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While Dubrovnik may get most of the attention, Croatia’s second-largest city is just as enchanting. Located along the turquoise Adriatic in central Dalmatia, this charming city sits across rolling terrain that slopes down to pebbly beaches that look out to neighboring islands like Hvar. But the reason it’s truly a must-visit is arguably its 4th-century AD Diocletian’s Palace.

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Split, Croatia
Split, Croatia

Split was born when Roman emperor Diocletian chose this area as his new retirement residence.

Diocletian's Palace built for Roman Emperor Diocletian in the historic center of Split, Croatia in the 4th century
Credit: Bigstock.com
Diocletian's Palace built for Roman Emperor Diocletian in the historic center of Split, Croatia in the 4th century

Construction of the palace began around 295 AD and was completed a decade later. It takes up nearly half the historic center, with a labyrinth of narrow streets. A stroll through feels as if you’re taking a trip back in time, with influences from multiple periods, including Greek, Roman and Venetian.

Saint Domnius Cathedral, Split, Croatia
Credit: K.C. Dermody
Saint Domnius Cathedral, Split, Croatia

You can marvel at many impressive landmark buildings, including the magnificent Saint Dominus Cathedral, one of the oldest of its kind in the world, dating to 305 AD. Located in the heart of the palace, it was once the site of the mausoleum for the emperor himself. By climbing the nearly 200-foot-high bell tower, you can soak up one of the best views around, a stunning panorama that includes the Old Town and the glistening expanse of the sparkling blue sea.

Temple of Jupiter in Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia
Temple of Jupiter in Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

The Temple of Jupiter is another one of the major landmarks here, standing near the courtyard opposite the emperor’s mausoleum. It dates back to the 3rd-century, built as a Roman temple dedicated to the king of gods, Jupiter. Its location was chosen to signify the divine connection between the god and the emperor. It was converted into the Baptistry in the 6th-century and has remained very well preserved, almost completely intact, with carvings on its barrel-vaulted ceiling featuring a relief with over five dozen different facial expressions.

Palace cellars, Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia
Credit: K.C. Dermody
Palace cellars, Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

The southern half of the complex contains the palace cellars. They can be reached from the seaside promenade by entering through the Brass Gate. The underground passage is filled with souvenir shops, with the cellars once serving as the place where boats would make berth, receiving royal guests and dropping off supplies. A large press is located here that was used to make wine from grapes. After Emperor Diocletian passed, the space was used for storage and trash, leaving many of the items from the period quite well preserved. In the 19th-century, an excavation uncovered multiple archaeological finds.

“Game of Thrones” fans will be interested to know that the cellars were the spot where Daenerys trained her dragons.

Singers in the Vestibule, Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia
Credit: K.C. Dermody
Singers in the Vestibule, Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

The area now serves as the hub of daily life in Split, with the ancient buildings now housing fantastic restaurants, cafes and bars, along with art galleries, gift shops and independent boutiques, many selling handcrafted local or regional items. Oftentimes you’ll be able to hear the incredible sounds of the Klapa groups that put on an acapella performance in the Vestibule (Rotonda), a domed room that opens to the sky, taking advantage of the incredible acoustics.

You’ll find it in the first section of the palace’s imperial corridor that led from the Peristyle, once the formal entrance to the imperial apartments of the palace.

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