Hadrian’s villa: Canopus and Serapeum

Villa Hadrian: Canopus
photo: Andy Hay


If we continue southwards we arrive at the pond after which this part of the Villa Hadrian was named: the Canopus. The first one you see is a pond of 119 x 18 metres that ends at the Serapis sanctuary. The Canopus was dug out in a small and low-altitude valley.


photo: Jastrow
Villa Hadrian: Canopus
photos: Zanner and the long hallway: Steven Zucker

The Serapeum is a large nympheum shaped like a semi-circular exedra. The front room has a domed roof that was cast from one piece. Behind the apse with the recesses we find a long hallway with a barrel vault very reminiscent of a cave. Just like in the semi-circular front room we find reservoirs. The Serapeum was mostly built inside of hill. Serapeum was the god who ruled the dead and lived in the Earth. This made the artificial caverns with its water features a very suitable surrounding. The room was likely used as a triclinium: a room where Hadrian dined with his guests.

Villa Hadrian: Serapeum
photo: Wikimedia

Serapeum       Video reconstruction
G.B. Piranesi ‘Serapeum’ c. 1769      THE MET

This pond was named after and based on a canal in Alexandria: the Euripos. This canal led to an anabranch of the Nile that hosted the sanctuary devoted to Serapis. And indeed, this sanctuary in Alexandria was also designed by Hadrian. A part of the portico is still intact. The architrave alternates between round arches and some statues remain between the columns. As virtually always, these are copies of Greek originals.

Villa Hadrian: Canopus and Caryatids
photo’s: Jonathan Rome & Gretchen Van Horne and large: Patrick Denker

Caryatids     Video reconstruction (0.17 minutes)

The Romans were capable of producing large-scale accurate marble copies of the predominantly bronze Greek statues. They developed a clever method to do this, but more on that later. When you stand in front of the three sculptures of Mars, Mercury and Minerva, you see a number of caryatids on the right. These sculptures originally supported a pergola. These sculptures are also accurate copies of the Erectheion-caryatids in Athens, commissioned by Hadrianus. The sculptures we see now are copies made of cement. The sculptures that Hadrian commissioned copies of can now be found in a museum. In addition, there were also sculptures of the Nile, the Tiber and a crocodile.

Youtube Canopus      Reconstruction Serapeum-temple
3D model Serapeum

Map of the Canopus: 1. Alternating curved and straight portico 2. Large pond (‘canal’) 3. Small reservoirs 4. Serapeum-sanctuary

The southern part, the Serapeum-temple, has been reconstructed using the many fragments found in the Canopus layers. A reconstruction can be seen here in the Vatican museum.

Serapeum-temple reconstruction      Other side       Three Gods

Hadrian's Villa Serapeum-temple reconstruction Vatican
photos: John Kannenberg and Sailko

Continuation Tivoli Villa Hadrian: Hall with Doric Pillars and Quadriportico with fishpond