After a rein of failed attempts to completely rid the Roman Empire of the early Christians (but he gave it a jolly good try), emperor Diocletian retired to the shores of what is now the Croatian city of Split. There, between the years 245-313 AD Diocletian had a luxurious palace built for himself where no expense was spared lavishing both his living quarters and future mausoleum. One Medieval facelift and two millennia later, what remains of the emperor’s retirement home is now primarily inhabited by the descendants of the very people he tried to iradicate. Most ironic of all (or possibly good karma), Diocletian’s final resting place was turned into the Cathedral of St Dominus and is still used for Christian worship today.
When Diocletian’s mausoleum was turned into the Cathedral of St Dominus in the Middle Ages, Diocletian’s remains were discarded and the octagonal building was renovated, the most obvious change being the addition of a Romanesque belfry by the entrance. Some Roman details survived, mainly the twenty-four columns around the original building (two can be seen in this photo)
Although there are many original Medieval alterations to admire amongst the surviving Roman details, it was the heavily gilded Baroque altar inside the cathedral that captured my interest.
Inside the Cathedral of St Dominus facing the relatively modern Baroque altar
The beautiful altar seen from the Choir area looking towards the main hall of the Cathedral. The puerile side of me couldn’t help but notice that the tabernacle on the altar looked rather like R2-D2 from Star Wars
No need to use any force R2-D2, the angels are taking the weight
Believing he was the reincarnation of the Roman God of sky and thunder, Diocletian had a temple built in honour of Jupiter/himself directly opposite the mausoleum (give or take a few hundred metres walk). Several centuries later the Temple of Jupiter became Saint John’s Baptistery (Sv. Ivan Krstitelj), but unlike the mausoleum, the temple’s structure and appearance were relatively unaltered by zealous Medieval Christians, and most of its original Roman detail remain intact to this day.
The entrance to the Temple of Jupiter dating almost two thousand years, except for the door which is probably only a few decades old
It is strange that on converting the Temple of Jupiter into a Christian baptistery, the Christians chose to keep the polytheistic Roman detail around the doorway. It clearly suggests there is more than one God, unlike the ceremonies that later took place inside
Is the figure in the middle here Diocletian himself or British comedian Adam Buxton?
Inside the Temple of Jupiter a large baptismal font from the twelfth century and a modern day sculpture of John the Baptist dominate the space
Once used to cleanse Christians of their sins, the font is now used to cleanse superstitious tourists of their cash in return for a wish
From certain angles, Ivan Meštrović’s imposing twentieth century sculpture seems to portray John the Baptist as giving a rather inappropriate hand gesture to visitors
The stunning Roman frieze and vaulted ceiling (pictured) have stood the test of time … and religious conversion
One could say however that the Egyptian marble sphinx guarding the temple’s entrance (and is said to date from 1500 BC), has seen better days if it still had a head and its original pair of eyes to see those days with
Above the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace within the cavity of the gate’s wall, a narrow corridor originally used as a surveillance-point for Diocletian’s Roman guards became one of the first Christian places of worship within the palace and within the region. Measuring just ten metres in length and barely over 1.5 metres wide, the Church of Saint Martin is probably one of the smallest Christian churches in existence.
The charming Church of St Martin is so small, one couldn’t swing a catacomb in it
Although the church dates back to the ninth century, and its structure to Roman times, its interior has been remodelled a number of times. The iconostasis is a replica of the original medieval screen and is probably only a century old, but is still arguably the most impressive detail within the church
The inscription across the top of the iconostasis reads “This church is under the patronage of the blessed Martin, Mary Mother of God and Saint Gregory the Pope …”
Looking towards the entrance to the Medieval church and the not-so Medieval air conditioning system over the doorway
The Golden Gate, the main entrance into Diocletian’s Palace, and where the Church of Saint Martin can be found within its cavity wall (top right-ish)
The Church of Saint Martin is opened to the public for only a few hours a day. The opening times are sporadic and depend on the time of year. It is usually closed between 1pm and 4pm (presumably for lunch). Details can be found at the bottom of the stairway leading into the church. Entrance when it is open, is free.
Tickets for entry into the Cathedral of St Dominus can be bought just inside the entrance to the cathedral. A combined ticket for the treasury and the belfry as well as the cathedral can also be purchased there. Hold on to the ticket as it can also be used to gain access into the Temple of Jupiter. Otherwise, tickets for the temple can be purchased for a few kuna from the official sitting just outside it.
Stunning panoramic views and a potentially perilous ascent climbing the Romanesque belfry at Diocletian’s Palace
Diocletian’s Palace: Croatia’s answer to Pompeii