Historical Virtual Reality - Diocletian's Dream - The History
Ancient Roman culture comes to life
On the Dalmation Coast of Croatia is a town called Split. It is a popular tourist destination, with clear water and sunny skies. But it isn't only the beautiful weather and wine that attracts. As Western Europeans would call it, the 'old town' of Split is unique.
The entire centre of this historical area is in fact, a preserved Roman Palace. It was Diocletian's retirement home, today filled with winding streets and alleyways. It is a not-so-hidden gem that attracts circa 75,000 visitors a month on average.
What is unique is about the old town is how everyday life has evolved around the Roman architecture. Sit in any a coffee shop and look down at your feet. You sip quietly with one foot on new hardwood floors, the other on 1700-year-old marble blocks. The transition is seamless and ever-present.
What is unique about Diocletian is that he was the only Roman Emperor to retire. All the others were killed in battle or poisoned or assassinated along the way. (technically Romulus Augustus abdicated. But the Huns sacked the city and forced him to, so that doesn't count). He ruled for 26 memorable years.
Growing up as a soldier, he was meticulous and well organised. It was these traits he brought to his rule, and how he became most influential.
At the time, things weren't well in Rome. Emperors were being killed and power usurped at an alarming rate. Barbarian tribes were knocking at the doors, and dissidents were in open revolt.
When Diocletian took over, he declared his intentions. "Rome is where the Emperor is", he is credited with saying. What he meant was that he would be in charge, and not the politicians in the capital city.
He saw his work as a restorer, and it was his duty to return Rome to a settled peace. Diocletian enforced a fixed system of prices throughout the empire. He centralised policies through the local authority and increased the bureaucracy against corruption.
But he was no saint. History marks Diocletian as one of the major persecutors of Christians at the time. He had tongues removed, razed churches to the ground and banned Christian worship.
After he retired to Split, his system of governing collapsed and the empire fell into civil war. His tax and administrative reforms did persist for hundreds of years after his death.
Diocletian's palace still remains to this day. You can walk through the catacombs where part of Game of Thrones was filmed. You stand in the Peristyle of the Emperor where no mortal dare approach without kneeling. You visit Diocletian's Mausoleum and take in the splendour of its unique architecture. It is now ironically a catholic church.
Split is an intriguing city, and Diocletian's story no less interesting. If only there was a way to go back in time and revisit the palace in its full glory.
This is a continuation of our series of blogs on Diocletian's Dream, a virtual reality experience we created in Spilt, Croatia. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here. Next week will we be posting an interview with Declan O' Rourke of Palace Productions to discuss what inspired him to bring this project to life.
To book a seat in Diocletian's Dream now, you can find Palace Prodcution's website here