Split – a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace
It’s already 10am and I am impatiently waiting in the main square of the Diocletian palace for our free guide and tour to start, but nowhere to be seen. This is the first time I’ve signed up for one of those popular free city tours that are prevalent in almost every city in Europe. I was excited that there was a free tour program established in Split to visit some of the highlights of the Diocletian palace. Free being the hook, but I was really wondering if it was really free? And what if there was a catch, or would I really be wasting two hours of my visit to Split to hear some strange marketing ploy or a bait and switch type of gimmick to participating … hmmm, these weird thoughts start to cloud my mind while I wait impatiently for the guide.
Fortunately, after a few minutes a very respectable and attractive lady shows up at the square with a blue umbrella and sign stating ‘Free Split tours’, so we make a beeline to talk to her and fill out the short form she has us fill out. I eventually find out that these tours are often lead by volunteers from the area who know about their city, its history and other cultural facts to share with the group. Many tend to be university students, recent graduates or even in our case, a recently laid off attorney, who is volunteering and working for tips for their time leading the tours. The main attraction for them is being a native and showing something personal about their city and culture, while doing something positive within tourism that isn’t a ploy to milk tourists in visiting the area – amen to that!
Okay, lets start the tour our lawyer turned tour director bellows out to the small group like a drill sargent. Once primarily the expansive mansion and retirement villa to the roman emperor Diocletian, the palace fell into ruins after his death and the rise of Christianity in Croatia. We toured the remains and intact portions of the historic city including Peristil square, the main entry to the Diocletian palace and the stairway entrance and reception area, the mausoleum now converted to a cathedral. Peristil square, A colonnade square with roman features included many unique finds shipped in from Egypt including the granate columns and black sphinxes sprinkled around the city. To the left of the square is the cathedral of Saint Domnius with its gleaming limestone bell tower (wonderful views to the entire city and coastline on top), the octagonal building which used to be Diocletian’s mausoleum and in typical Catholic fashion was converted into a cathedral.
Entering the cathedral first from the bottom church basement, we started climbing upstairs to the main octagonal interior room (original mausoleum) and the newer choral chamber and treasury. The tour around the palace included visits to the royal dining areas and adjoining vomit room (for those nobility that wanted to eat all day and then vomit all the food back out), the ramparts, and down to the bowels of the palace which used to be a huge water cistern and now houses galleries and an underground museum. Just to the west side of the palace is the Temple of Jupiter, which faces prominently into Peristil square – the catholics later turned the roman temple into a baptistery.
Hearing some beautiful A capella sounds in a huge open tower, our tour guide lead us to the original opening and waiting room area to the ancient Palace of Diocletian. The acoustics from the solid and rounded room with an open top created the perfect environment for local A capella groups to perform and hopefully sell some of the CD’s to visitors. Here’s a sample of one of the local men’s groups performing below.
Once the palace fell into ruins, the local population quickly took over the city and created their free-living quarters within the ramparts and areas that could be converted into housing. Now those tiny one bedroom apartments can easily go for a very good price in the market today selling amazing prices in Euro now that Croatia is part of the European union.
On the side of the Temple of Jupiter the streets are relatively narrow even for roman standards, here the street below is the narrowest street in Split where you can only walk down single file. Following that was a tour of the basement of Split now housing a series of art galleries and boutiques and an underground museum tour.
We toured many of the walls and gates of the city including the Eastern gate or silver gate with the farmers market just beyond the gate. I posted earlier about the wonderful market of Split. Take a look at my post here, if you haven’t had a chance to read it.
So overall, It was a good tour for the two hours visiting all the key landmarks to Diocletian’s palace, including some of the converted buildings that were added on throughout the various centuries to present day Split. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour especially our guide, who gave us personal observations about their culture, history and current day transition to becoming an EU state.
I would recommend taking the Free tours and if you are interested here is some more information on the tours below:
The tours start on time at 10:30am four times daily in Peristil Square, look for a person with a blue umbrella and a free city tour sign.
You must first register with the tours at the tour office prior to start go visit the website below for directions.
The tours of the remains of the palace take around one and one half to two hours to visit the historic portions of the palace.
The guides are volunteers and the tour is free but they do accept donations since most are students or do this as supplementary income.
You can visit the website for the free tours at their website here.
For more posts on visiting the fascinating city of Split, Croatia – check out my other stories below
Split’s most photo worthy places to photograph
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