Salona – Ancient Roman Capital

Salona ruins
Salona – Ancient Roman Capital

Salona (today Solin town) in the ancient times was a very big town and the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia.The remains of its old glory lies today at the outskirts of the town of Solin which is only 5 kilometers northeast of Split city.

Perhaps it isn’t appropriate to compare Salona with Naples’s Pompeii but I can find some similarities that explains why Pompeii is world known Roman remains.

Pompeii in the moment of eruption of Vesuvius at 79 AD had only 20000 inhabitants and its ruins  always had problems with torrential rains that had a devastating effects on the ruins but still it’s the most visited place in Italy.

Roman old city Salona was one of the most important Roman cities with over 60000 dating back to the 7nd century BC and it was largely destroyed by Avars and Slavs. But today it is neither known nor visited. The main reason is a poor care for this rich heritage by local and ex Yugoslav government. 

One of the best examples of how  in Croatia poorly treat their rich heritage is the ancient city of Salona. Once, one of the most important Roman cities with over 60 000 inhabitants, it is now merely a group of interesting ruins spread on a large piece of land surrounded by the modern developments and fields.

History Overview of Salona Town

This town Iwas a stronghold and a harbor of the Illyrian Delmati which quite early came into the sphere of influence of the Greeks on the Adriatic. Julius Caesar, who was then the governor of Illyricum gave it the rank of a colony (Colonia Martia Julia Salona) – the center of the province of Illyricum and afterwards of the province of Dalmatia.

Even Diocletian was born in this ancient city around 244. In the year 295, the emperor retired to the magnificent palace he had built for himself.

In the period between the 4th and 6th centuries it became an important center of Christianity. It was heavily damaged by the Avars and Slavs attacks around the year 641.

Salona Town Amphitheater

One of the most interesting monuments still visible is the base of the ancient amphitheater. The famous Danish architect and archaeologist, explorer Ejnar Dyggve believes to have been built in the second century AD, during the strong growth of Salona. It is assumed that it could accommodate 18 to 20000 spectators.

Salona Amphitheater

This ‘small’ amphitheater remained almost in its original shape up to the 17th century when the Venetians destroyed it in fear that the Turks may return and use it as a fortification.

One of the features of this amphitheater, not found in other Roman amphitheaters, is the underground channels. Among many theories used to explain the usage of these channels, the most acceptable was for the presentation of naval battles.

In the vicinity of the amphitheater, to its south, there was a cemetery for gladiators killed in the arena. From their epitaphs, we learn their names, origins, homelands and fighting specialties.

Guided tours of Split and Solin (Salona)

Manastirine - Christian cemetery

This archaeological site is one of the points that in all guided tours, takes the most important role. The name of Manastirine was given by the local tradition that probably refers on remains of monasteries. According Roman customs and laws the dead were buried outside towns.

These cemeteries were created at the time of illegality, when Christianity had no right of preaching. This archaeological site is particularly important for ecclesiastical history since here they buried Dujam, a bishop and martyr, later the patron of Split, who was killed during Diocletian’s persecutions of the Christians in 304.

Manastirine Cristian cementery

It’s important to point out that beside Manastrine there are another two cemeteries like Marusinac, located one and a half kilometers, to the north from the amphitheater and Kapljuc, named after the nearby creek, other Salona cemetery.

Hollow Church

Close by the river Jadro, to the east of Salona, there are remains of churches on the site known for centuries by the local people by the true, descriptive name of Šuplja crkva (Hollow Church).

Hollow church Salona
Hollow Church

The church is from the 11th century, linked with the coronation of Zvonimir as a Croatian king in 1075, built within a large early-Christian basilica, probably from the 6th century.

Salona Museum

Although the most of the archaeological finds from Salona have been exposed in Split museums, particularly at Archaeological Museum, visiting Museum building in Salona you can find a lot of attractive archaeological sites.

Salona archaelogical complex

Recently, during the enlargement of local road, several magnificent sarcophagi have been discovered with very detailed and elaborate ornaments! These can be seen at the very entrance to the site.

On the website of Museum building in Salona you can find working hours of this archeological site. The entrance fee is 20 Kuna. In case you would like to know about organized Salona tours I suggest this local Solin travel agency – Ventula Travel.

Where is Salona and how to get there?

It’s located  3 kilometers northeast of Split, in the immediate vicinity of main roads: Adriatic Highway (D8), only 15 kilometers (9 miles) away from A1 Highway (Dugopolje junction). It is 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Split Airport and 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from the Split ferry port and the main railway and bus stations.

Salona can be reached by local bus N°1, N° 10, N° 16 and N° 37 bus to Trogir. The earliest departure is at 06:00 AM and the latest arrival time is at 21 PM. All buses leave from Sukoišan bus station.