Travel

Diocletian's Dream: a Stunning VR Experience Bringing Split History to Life

By 19 July 2021

July 19, 2021 - How to combine modern technology and ancient heritage in a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Check out the incredible Diocletian's Dream VR experience, bringing Diocletian's Palace to life as never before. 

How to bring a an ancient monument to life for all ages?

Diocletian's Palace is one of my favourite places in Croatia. Superbly located on the gorgeous Split waterfront, it is a vibrant living Roman city within a city than breathes history on every corner. 

Walking tours of the palace are among the most popular activities in Split, and yet over the years, I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a variation of the following question to tour guides after the tour is complete:

"That was very interesting, but where is the actual palace?"

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Other key Roman attractions such as Salona or the Pula Arena are easily identifiable for what they once were, but with so many cool bars, restaurants, museums and galleries, boutique hotels and AirBnBs, it is sometimes hard to imagine what Diocletian's Palace once was, never mind visualise it for what it was constructed - the retirement home of Emperor Diocletian. For  years I have watched tour groups walk around taking photos and only half-listening to the guide. I always  wondered exactly how much they were taking in. With the summer heat an additional factor, it was clear that the messages of the tour guides were only partially successful. 

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If only there was something which could explain the majesty of Diocletian's Palace as it once was in a simple and communicative way to suit the modern tourist. 

I heard about a new concept called Diocletian's Dream over an excellent cocktail at Kavala Beach Bar on a quick trip to Split last week. Diocletian's Dream was apparently an Irish-Croatian parntership, offering a high-quality 15-minute Virtual Reality (VR) experience of life at the time of Diocletian, entertainingly narrated by a senior slave. As I was looking for some educational bonding experiences with my teenage daughter, Diocletian's Dream seemed to tick the box, and I put a visit on the agenda for the following day. 

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Located conveniently an an 80m2 ground floor space at the back of Djardin and overlooking the palace, Diocletian's Dream is perfectly located to compliment a walking tour of the palace. And while the imminent VR experience was bound to be spectacular, it was more than matched by the passion and enthusiasm of Irish co-owner Declan, who greeted us warmly. 

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One of  the few such experiences in the world (they are currently about 5-6 others) and the first in Croatia, it didn't take long to become absorbed by Delcan's enthusiasm for the project or attention to detail. Everything had been factually checked with local experts, he assured, and the movie production crew had been painstaking in their attention to detail to get everything completely right. Actors, script writers and even some celebrity voices (including the lead singer of popular Croatian band TBF) were enlisted in the effort to bring 1,700 years of history to life for the modern tourist.

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The first three impressions that struck me were cleanliness, space, and temperature. That airconditioning was a lifesaver with temperatures over 30 degrees outside. I could just imagine how refreshing it would be to come and enjoy the VR experience after walking around the palace. As this is clearly a project of passion, Declan and his partner have chosen comfort over profit. The beautifully designed and themed viewing room holds a maximum of 15 people, where they could perhaps have crammed in 30. There is a sitting area and use of a toilet for tour guides who want to relax after bringing their guests in. A very refreshing change from outside altogether. 

As for the VR experience itself, I will not give away too many secrets as I really do encourage you to check it out yourself. My daughter laughed when I told her that this was my first real VR experience - how the generations are different when it comes to technology. With a choice of English, Croatian, French, German and Italian, I chose the English. Delcan applied my headset and I was transported back to 305 BC, with my very own slave tour guide. I was reminded not only to look ahead, but encouraged to look up, down and back. And I felt a little dizzy as we mimicked a Roman drone to get a bird's eye view of the palace 1,700 years ago. 

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Apart from the excellent graphics and attention to detail, what makes Diocletian's Dream a winner is the way it tells the story. Rather than spouting facts and dates, the story developed through our slave guide was both educational and humourous, taking us not only through some of the key parts of the palace, but also through situations in daily life during the time of Diocletian. The storyteller succeeds in weaving in useful facts and observations about the palace into his story, facts that are with me still in a way that walking tours do not succeed. 

The 15 minutes flew by, and my understanding of this magnificent palace was certainly enriched. Now I wanted to go to some of the locations featured and see them through fresh eyes. 

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A visit to Diocletian's Dream costs 80 kuna for adults and 50 kuna for children. It is one of the few attractions in the city which is truly for all ages. And if you are trying to excite your kids about ancient heritage at a time when they just want to be on their smart phones, Diocletian's Dream is a little hard to beat. 

Personally, I think it should be a recommended addition to all walking tours of the palace, as it really helps to fill in the gaps and make the palace come to life. I am just not sure which would be better, to do the VR experience before a walking tour, or after. The benefits of watching it before mean that you will be a lot more prepared and engaged for what you are about to experience. Having said that, perhaps seeing it at the end with that nice cool temperature is the perfect way to relax and fill in the gaps. Or perhaps both... 

Looking online for feedback from other visitors, I was delighted to see it ranked number 1 out of 476 tours in Split. Deservedly so. And a really good vlog and interview with Declan with our friends from 45 Degrees Sailing

The partnership between modern technology and ancient heritage is an important one for the development of tourism in the modern age, and it is not easy to get right. Diocletian's Dream has certainly managed. Learn more on the official Diocletian's Dream website

To learn more about Diocletian's Palace and Split, check out the TC Split in a Page guide

 

 

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