Split - Diocletian town

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The History of SplitThe first inhabitant of Split was the Roman emperor Diocletian who started to build his palace in this friendly bay around 293 AD. After his abdication he withdrew to this luxurious palace of about 30 thousand square meters.
The following turbulent centuries made the palace into a town first populated by the citizens of the nearby Salona, fleeing before Avars and Slavs. The town overgrew the walls of the palace and its authorities kept changing - from Croatian kings in 10th century AD, Hungarian and Venetian administration, to French rulers and Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Such past left its traces combined in the town everyday life. The city, however, went on remaining the centre of this part of the coast till our day. This mixture of historic layers brought some clumsiness and some things done too fast but today all that makes a part of its originality.


Split is the largest Dalmatian city, the second-largest urban centre in Croatia, and the seat of Split-Dalmatia County. The city is located on the shores of the Mediterranean, more specifically on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, spreading over a central peninsula and its surroundings, with its metropolitan area including the many surrounding seaside towns as well. An intraregional transport hub, the city is a link to the numerous surrounding Adriatic islands and the Apennine peninsula, as well as a popular tourist destination.

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Split is also one of the oldest cities in the area, and is traditionally considered just over 1,700 years old, while archaeological research relating to the ancient Greek colony of Aspálathos (6th century BC) establishes the city as being several hundred years older.

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The ancient city is named after the Spiny Broom (Calicotome villosa; brnistra or žuka in modern Croatian), a common shrub in the area. The 6th century BC Greek colony of Aspálathos (Aσπάλαθος) or Spálathos (Σπάλαθος), from which the city originates, was named after the common plant. As the city became a Roman possession, the Latin name became "Spalatum", which in the Middle Ages evolved into "Spalatro" in the Dalmatian language of the city's Roman population. The South Slavic version became "Split", while the Venetian italianized version was "Spalato". During the early 19th century, the name was "Spljet", and finally "Split" once more.

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Thus, contrary to popular belief, the name "Spalatum" has nothing to do with the Latin word for palace, palatium (thought to be a reference to Diocletian's Palace, which forms the core of the city). The erroneous etymology was notably due to Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, and was later reaffirmed by Thomas the Archdeacon.

  • Ancient Greek: Aσπάλαθος Aspálathos
  • Latin: Spalatum
  • Medieval Dalmatian: Spalatro
  • Italian: Spalato

While the beginnings of Split are often connected to the construction of Diocletian's Palace, the city was founded earlier as a Greek colony of Aspálathos. The Greek settlement lived off trade with the surrounding Illyrian tribes, mostly the Delmatae, who inhabited the (much larger) nearby city of Salona. In time, the Roman Republic became the dominant power in the region, and conquered the Illyrians in the Illyrian Wars of 229 and 219 BC. Upon establishing permanent control, the Romans founded the province of Dalmatia [2] with Salona as the capital, and at that time the name of the nearby Greek colony Aspálathos was changed to "Spalatum".

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After he nearly died of an illness, the Roman Emperor Diocletian (ruled AD 284 to 305), great reformer of the late Roman Empire, decided to retire from politics in AD 305. The Emperor ordered work to begin on a retirement palace near his hometown, and since he was from the town of Dioclea he chose the harbor near Salona for the location. Work on the palace began in AD 293 in readiness for his retirement from politics. The palace was built as a massive structure, much like a Roman military fortress. It faces the sea on its south side, with its walls 170 to 200 meters (570 to 700 feet) long, and 15 to 20 meters (50 to 70 feet) high, enclosing an area of 38,000 m² (9½ acres). The palace water supply was substantial, fed by an aqueduct from Jadro Spring. This opulent palace and its surroundings were at times inhabited by a population as large as 8,000 to 10,000 people, who required parks and recreation space; therefore, Diocletian established such outdoor areas at Marjan hill. The palace was finished in AD 305, right on time to receive its owner, who retired exactly according to schedule, becoming the first Roman Emperor to voluntarily remove himself from office. After a few years, a group of Roman Senators came to Diocletian's palace, asking the former emperor to return to Rome and help the Empire to overcome growing political problems. Diocletian refused, and while he was showing them his garden, he told them that he could not leave his beautiful garden which he had created by his own hands. This gesture showed that he remained bound by his word to leave political life after 21 years of ruling the Roman Empire.

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Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, Spalatum became a part of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantium. It grew very slowly as a satellite town of the much larger Salona. However, around AD 639 Salona fell to the invasion of Avars and Slavs, and was razed to the ground, with the majority of the displaced citizens fleeing to the nearby Adriatic islands. Following the return of Byzantine rule to the area, the Romanic citizens returned to the mainland under the leadership of the nobleman known as Severus the Great. They chose to inhabit Diocletian's Palace in Spalatum, because of its strong (more "medieval") fortifications. The palace was long deserted by this time, and the interior was converted into a city by the Salona refugees, making Spalatum much larger as the successor to the capital city of the province. Today the palace constitutes the inner core of the city, still inhabited, full of shops, markets, squares, with an ancient Cathedral of St. Duje (formerly Diocletian's mausoleum) inserted in the corridors and floors of the former palace. As a part of the Byzantine Empire, the city had varying but significant political autonomy.

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Split is situated on a peninsula between the eastern part of the Gulf of Kaštela and the Split Channel. The Marjan hill (178 m), rises in the western part of the peninsula. The ridges Kozjak (779 m) and his brother Mosor (1339 m) protect the city from the north and northeast, and separate it from the hinterland.

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Split has a Mediterranean climate: hot, moderately dry summers (maximum air temperature in July reaches 38 °C) and warm but wet winters. Average annual rainfall is 806.2 mm. Vegetation is of the evergreen Mediterranean type, and subtropical flora (palm-trees, agaves, cacti) grow in the city and its surroundings. The Marjan hill is covered with a large cultivated forest.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 30 October 2010 19:24