Project Description

A Trip to Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli

Trekking from Rome to Tivoli, we’ll talk about Emperor Hadrian’s contradictory personality and how it may have influenced his villa.  In fact, one ancient writer describes him like this, “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 easily imagine Hadrian retiring to it and its sumptuous accommodations 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, the Canopus reflects the opposite side of his character.  It was an al fresco dining area for boisterous meals with high-ranking personnel and friends.  It included a nearly 120 meter-long fishpond, whimsically fit out with crocodiles sculpted in a white Grecian marble laced with algae-like green veins.  Hadrian’s Canopus gets its name from the Egyptian city, which was famous for its dinner parties and orgies.  (Sort of like the Miami Beach of the second century A.D.)  It was also connected to Alexandria with a long navigable canal, which explains the lengthy fishpond with its marble crocodiles.  A detail of the canal lined with columns and statuary can be seen several pictures down.

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 Hadrian’s love of physical fitness shows up in his Villa!  The Pecile is one example.  While it got its name from a famous 5th century B.C. colonnade in Athens’ agora, Hadrian’s version 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.”  1450 feet was the ancient Roman equivalent of 2 miles or 3 kilometers.  So, Hadrian’s Pecile was a grandiose imperial step counter!

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 lofty columns, can be seen in the photo.

Hadrian’s Villa As An Epcot Center

Hadrian was an insatiable traveler.  At least, ancient Roman literature describes how he indefatigably took long tours of inspection of the Empire.  Ancient literature also lists the buildings in his Villa named after the places he presumably visited.  As we saw above, he had a Pecile built (while the original was in Athens).  His outdoor dining area was called the Canopus (after the one in Egypt).  And finally, believe it or not, there was a Hades!  Although he had presumably never been, Hades was the name of the 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. at least five hours).

If you’d like to see Tivoli’s Department of Tourism’s bilingual website describing 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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