Tivoli Hadrian’s Villa: intro and overview

Hadrian's VillaTivoli
photo: Nico Cavalloto

The below story is mostly based on: Henri Stierlin, Imperium Romanum part I of the Etruscans to the fall of the empire, Taschen, Cologne 1996. We take the subway and head for the Pyramid of Cestius. The bus is waiting. We get out at the villa of Hadrian to look at the complex. When we arrive at the entrance to the complex with a total area of 86 ha, we can see a scale model near the parking place.

Scale model villa Hadrian and an aerial picture current situation

Model Villa Hadrian Tivoli
photo: Sebastià Giralt

A fair portion still hasn’t been excavated. Villa Hadrian, like all villas that were built by the Romans, were accessible by horse within one day at about 30 kilometres from Rome. The landscape that was selected by the emperor was at the foot of the hills at Tibur (Tivoli). This forest landscape with small rivers and meadows was owned by Sabina, Hadrianus’ wife.

The palace construction began in 118. The entire complex lacks a clear axis along which the different buildings are arranged, nor has it a central point. It is more akin to an organic whole that mother nature created spontaneously. The Villa of Hadrian consists of caves, ponds, fountains, waterfalls and lakes in between which different buildings are located. These buildings include palaces, libraries, stadiums, temples, bathhouses, sancturaries, an academica, the Teatro Marittimo and the Piazza d’Oro. Beneath the surface exists an entire network of service corridors. These were used by service personnel and carriages to transport goods. 4/5th of the entire complex is still at a subsurface level.

Hadrian portrait sculpture

Imperial palace and the remnants

Scale model of Imperial palace  Hadrian's villa
photos: Carole Raddato and the remnants: Jastrow

The role and the meaning of the buildings are not entirely without controversy. According to the classical author Spartianus, the whole complex is a kind of travel report by Hadrian. Many buildings were named after famous buildings like the school of Aristotle, the academy, or the Poikile, the stoa in Athens. Still, the buildings you find here are not copies of the Greek. On the contrary, they are the personal and original designs by Hadrian himself.

Map Hadrian Villa with the buildings:

1. Greek theatre 2. Tholos of Venus 3. Temple terraces 4. Guest quarters 5. Latin library 6. Greek library 7. Republican villa 8. Courtyard for libraries 9. Teatro Marittimo 10. Philosopher Hall  (remnants) 11. ‘Poikile’- hippodrome 12. Courtyard of the winter palace 13. Thermae with Heliocaminus 14. Piazza d’Oro 15. Court with Dorian columns and Youtube reconstruction 16. Firemen barracks 17. Portico around fish pond 18. Garden Stadium youtube 19. Casino with three exedras and model reconstruction 20. Small thermae 21. Vestibule and youtube reconstruction 22. Large thermae 23. Praetorium 24. Canopus and Model 25. Temple of Serapeum and youtube reconstruction 26. Torre di Roccabruna  27. Academy youtube reconstruction  28. Temple of Apollo

It is likely that the different buildings involve the religious roles assumed by the emperor, including all kinds of rituals. For example, the emperor was worshipped as a companion to the gods in the naos, or he compared himself as rule of the cosmos with Jupiter and Helios. The emperor had various nicknames, Aulette (a flute player of Apollo) or Kallinikos (as Heracles). The different buildings served as a place to worship a certain cult. There was also a corridor system beneath the Villa of Hadrian that was used by service personnel.

We follow the signs that list the various constructions. After looking at the scale model, we arrive in the ‘Poikile’. If you walk underneath the gate, you can still see the pond in the middle.

Wall Poikile large

Hadrian's villa: Wall and Poikile
photo: damian entwistle

Click her for the continuation of Tivoli: Hadrian’s Villa Poikile, thermen and vestibule