Spalato

The main object and center of all historical and architectural inquiries on the Dalmatian coast is, of course, the home of Diocletian, the still abiding palace of Spalato. From a local point of view, it is the spot which the greatest of the long line of renowned Illyrian Emperors chose as his resting-place from the toils of warfare and government, and where he reared the vastest and noblest dwelling that ever arose at the bidding of a single man. From an ecumenical point of view, Spalato is yet more. If it does not rank with Rome, Old and New, with Ravenna and with Trier, it is because it never was, like them, an actual seat of empire. But it not the less marks a stage, and one of the greatest stages, in the history of the Empire.

On his own Dalmatian soil, Docles of Salone, Diocletian of Rome, was the man who had won fame for his own land, and who, on the throne of the world, did not forget his provincial birth-place. In the sight of Rome and of the world Jovius Augustus was more than this. Alike in the history of politics and in the history of art, he has left his mark on all time that has come after him, and it is on his own Spalato that his mark has been most deeply stamped. The polity of Rome and the architecture of Rome alike received a new life at his hands. In each alike he cast away shams and pretenses, and made the true construction of the fabric stand out before men’s eyes. Master of the Rome world, if not King, yet more than King, he let the true nature of his power be seen, and, first among the Caesars, arrayed himself with the outward pomp of sovereignty.

In a smaller man we might have deemed the change a mark of weakness, a sign of childish delight in gewgaws, titles, and trappings. Such could hardly have been the motive in the man who, when he deemed that his work was done, could cast away both the form and the sub-stance of power, and could so steadily withstand all temptations to take them up again. It was simply that the change was fully wrought; that the chief magistrate of the commonwealth had gradually changed into the sovereign of the Empire; that Imperator, Caesar, and Augustus, once titles lowlier than that of King, had now become, as they have ever since remained, titles far loftier. The change was wrought, and all that Diocletian did was to announce the fact of the change to the world.

Nor did the organizing hand of Jovius con-fine its sphere to the polity of the Empire only. He built himself a house, and, above all builders, he might boast himself of the house that he had builded. Fast by his own birth-place—a meaner soul might have chosen some distant spot—Diocletian reared the palace which marks a still greater epoch in Roman art than his political changes mark in Roman polity. On the inmost shore of one of the lake-like inlets of the Hadriatic, an inlet guarded almost from sight by the great island of Bua at its mouth, lay his own Salona, now desolate, then one of the great cities of the Roman world. But it was not in the city, it was not close under its walls, that Diocletian fixt his home. An isthmus between the bay of Salona and the outer sea cuts off a peninsula, which again throws out two horns into the water to form the harbor which has for ages supplanted Salona.

There, not on any hill-top, but on a level spot by the coast, with the sea in front, with a background of more distant mountains, and with one peaked hill rising between the two seas like a watch-tower, did Diocletian build the house to which he withdrew when he deemed that his work of empire was over. And in building that house, he won for himself, or for the nameless genius whom he set at work, a place in the history of art worthy to rank alongside of Iktinos of Athens and Anthemios of Byzantium, of William of Durham and of Hugh of Lincoln.

And now the birthplace of Jovius is forsaken, but his house still abides, and abides in a shape marvelously little shorn of its ancient greatness. The name which it still bears comes straight from the name of the elder home of the Caesars. The fates of the two spots have been in a strange way the converse of one an-other. By the banks of the Tiber the city of Romulus became the house of a single man; by the shores of the Hadriatic the house of a single man became a city. The Palatine hill became the Palatium of the Caesars, and Palatium was the name which was borne by the house of Caesar by the Dalmatian shore. The house be-came a city; but its name still clave to it, and the house of Jovius still, at least in the mouths of its own inhabitants, keeps its name in the slightly altered form of Spalato. .

We land with the moon lighting up the water, with the stars above us, the northern wain shining on the Hadriatic, as if, while Diocletian was seeking rest by Salona, the star of Constantine was rising over York and Trier. Dimly rising above us we see, disfigured indeed, but not destroyed, the pillared front of the palace, reminding us of the Tabularium of Rome’s own capitol. We pass under gloomy arches, through dark passages and presently we find ourselves in the center of palace and city, between those two renowned rows of arches which, mark the greatest of all epochs in the history of the building art. We think how the man who reorganized the Empire of Rome was also the man who first put harmony and consistency into the architecture of Rome. We think that, if it was in truth the crown of Diocletian which passed to every Caesar from the first Constantius to the last Francis, it was no less in the pile which rose into being at his word that the germ was planted which grew into Pisa and Durham, into Westminster and Saint Ouen.

