For its perimeter and its exceptional condition, the villa is the most famous of the villas located near Rome. It enclosed an estate consisting of vast gardens adorned with works of art, an imperial palace, baths, libraries and theatres. It was probably the richest building project in Antiquity and was designed entirely by Hadrian, who had visited every part of the roman empire and it was on his return from the Oriental provinces in AD 126 that he began work on his villa. He was very knowledgeable about art and architecture and tried to recreate the works and sites he had visited during his travels like the Liceo, the Academia and the Poikile in Athens, the Canopus, a channel on the delta of the Nile, the Vale of Tempe in Thessaly. In 134 the villa was almost finished. Hadrian was 58. After his death, the emperors who succeeded him continued to come to Tivoli and embellished the villa. Then the villa fell into ruin. Constantine (306-337 AD) spoiled the villa of its works of art. It was destroyed during the barbarian invasions and during the middle ages its marbles and statues were used by the inhabitants of Tivoli to built houses. Since the Renaissance many artists came here to study the ruins of the villa and often they left their signature on the walls. From the 15C to 19C the site was explored. Since 1870 the site has belonged to the Italian government which has organised its excavation. The vegetation has been cleared from the ruins revealing magnificent vaults, columns, stucco work and mosaics. The present entrance is probably not the one used in Hadrian’s day. The design of the villa is so unusual that archaeologists have not been able to identify the buildings or their uses with any certainty. The visit start with the Pecile, a large rectangle with slightly curved end and lined with a portico, it was sited so that one side was always in the shade. The apsidal chamber called the philosophers’ room was perhaps a reading room. The Teatro Marittimo is a circular construction consisting of a portico and a central building surrounded by a canal which was spanned by small swing bridges. It was probably the retreat for the emperor. Going south are the Baths, called Heliocaminus, consisting of the small baths and the great baths. They are rectangular rooms with concave walls, octagonal rooms with alternate concave and convex walls, circular rooms with recesses alternating with doors. Beyond these buildings is the so called Canopus, inspired to the city of the same name near Alexandria: a canal lined with temples and gardens. Hadrian had part of his estate landscaped to look like the Egyptian site and completed the effect with a canal down the centre and a copy of the Temple of Serapis at the southern end. He combined the cult of Serapis with the cult of Antinous, his young favourite who had been drowned in the Nile. Returning to the Pretorio you pass the Caserma dei Vigili (firemen’s barracks), a sort of depot. Here is the Imperial palace complex, extending from the Piazza d’Oro to the Libraries. The piazza d’Oro is a rectangular area surrounded by a double portico, maybe meant for summer banquets. The Doric pillared hall takes its name from the surrounding portico which was composed of pilasters with Doric bases and capitals supporting a Doric architrave. Adjoining it is the Peristilio di palazzo and then the library court. The ruins of the library buildings are on the north side of the courtyard, according to custom there was both a Greek library and a Latin library. Next to the libraries is the Padiglione and the Terrazza di Tempe, a belvedere consisting of a three storey building, that dominates the valley below, artificially created to remind the vale of Tempe in Thessaly. The little grove leads to the Casino Fede, built in 1700 above a nymphaeum of the villa and then a small theatre for private shows for the emperor, containing 500 seats.
Open every day from 8.15 – 19.30 from 27 March to 17 September 2023
Mouseia from 10.00 to 17.00
The ticket office closes an hour and a half earlier.
Closing days: 1 January and 25 December, with the exception of special project openings which are reported on the official website.
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