Villa Adriana is said to be the most remarkable and extravagant Roman Villa, more of a small city than a country mansion. The villa was built for Emperor Hadrian who did not like his palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome. When not travelling Hadrian preferred to live here rather than in Rome (only 30 kms away), and during the final years of his reign he lived here permanently from where he ruled the Empire. Consequently, the villa complex was required to accommodate his staff, courtiers, guards and slaves. Originally the property of his wife Vibia Sabina, the villa complex covers some 120 hectares and includes a variety of buildings many of which have architectural features and decorative sculptures copied from various places in the Mediterranean that Hadrian visited.
A good example of this can be seen in the canopus and serapeum, in the photograph above. In the Nile Delta near Alexandria is a town called Canopus with a sanctuary dedicated to Serapis. This is imitated at Hadrian’s Villa with an elongated canal (canopus) and artificial grotto (serapeum). To add to the Egyptian influence here there is also a Greek influence. Along the western edge of the canal are six caryatids, sculptures of women, usually used as columns to support a beam or roof (read more about caryatids). It is thought this area was used for banquets.
Hadrian’s villa continued to be used by a number of the Emperors that succeeded him. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the villa fell into disrepair. The marble and statues of the ruins were then taken by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este to decorate his nearby Villa d’Este. In recent years the various features of the villa have been restored, and excavations and conservation works are still on going in this vast archaeological complex. But before the advent of modern archaeological work many of the statues and sculptures were taken and sold to dealers in antiquities and antiquarians, and so there are many statues from Villa Adriana in museums around the World.
Facilities & Visiting Hadrian’s Villa:
Where is Hadrian’s Villa?
Hadrian’s Villa is about 30 kms north-east of Rome, and is very easy to get to for a day trip from Rome.
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Zoom in on the map for a very clear, birds-eye view of the villa complex. The red marker is the entrance (ticket office, shop, parking) and the green markers indicate some of the main features.
The Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project
Some of the features not to miss during your visit:
The Antinoeion – a recently discovered temple built to honour Hadrian’s lover Antinous. The presence of domestic features, such as latrines, allowed for the identification of the Praetorian, the lodgings used for Hadrian’s Praetorian Guard. One of the most intriguing buildings is the so-called Maritime Theatre, probably the most iconic building of the complex – one that demonstrates the innovative nature of many of the buildings here. The ‘theatre’ is made up of a circular portico, with a barrel vault supported by pillars, that conceals a circular moat that surrounds a circular, central island. The island was reached by wooden drawbridges and has a small villa with an obvious atrium, library and baths. It takes its name from a military themed marble frieze on the entablature of the portico.
Photographs of Hadrian’s Villa
Hadrian’s Villa in the News
- Guardian (August 2013): Hadrian’s villa tunnels explored as cavers drop down into hidden city
- The Telegraph (August 2013): Archaeologists discover hidden slave tunnel beneath Hadrian’s Villa
- The Daily Mail (August 2013): Underground city and slave tunnels are discovered beneath Emperor Hadrian’s Villa in Rome Good set of photographs and map
- The Independant (May 2012): Outrage over plan to dump rubbish at Hadrian’s villa
All three photographs on this page are in the public domain, taken from Wikipedia
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