There is light enough to mark the columns put for the first time to their true Roman use, and to think how strange was the fate which called up on this spot the happy arrangement which had entered the brain of no earlier artist-the arrangement which, but a few years later, was to be applied to another use in the basilica of the Lateran and in Saint Paul With-out the Walls. Yes, it is in the court of the persecutor, the man who boasted that he had wiped out the Christian superstition from the world, that we see the noblest forestalling of the long arcades of the Christian basilica.

It is with thoughts like these, thoughts pressing all the more upon us where every outline is clear and every detail is visible, that we tread for the first time the Court of Joviusthe columns with their arches on either side of us, the vast bell-tower rising to the sky, as if to mock the art of those whose mightiest works might still seem only to grovel upon earth. Nowhere within the compass of the Roman world do we find ourselves more distinctly in the presence of one of the great minds of the world’s history; we see that, alike in politics and in art, Diocletian breathed a living soul into a lifeless body. In the bitter irony of the triumphant faith, his mausoleum has become a church, his temple has become a baptistery, the great bell-tower rises proudly over his own work; his immediate dwelling-place is broken down and crowded with paltry houses; but the sea-front and the Golden Gate are still there amid all disfigurements, and the great peristyle stands almost unhurt, to remind us of the greatest advance that a single mind ever made in the progress of the building art.

At the present time the city into which the house of Diocletian has grown is the largest and most growing town of the Dalmatian coast. It has had to yield both spiritual and temporal precedence to Zara, but, both in actual population and all that forms the life of a city, Spalato greatly surpasses Zara and all its other neighbors. The youngest Dalmatian towns, which could boast neither of any mythical origin nor of any Imperial foundation, the city which, as it were, became a city by mere chance, has outstript the colonies of Epidauros, of Corinth, and of Rome.

The palace of Diocletian had but one occupant; after the founder no Emperor had dwelled in it, unless we hold that this was the villa near Salona where the deposed Emperor Nepos was slain, during the patriciate of Odoacer. The forsaken palace seems, while still almost new, to have become a cloth factory, where women worked, and which therefore appears in the “Notitia” as a Gynaecium. But when Salona was overthrown, the palace stood ready to afford shelter to those who were driven from their homes. The palace, in the widest sense of the word—for of course its vast circuit took in quarters for soldiers and officials of various kinds, as well as the rooms actually occupied by the Emperor—stood ready to become a city.

It was a cheater ready made, with its four streets, its four gates, all but that toward the sea flanked with octagonal towers, and with four greater square towers at the corners. To this day the circuit of the walls is nearly perfect; and the space contained within them must be as large as that contained within some of the oldest cheaters in our own island. The walls, the towers, the gates, are those of a city rather than of a house. Two of the gates, tho their towers are gone, are nearly perfect; the “porta aurea,” with its graceful ornaments; the “porta ferrea” in its stern plainness, strangely crowned with its small campanile of later days perched on its top. Within the walls, besides the splendid buildings which still remain, besides the broken-down walls and chambers which formed the immediate dwelling-place of the founder, the main streets were lined with massive arcades, large parts of which still remain.

Diocletian, in short, in building a house, had built a city. In the days of Constantine Porphyrogenitus it was a “Kaotpov”–Greek and English had by his day alike borrowed the Latin name; but it was a “Kaotpov” which Diocletian had built as his own house, and within which was his hall and palace. In his day the city bore the name of Aspalathon, which he explains to mean “little palace.” When the palace had thus become a common habitation of men, it is not wonderful that all the more private buildings whose use had passed away were broken down, disfigured, and put to mean uses.

The work of building over the site must have gone on from that day to this. The view in Wheeler shows several parts of the enclosure occupied by ruins which are now covered with houses. The real wonder is that so much has been spared and has survived to our own days. And we are rather surprised to find Constantine saying that in his time the greater part had been destroyed. For the parts which must always have been the stateliest remain still.

The great open court, the peristyle, with its arcades, have become the public plaza of the town; the mausoleum on one side of it and the temple on the other were preserved and put to Christian uses.

We say the mausoleum, for we fully accept the suggestion made by Professor Glavinich, the curator of the museum of Spalato, that the present duomo, traditionally called the Temple of Jupiter, was not a temple, but a mausoleum. These must have been the great public buildings of the palace, and, with the addition of the bell-tower, they remain the chief public buildings of the modern city. But, tho the ancient square of the palace remains wonderfully perfect, the modern city, with its Venetian defenses, its Venetian and later buildings, has spread itself far beyond the walls of Diocletian. But those walls have made the history of Spalato, and it is the great buildings which stand within them that give Spalato its special place in the history of architecture.