ROME: Villa Adriana - Tivoli

The ancient remains found at Villa Adriana are part of a site covering an area of at least 80 hectares. Constructed at Tibur (modern-day Tivoli) in 117 A.D, Villa Adriana began its existence as an imperial palace far away from the city of Rome. It remains one of the most remarkable examples of imperial and dynastic palace and has been recognised as such by being appointed as a Human Heritage Monument by UNESCO.

Little is left of the magnificent decoration of the Villa - the result of treasure hunting excavations and the consistent theft of its brick and marble. Through out the centuries it had been common practice to remove marble so that it could be burned to make lime.

Because so few marble fragments survive, most of today's visitors to Villa Adriana have no idea that this place was almost entirely paved with luxury marble pavements. Further more, the walls were completely covered from top to bottom with marble panels.

Rumour has it that the Emperor Hadrian disliked his imperial palace on the Palatine Hill so much that during the later years of his reign, he actually governed the Roman Empire from his villa at Tibur.

How did he achieve this? By creating a dedicated postal service that ran from Villa Adriana to Rome 18 miles away to the west.

After Hadrian’s death, the villa remained in use by his various successors, but during the decline of the Roman Empire, Villa Adriana fell into disuse and was partially ruined. But it didn't all go to waste.

In the 16th century Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este - son of Lucrezia Borgia – was granted the position of Governor of Tivoli. In this position of considerable power he had much of the marble and statues found at Hadrian's villa removed and used to decorate his own Villa - Villa D'Este - which was located nearby.

Even if they are almost two thousand years old, the ruins at Villa Adriana remain imposing, and have fascinated architects and artists throughout the ages. Visiting the site in search of inspiration, they copied the shapes of the domes and tried to uncover, and then master, their technical building secrets.

By walking around the grounds of Villa Adriana, you are treading in the footsteps of Master as this place was visited and studied by the likes of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Borromini.

One of the most striking and best preserved features of the Villa are a pool and an artificial grotto which were named Canopus and Serapeum, respectively. Canopus was an Egyptian city which housed a temple was dedicated to the god Serapis – hence the name Serapeum. However, the architecture is Greek influenced as can be seen in the Corinthian columns and copies of famous Greek statues that surround the pool. One story involves the Serapeum and its peculiarly-shaped dome.

A prominent architect of the day, Apollodorus of Damascus, dismisses Hadrian's designs, comparing the dome on Serapeum to a pumpkin! Apparently, Apollodorus was quoted as saying "Go away and draw your pumpkins. You know nothing about these [architectural] matters." Once Hadrian became emperor, Apollodorus was exiled and later put to death.

Another interesting structure in the Villa is the so-called "Maritime Theatre’ which consists of a round portico with a barrel vault supported by pillars. Inside the portico was a ring-shaped pool with a central island.

During the ancient times the island was connected to the portico by two drawbridges. On the island sits a small Roman house complete with an atrium, a library, a triclinium and small baths. The area was probably used by the emperor as a retreat from the busy life at the court.

For related articles click onto the following links:
ELCHE GARDENS - The Huerto del Cura
How to get to Villa D’Este from Rome
ROME: Villa Adriana - Tivoli

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