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New Europe

Day Seven: Split

Michael Palin - New EuropeThe chief glory of Split is Diocletian's Palace. Not because it is a perfectly preserved and restored example of Roman architecture, but because it's neither of these things. It is a rich, complex, stimulating mess of human settlement, a massive statement of imperial power onto which has been grafted the flotsam and jetsam of centuries of activity and occupation. A city within a city within a city. Lines of washing hang out to dry from the windows of apartments built into the old Roman walls.

Flowers sprout from the top of Corinthian columns, cash tills are embedded in the white limestone walls.

Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus was a Dalmatian of humble origins who rose through the ranks to become Emperor of Rome for twenty-one years. He acknowledged a division between western and eastern Europe as far back as AD 286 when he divided control of the Roman empire between himself in the east and his friend Maximian in the west, with subordinate 'Caesars' being given control of two other areas. He's had an unfavourable press, partly because in later life he had delusions of divinity, but mostly for his persecution of the Christians. He had, however, an insatiable appetite for new buildings, of which the palace at Split was the most ambitious.

It's a massive structure, part living quarters, part military garrison, measuring 700 by 600 feet with walls 6 feet thick and 25 feet high.

Four great gates give access on each side and it is before the Mjedna Vrata, the Bronze Gate, that Goran and I stand this morning. In Diocletian's time ships would have sailed in through here, but access now is from a wide promenade called the Riva.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seven: Split
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Split
  • Book page no: 23

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