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Plan of the Palace of Diocletian

The Manner of disposing the Apartments in the Houses of the Ancients.

The Palace of Diocletian at Split possesed all those advantages of situation, to which the Ancients were most attentive, and which they reckoned essential to every agreeable villa. The soil of that part of Illyricum was dry and fertile, though now considerable traces of land lie uncultivated. The air is pure and wholesome; and though extremely hot during the summer months, this country seldom feels those sultry and noxious winds to which the coast of Istria, and some parts of Italy, are exposed.

By the care of the architect in observing an excellent precept of Vitruvius (i), every inconvenience arising from the winds is avoided as far as possible; the principal apertures of the villa being so disposed, as not to lie open to the impression of any of the winds which blow most frequently in this climate. The views from the palace are no less beautiful, than the soil and climate were inviting. Towards the west lies the fertile shore that stretches along the Adriatic, in which a number of small islands are Scattered in such a manner, as to give this part of the sea the appearance of a great lake. On the North west lies the bay which led towards the ancient city of Salona, and the country beyond it appearing in sight, forms a proper contrast to that more extensive prospect of water which the Adriatic presents both to the South and to the East. Towards the North the view is terminated by high and irregular mountains, situated at a proper distance, and in many places covered with villages, woods, and vineyards.

From this description, as well as from the views which I have published, it is evident that no province in this wide-extended empire, could have afforded Diocletian a more elegant place of retirement; and the beauty of the situation, no less than the circumstance of its being his native country, seems to have determined him to fix his residence there.

The only thing wanting at Split was good water; but this defect was supplied by an aqueduct from Salona, several arches of which remain at present, and the conduit that formerly conveyed the water is still visible.

The palace itself was a work so great, that the Emperor Constantinus Porphyrogenitus, who had seen the most splendid buildings of the Ancients, affirms that no plan or description can convey a perfect idea of its magnificence. The vast extent of ground which it occupied is surprising at first sight; the dimensions of one side of the quadrangle, including the towers, being no less than 698 feet, and of the other 593 feet, making the superficial content 413216 feet, being nearly nine and an half English acres. But when we consider that it contained proper apartments not only for the Emperor himself, and for the numerous retinue of officers who attended his court, but likewise edifices and open spaces for exercises of different kinds; that it was capable of lodging a pretorian cohort, and that two temples were erected within its precincts, we will not conclude the area to have been too large for such a variety of buildings.

The present state of this great structure may be more perfectly conceived, by considering the Plan of it, than by any description whatever. The curiosity of the reader, however, will not be satisfied with viewing this building in its present ruinous condition, but must naturally desire to form some idea of what was its plan and disposition in its more perfect state. By good fortune its remains are, in many places, so entire, as to be able to fix, with the utmost certainty, the form and dimensions of the principal apartments. The knowledge of these, leads to the discovery of the corresponding parts; and the descriptions given us by Pliny (i) and Vitruvius (2) of the Roman villas, enable us to assign to each apartment its proper name, and to discover its use. The manners and domestic life of the Ancients differed so widely from ours, that their ideas, with regard to what was necessary or ornamental in a dwelling house must likewise have been extremely different.

The whole building was of a quadrangular form, (Plate 6) and was divided by two large streets, leading to the different gates, and crossing each other at right angles.

The principal street which we enter from the North, is 36 feet 3 inches in breadth: its length, from the inside of the gate to the place where it intersects the street which runs from East to West, is 238 feet 55 inches; the breadth of the other street is the same, and which extends 424 feet 6 inches. Both of them are bounded on each side by Arcades of 13 feet wide, many of which are still entire. The first of these streets leads directly to the Peristylium (A), which was the name the Ancients gave to the area or court before their villas.

The Baths, the Dormitorium, the Spheriflorium, and other apartments which I have just now described, lie all in the west end of the Palace. There are not now any remains of the eastern part of the Imperial apartments beyond the Egyptian and Corinthian Halls. But as there is an exact uniformity in those rooms on each side of the Atrium, so far as they remain, I thought it most eligible not to indulge my fancy in forming any new conjecture, but simply to repeat the same distribution on this as on the other side; especially as a separate bathing apartment for the women, seems necessary to complete the conveniency and elegance of this building.

Next: Porticus to Vestibulum to Atrium.

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