Villa Adriana

Emperor Hadrian had it good. The Roman Empire was at its peak, he was the boss, and he could do what he wanted with all those riches – no one would or could argue. What he chose to do was to build the biggest and baddest holiday house the world has ever seen. Thus was born Villa Adriana – or Hadrian’s Villa.

In the early half of the second century the Roman Emperor was pretty much a god. Whatever he wanted he could have. Hadrian didn’t like the palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome, so naturally he decided to build another one. But rather than build it in the centre of Rome, he built his retreat some 29km (18 miles) away near modern Tivoli. In fact, he liked his summer house so much that toward the end of his reign he lived in – and ruled the empire from – the villa permanently.

At its grandest, the villa covered an area of more than one square kilometre (around 250 acres) and had more than 30 main buildings – including palaces, theatres, bath houses, temples and various quarters. A large court lived permanently at the villa to service the Emperor and keep the empire running. So that the emperor could wander the expansive gardens without having to see all the servants running back and forth on various errands, an extensive network of underground tunnels runs beneath the site.

After the decline and fall of the empire, the villa remained abandoned and fell into disrepair. In the 16th century, Cardinal Ippolitto Il d’Este followed the lead of his popes and plundered all the best statues and marble from the villa to decorate his own Villa d’Este nearby.

The scale of Villa Adriana is awe-inspiring

The scale of Villa Adriana is awe-inspiring

There are a surprising number of domes and vaults still standing, and the scale is awe-inspiring. Most of the pools (including the famous Canopus pool) have been preserved or restored. Even after getting away from Rome, however, the emperor still found that much of Rome followed him to the villa (well, there was an empire to run after all), so he had a retreat built at his retreat! This structure, today called the “Maritime theatre”, included a small house on an artificial island created by a ring-shaped pool that could only be crossed by one of two drawbridges.

Today, Villa Adriana is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, and possibly one of the largest and best preserved examples of the excesses of the roman emperors. (Check out the Google Map below; click on “Satellite” and zoom in to get an idea of the full extent of the site from the satellite image.)

There are three ways to get there:

  1. Get yourself into a pre-arranged tour from Rome that picks you up and returns you home. Some of these will also include a guide.
  2. Drive yourself. Depending on where you are staying, you’ll probably be heading from Rome to Tivoli to get there. Access to the villa is off the Via Tiburtina, which is the main road into and through Tivoli.
  3. Take public transport. This could be challenging, but if you have your RomaPass the train at least will be free. Take the metro train to Ponte Mammolo (the second last station on that line), then grab a CO.TRAL bus outside the station (tickets, or biglietti, are available in the cafe just inside the station). The route takes the Via Triburtina (that main road to Tivoli) and stops about a kilometre away – and from there you’ll have to walk. The bus drivers are unlikely to let you know which stop you need to jump off at, so you’ll need to be able to work that one out enroute (Teddy used his iphone to track his progress and work out when to get off).

Allow yourself at least a day to wander around the full site. There are audio and printed guides available to explain the various remains. Fortunately there are also water fountains scattered across the site and at least one toilet to ensure the modern visitor’s comfort.

(Teddy has lots more pictures of Villa Adriana on the desktop backgrounds page, and the iPhone background page.)

Teddy enjoyed wandering around Villa Adriana

Teddy enjoyed wandering around Villa Adriana




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *