city was totally transformed and expanded, taking up the whole of the peninsula. Today Split is Croatia’s second largest city and the economic and administrative centre of central Dalmatia. Its economy relies mostly on trade and tourism with some old industries undergoing revival, such as food (fishing, olive, wine production), paper, cement, and chemicals.

Conservation of a World Heritage Site

Diocletian’s Palace was completed in A.D. 305 as a synthesis, in form and function, of a late antique imperial villa and a fortified castrum. It is thought to be one of the key buildings of late antique architecture, because of the extraordinary state of preservation of its original parts and of the whole, and because of a series of architectural forms which stand between the classical and medieval art. Transformed into a medieval city, the Palace saw many buildings being erected in various architectural styles within its defensive walls by master builders who found inspiration in the great antique model. In 1979 the historic core of Split was declared a World Heritage Site on account of its well preserved architecture from all periods, but also because of the fact that it is still a living organism with all urban functions.
Split, Diocletian’s Palace, Cellars   


  It has been threatened by the rapid growth of the modern city, by the pressure of commercialisation of the ground level of properties, and by unfavourable changes in the social structure of the population.The celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the building of the Palace during the decade at the turn of the millennium gave a new momentum to the restoration of the most important historic buildings in Split. Of the many conservation principles that we are implementing today, we can underline a few: conservation rather than restoration; emphasising the maintenance and reconstruction of urban infrastructure, which should improve the quality of life within the historic core; and the use of traditional techniques and materials.   

The Cathedral of St. Domnius (Diocletian’s Mausoleum)

Among the European cathedrals, the Split cathedral is probably the oldest building. It has originally been Diocletian’s mausoleum, but it includes the Romanesque belfry and the baroque choir. In the whole Palace it is the most stratified and the most significant building admired for its sturdy stone walls, for the unique structure of the brick dome and for the well preserved antique decoration. Equally appreciated is the rich collection of artworks which survived in the building since the time of its transformation into the Cathedral in the 6th century.
Split, Diocletian’s Palace, St. Martin’s Church    
Since 1996 restoration works have been going on at the most critical places. The roof of the Mausoleum has been completely restored. Each of the 500-odd Roman tiles which were found on the roof has been kept and repaired. Like the works on the roof, the restoration of the façades was carried out using the traditional materials and techniques. The structural condition of the baroque choir, which was added to the old building in the 17th century, was deteriorating due to the bad foundations and the poor quality of the masonry. Structural consolidation started with grouting of the foundation walls and arranging the post-tensioned steel cables. The interior of the choir also underwent complete restoration, with particular attention to the baroque architectural features which had been very much neglected. Laser cleaning started on the facades and is continuing in the interior on the walls and the brick dome. The new lighting has enabled a complex perception of the Cathedral. In the interior of the Cathedral a series of restoration works have been undertaken. 






The temple of Jupiter
(The Baptistry)

Concurrently with the transformation of Diocletian’s Mausoleum into the city cathedral, the Temple of Jupiter was re-shaped into a baptistery. Today, the Baptistery functions as a church only once a year, on the Feast of St. John. On the other hand, it has become a major tourist attraction and one of the most visited sites in the city. Its perfectly preserved vault and its unique structural characteristics are of great interest for archaeologists, art historians and architects from all over the world. Because of the lack of maintenance, the condition of the fabric has rapidly deteriorated in the recent period. The condition of the western pediment has been the most dramatic:  
  several cornice blocks, weighing between 3 and 6 tonnes, have been lifted by the rusted dowels, slid along the slope of the pediment, and dangerously leaned outwards. The restoration of the temple was carried out as a combination of traditional techniques and modern logistical support. A 3-D computer model was made to analyse the structural behaviour. In order to stop further structural movement and the accelerated deterioration of stone, and to re-establish stability and the original distribution of loads, the western pediment and part of the exterior cornices had to be dismantled, repaired using traditional techniques and put back into place. The iron cramps were replaced by stainless steel ones, and fixed with molten lead in the traditional way. The fine carvings on the portal and friezes on the facades were cleaned with laser.
Split, Diocletian’s Palace, Peristyle and bell tower    

The Golden Gate

Restoration work on Porta Aurea, the main gate to Diocletian’s Palace, was very complex, particularly due to the serious condition of the structure and the substantial deterioration of its stone surface caused by crystallisation of aggressive soluble salts developing underneath the thick layer of dirt. The combination of structural problems and those connected with the cleaning and conservation of stone made the restoration work of the Golden Gate a very complicated undertaking. The whole of the surface was cleaned with laser, used here for the first time in Croatia. Walls were grouted with lime mortar, disintegrated stone was replaced with new stone, and the upper structure, which was leaning forward causing cracks on the facade, was secured with metal ties.

The Peristyle

The restoration of the main square of Diocletian’s Palace started as a stone cleaning operation, and developed into a complex operation which included structural strengthening, repair and conservation of stone and other materials. Advanced processes of decay have thus been substantially slowed down. Removal of the dirt layer by laser restored the readability of the architecture and decoration. The historic value of the site has been enhanced by the discovery of previously hidden data about the original materials and the history of construction. The Peristyle project was a fine opportunity for a number of young restorers to get hands-on experience of the most advanced techniques of cleaning and restoration of stone.




Urban infrastructure and planning

Concurrently with these restoration of the great monuments, some effort was made to improve the infrastructure and the overall image of the historic centre. Cleaning the stone facades is a very important issue, and a continuous program of cleaning of graffiti was set up. Following the recent removal of signage which disfigured the facades of old buildings and spoiled the overall atmosphere of the historic core, a new information and presentation system was put in place. Apart from the great improvement in the orientation and information of visitors, the new signage has changed the way in which the local inhabitants perceive the old buildings which had previously often escaped their attention and thus remained mostly unknown. The historic core of Split, being a living place for 17 centuries, is crossed by infrastructure of all kinds and age, starting with 


an extensive sewage system of vaulted channels from the Roman period, which is blocked by a thick layer of organic deposit, and has only partly been explored and surveyed. The repair and maintenance of stone pavements is being combined with the reconstruction of sewage and other infrastructure. A plan for improving the accessibility of public spaces and the most important historic buildings has been prepared. With the idea to improve the coordination of stakeholders responsible for the activities taking place in the old city core, a Management Plan has been drafted and is now being discussed. It proposes a new model of management in order to improve the planning and coordination of activities which aim at achieving a better quality of life for its inhabitants and better economy while securing long-term, sustainable protection of the cultural values of the place.