Project Description

A Trip to Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli

Trekking from Rome toward Tivoli, we’ll talk about Emperor Hadrian’s personality and how it may have influenced his villa.  In fact, as one ancient writer described him, “He could be severe or silly, serious and playful, contemplative or precipitous, both stingy and generous.”  These contrasting qualities will show up in the architectural extremes of Hadrian’s Villa.

Can A Villa Really Reflect A Patron’s Personality?

Absolutely! Different parts of the Villa reflect the extremes in Hadrian’s temperament.  For example, the so-called Maritime Theater reveals Hadrian’s contemplative or retiring nature.  The minuscule man-made island is seen in the picture.  We can imagine Hadrian retiring to it and its sumptuous living quarters to escape the bustle of state employees, maintenance crews, and bothersome foreign dignitaries.  Here, Hadrian raised the gangplank and enjoyed a degree of solitude.

Meanwhile, another building that is referred to as “Canopus” reflects the opposite side of his character.  It was an al fresco dining room perched over a nearly 120 meter-long fishpond fit out with crocodiles sculpted in white Grecian marble laced with sea weedy green veins.  It was the perfect place for boisterous meals with high-ranking personnel and friends.  Hadrian’s Canopus gets its name from the Egyptian city built near a long channel that connect it with Alexandria.  Canopus was as famous for its dinner parties and orgies.  You know, the Miami Beach of the second century A.D.!  A detail of the fishpond imitating the channel can be seen in the picture.  (And that explains the marble crocodiles!)

another detail of the so-called Maritime Theater in Hadrian's Villa. It was more probably and perhaps more incredibly a private bedroom surrounded by a moat!

Hadrian’s Villa and his Obsession With Physical Fitness

our trip includes the ruins of the Great Baths in Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli

Emperor Hadrian’s biographer from above continues, “He was tall, elegant… and his thick beard hid the battle scars on his face. From robust stock, he loved horseback riding, walking, swordplay, and javelin throwing.”  Even in his love of physical fitness, Hadrian’s Villa is a portrait of its owner!  The Pecile is one example.  While it got its name from a famous 5th century B.C. colonnade in Athens’ agora, Hadrian’s was essentially an open-air track!  How do we know?  Near it, archeologists found a Latin inscription that stated: “the walk around the portico is 1450 feet, seven times around is 2030 steps.”  This was the ancient Roman equivalent of 2 miles or 3 kilometers.  So, Hadrian’s Pecile was a grandiose architectural ode to physical fitness!

Together with his Roman passion for physical fitness came a Greek obsession with spas.  In fact, two spas (or baths) grace Hadran’s Villa.  One of them, with its loft columns and lightweight concrete vault, can be seen in the photo.

Hadrian’s Villa As An Epcot Center

Hadrian was an insatiable traveler.  We know because Roman literature describes his tours of inspection of the Empire.  And it lists buildings in his Villa named for places he presumably visited.  First, he had a Pecile built (while the original was in Athens).  Second, his outdoor dining room was called the Canopus (after the one in Egypt).  Finally, believe it or not, there was a Hades!  It was presumably the name of the myriad kilometers of service tunnels that run under the Villa.

the water feature nicknamed the Canopus, an Egyptian city renowned for its parties

Daniella’s Advice For Your Trip to Hadrian’s Villa? See Tivoli too!

Given the trip to the Tivoli area and the size of Hadian’s Villa, plan on a long half-day (i.e. about five hours).

If you’d like to see Tivoli’s Department of Tourism’s bilingual website on Hadrian’s Villa, please click here!

For travelers with the interest and stamina, Hadrian’s Villa can be paired up with the nearby Renaissance Villa d’Este and its unforgettable fountains.

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