After spending the night aboard Sea Cloud docked at Split, we ventured out early today to explore the spectacular region of Diocletian’s retirement. We began with a journey by coach to nearby Salona, once the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. We passed through neighborhoods of traditional Dalmatian limestone houses interspersed with industrial quarters, communist-era apartments, and Roman ruins. We soon came to the remains of the ancient capital. While the scattered ruins of Salona are fragmentary, the site is lovely and tranquil; there are traces of early churches, Roman baths, and an amphitheater nestled among fragrant cypress and pine trees.
We returned to Split, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and busy modern city, to further explore the region’s complex history. Diocletian, a Roman emperor of Illyrian heritage and military background, established his magnificent retirement villa at Split in the early 4th century. As the founder of the Roman Tetrarchy, Diocletian helped restore the Roman Empire after the chaotic Crisis of the Third Century. Somewhat resembling a Roman fort, the retirement villa featured intricate mosaics, colorful marble, and exotic sculptures imported from throughout the vast Roman world. Although Diocletian was known for his persecution of early Christians, his splendid mausoleum was converted to a Christian cathedral in the 7th century by Roman refugees fleeing invaders in the western Balkans. As a result, the interior of the mausoleum is now an eclectic blend of pagan Roman imagery and Christian symbolism.
As we concluded our visit, we enjoyed a brief yet entertaining visit from the Emperor Diocletian and his troops — portrayed by local residents with elaborate costumes in the main square. We then passed through the maze of small streets and alleys lined with modern shops and restaurants, a reminder that this remains a thriving and active city today. Back aboard Sea Cloud, we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon. We had lectures on the clash of empires in the post-medieval Balkans and on the colorful history of the Sea Cloud, followed by a tour of the original owners’ cabins. We thus ended another day aboard this beautiful ship, exploring this fascinating region.