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The Iron Gate of the Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia

by Stephany Rickert (2020-07-28)

slide_18.jpgid="mod_18417990">Porta Franche - the Door of Free Entry

The Iron Gate, or Western Gate of the Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia, was the only free port of entry used during the Middle Ages. Known as Porta Franche, it was the door of last resort. Criminals seeking justice, refugees seeking asylum - would come to its gates. There, in a location between the inner and outer doors, court would be held and their fates would be decided! Those who were allowed to stay were given refuge, and their lives would be spared.

The Four Gates

The Diocletian's Palace has four main Gates: The Eastern (or Silver) Gate on the opposite site of the main East / West walkway known as the Decumanus; the Southern (or Bronze / Honey) Gate facing the sea, and Northern (or Golden) Gate facing the North, linking the Palace to the town of Salona during ancient times.

Nike, Goddess of Victory

Above the inner door, a small fragment of Nike's wings remains. She graced the entrance to the Palace and is a remnant of pagan Split most likely from the Diocletian's era.

Sveti Teodor (Saint Theodor)

Each door has its own patron saint or protector, and the Iron Gate was no different. The Western gate was symbolically protected by Saint Theodor, an early Christian saint and martyr killed during the Diocletian's infamous four edits. Later he became known as the protector and Wiki.Finance patron saint of both the Byzantine army, and, ironically, the Western Gate of the former Diocletian's palace.

Saint Theodor "the Recruit" Saint Theodor of Amasea (Turkey) was martyred in 306 A.D., a victim of anti-Christian purges during the Diocletian's reforms. In the middle ages, he became the patron saint of the western gate of the Diocletian's Palace in Split.

What you will find at the Iron Gate (West Entrance)

Graced by one of the oldest Romanesque churches in existence in all of Europe, it has now been "replaced" or rejuvenated by a new church with a bell tower and clock, called "Gospa Zvonik" - or Our Lady of the Bell Tower. This new addition to the older church was added in 1088-1089, nearly a thousand years ago. The culture and archeology in the Split area is very old indeed.

The older church, Saint Theodor, was built during the fifth to sixth century. (1500 years ago!) Remnants of this age are very hard to come by. Typical of its era, It is unassuming in appearance (with a "less is more" aspect), with tiny, inconspicuous windows like peepholes. Generally, architecture in the Romanesque style is very unassuming, plain and modest. There are actually two floors in the tower but the third window in the center is used to give an illusion of one more level.

Saint Theodor's church near the Iron Gate - 1500 years oldWithin the ancient walls of Split, lies one of the oldest specimens of Early Roman styled churches in Europe, Saint Theodor "the Recruit", protector of the Byzantine army.

The Piaca or People's SquareGospa Zvonik (our Lady of the Bell Tower) was built in 1088-1089. Very much ahead of its time - the numbers on the face of the clock are listed from 0-24 hours. To the right is the bell tower of the Cathedral Svetoga Duje.The Rector's Palace! The bottom floor is from the 14th century, complete with arches, the former city hall. The top floor was added in the 19th century.How the city fortified itself against the Turks. The star shaped design was used to keep the Turks out. They came to 15 km of the city walls and camped outside the city for 111 years. How the fortress walls look today (on the right). They are called Bedeme in Croatian. Portions of the star shaped barricades were moved out as the city enlarged with time.

Klis - the key of DalmatiaKlis, which means key, was the last fortress that the Turks reached. They never entered the city of Split, a great source of pride for its residents.

The Piaca or People's Square is officially named "Square of Saint Lawrence"

During the Middle Ages, Split expanded, growing to ten times its previous population. To find space for its new dimensions, the Piaca (Pee-Yats-Uh) or Town square, was built just to the west of the Iron Gate. The City Hall was built on the northern side of the square, and many beautiful and luxurious homes, or family Palaces were erected. This area was called the New Town - which is kind of funny for the residents of Split nowadays, because the Piaca is more or less the center of town.

The Piaca - or "The New Town"

Up until the Middle Ages, the area west of town was the ancient Greek (later Roman) necropolis (which loosely translates as "city of the dead"). The large square was officially named the Square of St. Lawrence. Since then, it has been given many names. During Yugoslavia it was called People's Square or Narodni Trg.

Hidden inside the nooks crannies of the Piaca are great places where the locals eat Marenda (a cross between breakfast and lunch). Here, you can also find amazing artifacts, like the first mailbox, created by the French in the early 19th century.

An architectural feast for the eyes

The majority of Split's citizens love to meet on the Piaca to shop and have coffee. The square has many contemporary shops and Palaces built by the former residents of Split during the 15th to 19th centuries. Some were built in the Renaissance (16th century) Baroque style (late 16th -17th centuries). There is a Secessionist style palace built in the early 19th century which is located on "the Trg" (terg) or Piaca.

The former city hall (Gradski Vijeć) has been converted into an art gallery. Next door is the tiny chapel of Saint Lawrence built into an upper hallway. To the right is the Renaissance styled Karepić Palace, built in the 16th century. . There are also bookstores which have been operating for over 100 years, particularly Morpurgo, owned and operated by Vid Morpurgo, a man of Jewish heritage since the Middle Ages.

Rich Jewish Heritage - Tolerance and Integration

The street running parallel to the Western wall of the Palace is Bosanska Ulica (Bosnian Street) which is the garment district and traditional area of Split's Jewish Ghetto. To this day, Split has an operating Synagogue in this part of the city. In Split, unlike many other places during the Middle Ages, Jews here lived in peace, became business owners and loyal patrons to their new city of residence, Split.

Danijel Rodrigo

A resident of Split during the Middle Ages, another famous Spanish Jew of his day was Danijel Rodrigo. He escaped the Inquisition in Spain. He proposed building the Lazzaretto (House of Quarantine) along the entrance to the Split Harbor with his own funds. The city officials liked his idea but told them that they would pay for the project from city funds. At that time, it was the largest house of quarantine in all of Europe.

The Plague

As Split was the major port of entry during the Renaissance, Rodrigo's idea was an idea ahead of its time. Eventually many of Split's citizens died from the Plague, which was a major problem as a result of the high traffic of import and export from the East to the West and vice versa.

20th century to today

There were five huge buildings along the harbor designed to protect the entrance to the town and establish control of what was admitted into the city. The historic Lazzaretto was destroyed in its entirety during bombing raids during World War II. Today, a newer building controlled by the Split's Harbormaster can be found on the northern side on the city's port, which is used to control what can, and cannot enter the Harbor.

Saint Rocco (Sveti Roko)

The church of Saint Rocco was built on the Peristil. He was a saint that was reputed to help protect the people from the Plague. There were dozens of Saint Rocco churches built along the Dalmatian coastline. Saint Rocco's church has been converted into the Tourist office on the Peristil. It had been converted from an old family house to a chapel. Marko Marulić organized the project and got permission from the city to have a chapel built in an area where the people could have easy access to it.

The Ottoman Empire - the Turks

The Turks were the "terrorists" of the 16th and 17th century. Although the city of Split grew 10x larger during this time, the wealth and prosperity of the city was very much disturbed by the great fear of the invading Turks, which attacked settlements all along the Dalmatian coastline. Marko Marulić himself (called the father of Croatian literature and modern Psychology) wrote a personal letter to the Pope begging for assistance, but to no avail.

Defensive walls or "Bedema"

City funds were used to prepare costly star-shaped defensive walls in a star-shaped design to protect the city from this constant threat. These fortification walls are still visible in many areas. When the French arrived in the early 19th century, they removed some of the walls - either to help the city expand, or to make it more accessible under attack - no one is completely certain.

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