There was a time when this spectacular archaeological site was home to the Roman Emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus. Located near Tivoli, just outside of Rome, and built between 118 and 138 A.D this charming ruin that was once the largest villa in the ancient world, bears a UNESCO World Heritage status. Composed of over 30 buildings and with the intent of being a retreat away from Rome, Hadrian Villa is a majestic place with probably the most beautiful Roman garden.
A breath-taking aura runs through this place, which you can feel especially among the beautiful gardens and statues. The love for art, architecture and culture that the Emperor had was so profound that it was the driving force behind the creation of this magnificent villa within the lush nature, showing off a true Roman lavishness.
No doubt that this villa is still an epitome of the great power Ancient Rome possessed. Although not much of the villa remains, you can still see the incredible influence made by the art from Greece and Egypt, especially among the indisputably perfect replicas of original Greek buildings and statues. The villa and the estate around it were truly a playground to the Emperor, with all the facilities that were so carefully designed for indulgence and enjoyment. There was a theatre for amusement and bathhouses with pools for relaxation, and in case one was feeling curious there were libraries to quench the thirst for knowledge. Because the Emperor had a great interest in architecture, art and philosophy there is all around strong evidence that the villa reflected and encouraged the presence of these.
When you get to the entrance of the pavilion, you can see the model of the original villa as it once was in its full glory but also as a testament to Hadrian’s architectural vision as he had designed most of them. Soon enough you will come across an example of how his travels and his zeal for architecture had blended together, specifically in the creation of the marvellous pecile. Inspired and reproduced as a famous Athenian building Stoa Poikile, the pecile is a four-sided portico demarcating a garden with a big central shimmering pool. And wait till you see another replica that sits among the pavilion, a long pool edged by sculptures, the Canopus.
It represents a sanctuary near Alexandria which was built for the god Serapis, that has been partially reconstructed today so you get to see this ingenious replica of the Egyptian canal. Come summertime and this area was used as a spot for banquets and celebrations. There are also two very large thermal bath complexes that had numerous rooms for hot and cold baths. Keep in mind that these are examples of typical Roman baths, and as such, they were divided into two parts made up of a larger and a smaller bathing complex. Some speculations say that the larger baths were used for men and the smaller one for women while the others point towards a class division based on the materials and decor differences in each one of them. Either way, the design of the bathing complex is very similar to the modern day concept of a wellness centre.
There were times when the Emperor felt the need to isolate himself and spend some time alone, and so he cleverly made a private complex to which he could escape in times like that. A villa within the villa composed as an artificial island, the Maritime Theater, served this purpose with luxurious and practical amenities. Perhaps this is the most significant and known as a signature building that you should make time for because it reflects the highlight of Hadrian’s creative endeavour and the essence of tranquillity.
Continue your discovery of the villa by seeking out the Piazza d’Oro, but before getting there you will have passed by the Hospitalia which was a secondary house used for guests and servants. Unlike what the modern day interpretation of a guest house suggest, the guest house of that time was drastically different in its architecture and decor than the main house which you can see through the remains of the mosaic floors.
Arriving at the Piazza d’Oro you are bound to come across a memorable sight, especially if you are visiting in the springtime; and trust us the yellow flowers filling the field is nothing short of an impressionist painting. This site is a masterwork that was once so luxurious it was used as entertainment for formal and special events. Strolling through the villa’s estate will take you several hours, but it is really worth taking your time in getting to know this historical marvel.