Diocletian’s Cellars – Among the best preserved remains of the Palace is the complex of ground vaults halls. The assembly, sometimes called the “basement hall,” is built below the emperor’s apartment, located in the southern quarter of the Palace. In order to equalize the soil inclination which descends from north to south, Diocletian’s builders built in the southern quarter of the assembly hall vaults whose only function was to support the upper floor, where is the emperor’s residential complex. Because of these functions, the cellars are basically the same as the Diocletian’s apartment.
By converting the Palace in Split, it destroyed the major part of the residential complex, but its ground floor halls as substructure are well preserved. Unlike the emperor’s hall upstairs that were demolished and reconstructed medieval and later residential buildings and streets, the basement halls were now buried sewage and other waste materials of the medieval city, which was deposited in these areas for centuries, but their walls and vaults largely survived. The walls in the eastern part of the foundations are partially demolished because of removing the stones during the construction of the bell tower of the medieval cathedral.
During the time of the emperor, the basement was largely used for storage of foodstuff and wine. Actually, the remnant of a large press, which was used to turn the grapes into wine, is still visible today showcasing that Diocletian surely enjoyed a glass or two of his own Dalmatian wines down here.
As you meander through the underground, find the circular room and notice the impeccable acoustics; above, this room was the foyer to the emperor’s bedrooms and Diocletian would be warned if anyone was coming at night due to the echoes left by anyone passing through. Emperor Diocletian was very paranoid about being killed and had specifically requested this feature; apparently with success as he is the only Roman emperor to have died of natural causes.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the consequent settlement of various civilizations, the basement was used for various purposes. In the Middle Ages it was inhabited, and eventually it turned into a water storage facility but through time, the basement got clogged up completely. As additional houses were built above the basement, they drilled holes into their floors in order to use the basement is a sewage tank and garbage dump.
Diocletian’s Cellars – Croatian architect and the country’s first conservator, Vicko Andrić who constructed the Riva harbor-front devoted his retirement to the conservation of Diocletian’s Palace and began an excavation of the cellars in the 1850’s. Andrić drained and cleaned the cellars and archeological discoveries are still being made to this day, particularly in the far corners of the basement. Amongst other finds, older remains from the previous civilization of Aspalatos were also found.
Today, the Diocletian’s Cellars are open to the public although the eastern part was only opened up in May 1995 after the celebration of the patron saint of Split, Sv. Dujan (St. Domnium). The main hall of the basement houses tacky souvenir stalls where tourists can buy a reminder of their stay in Split. The other areas of the basement reveal a labyrinthine room layout, ideal for an archeological discovery. The basement is also a popular venue for various events such as art exhibitions, weddings, and the International Flower Show held in May.