Hadrian's Villa by night

Looking towards the Serapeum, over the Canopus, in the early evening at Hadrian’s villa, Tivoli. © LPLT

Of all the Roman Emperors, Hadrian fascinates me the most. Today he is perhaps best known for his association with Hadrian’s Wall, constructed along the northern boundary of Roman Britain. In antiquity he travelled widely and was known for his love of all things Greek. Hadrian disliked his palace in Rome and so built a substantial villa in Tibur, modern day Tivoli, north east of Rome. Hadrian’s villa, or Villa Adriana in Italian, is remarkable for its use of Greek, Egyptian and Roman architectural features and elements, and for this reason was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1999.

Hadrian’s Villa was built over a late Republican villa that belonged to his wife between 118 and 138 AD. Although termed a ‘villa’ this was no simple country mansion. Rather, it was a complex of palaces, heated baths, theatres, temples, and libraries. And, as Hadrian ruled his empire from here during the later years of his reign, the ‘little city’ also had various state rooms and living quarters necessary for the emperor’s many courtiers, guards and slaves. All told, the site covers over 120 hectares of hill slopes just outside Tivoli. Not all of which has been excavated.

The magnificent architecture inspired by buildings from across the Mediterranean was decorate with exquisite sculptures similarly drawn from across the Mediterranean. Many of those that were found during the earliest excavations in the seventeenth century have ended up in the collections of the museums in Rome. Later, in the eighteenth century, sculptures were sold to tourists on their ‘grand tours’. Consequently, Hadrian’s artefacts are now scattered around the World. Where details are known, replicas have been placed on the site.

How to Get to Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli

From everything I hear and read, Villa Adriana is a perfect archaeological day trip from Rome. When I went to Rome earlier this year I thought very seriously about visiting. Tivoli is after all only about 30 kms north-east of Rome, and by all accounts the journey takes around an hour by bus. Unfortunately, I only had three days in Rome and I wanted to see as much of the archaeology in the city as I could (although I was able to visit Ostia Antica). Everyone seems to recommend a full day for a trip Tivoli. Because, besides the Hadrian’s villa, there is also Villa d’Este – one of the finest sixteenth century, renaissance palaces and gardens and in Italy, which is also on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

And, looking at all the photographs, Tivoli itself is a charming country town with other archaeological sites to visit, including Rocca Pia castle built for Pope Pius II in the mid fifteenth century.

For detailed information about visiting and directions to Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, see the Hadrian’s Villa site page.

Looking forward, I hope that this is one of those sites on my bucket list I will be able to put a tick against some time during 2013.

Hadrian's Villa by day

Looking across the Canopus towards the Serapeum in Hadrian’s Villa complex. Note the Greek-influenced caryatids on the right of the artificial lake.

Day Trips to Hadrian’s Villa from Rome