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Villa Adriana - Tivoli

The largest and most splendid villa of Ancient Rome at 20km far from the capital it lies on a beautiful valley south of Tivoli, which was renowned since the Roman time for country residences of Roman aristocrats.


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The enormous complex of buildings was built (probably between the 118 and 134 d.C.) for will of Emperor Adrian: a restless and intellectual personality, incostant and adventurous, found of travels and Greek culture, beyond that he had a passion for architecture and took part personally to the project, conceaving many of the buildings. That’s the original idea from which araised, spreaded in an immense area (at least 120 hectares), numerous groups of buildings, apparently arranged at random but in reality they were carefully studied and separated by large and luxuriant gardens. Hadrian - as his biographer Helium Sparziano tells, - ideally wished to recreate in his Imperial residence the main monuments of the Empire, in particular those of his beloved Greece: sites of the villa, buildings, baths, nimphea, gardens and fountain complexes, valleys often carried the name of one of those monuments he had seen during his long journeys through the Roman Empire, and like miniatures reproduce the features of the originals. He gave birth to the Valley of Tempae, the Egyptian city of Canopo; besides the Lyceum, the Academy and the Stoà Poikile, all famous buildings he had seen in Athen and Egypt dating back to V and IV cent. B.C.

Extraordinarly rich the architectural and sculptural decoration of the villa: although the villa had been spoiled through the centuries of its most precious pieces, we still are impressed by the refinement of the multicoloured marble inlaid floors (opus sectile) in the villa and by the splendid fragments of mosaics housed today in the most important historical Museums all around the world (among its finest pieces more than 500 high-quality statues in coloured marbles and numerous finest fragments of mosaics such as the one of the doves, today housed in the Capitolini Museums of Rome).

No less interesting is the architectural aspect: many buildings of the villa presents in fact audacious and original innovations, maybe conceived by the same Hadrian, among which single and volted domes and very complex planimetry, in a continuous alternation of straight and curved lines, concave and convex, which was a new element in the Roman architecture, and that surprisingly reminds the buildings of Baroque Rome. Among the most interesting complexes the "Pecile" (perhaps inspired to the "Stoà Poikile", famous portico of Atene), monumental inner courtyard that contains a garden with a big central pool. At East we find the "Baths with Heliocaminus", a particular building heated by stoves and sun rays, used for summer and winter baths. Not to miss the "Canopo", long basin of water surrounded by “porticos”and flower-beds, and at its edge a great nimpheum in the shape of exedra, probably used for open air banquets; the monument reminds the Egyptian city of Canopo and the long channel that connected it to Alexandria, famous for night parties which took place there. But the most singular and fascinating building is perhaps the "Maritime Theatre": circular, it includes a channel, at the center of which raised a little round island, connected to the mainland by two revolving little bridges (now replaced by one in miniature). The island is structured as a secondary and private residence with different rooms and a small thermal system: a very private residence furnished with all comforts, designed by the same emperor for its moments of quiet. For the originality of its conception, beyond that for the dared architecture that characterizes the rooms on the island - with a complex alternatation of concave and convex walls and with great windows opened on the water, the Maritime Theatre can be considered symbol of the entire villa and of the geniality of its originator.

Francesca Boldrighini

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