Where Hadrian went to chill

Everyone needs to get away from the daily grind once in a while, and the Emperor Hadrian was no exception.

About 20 miles outside of Rome in Tivoli, he built an amazing complex of imperial residences, administrative offices, baths, barracks, workshops, gymnasia, running track, dormitories for workers and guests, and lovely peristyle gardens in the Greek, Egyptian and even Roman style. Much remains of this huge estate, though mostly in fragments.

In guest housing or the Hospitalia, the amazing floor mosaics remain in each small room, each usually with three sleeping alcoves. Must have been for the lower classes or skilled workers.

The gardens must have been spectacular, as what remains is lovely, even without the marble statues which ringed each pool.

You may recall that Hadrian and his wife were quite estranged, and the love of his life was Antinous, a young man who died in the Nile, but who is commemorated in the famous Canopus pool. It is still spectacular today, with a prominent statue of the noble youth.

The top picture shows part of the “Maritime Theater.” It is a round portico with a barrel vault supported by pillars which included a lounge, a library, heated baths, three suites with heated floors, washbasin, an art gallery, and a large fountain. Inside was a ring-shaped pool with a central island. On the island in the center was a small Roman house with all the amenities, which was probably used by Hadrian to really get away from it all. He spent so much time at Tivoli that the entire court moved there, so it’s understandable that he occasionally needed to pull up what was once a drawbridge to access the island. A very nice piece of real estate.

Much of the estate has had to be excavated. It’s interesting to see a piece of graffiti about 20 feet up from the floor of the bath complex. It illustrates where the floor level was when the inscription was written.

The good times of the second century AD when Hadrian built his villa continued for a while, but along came the Ostrogoths and other vandals, and the good times were over. Lots of marble was burned in kilns, and many things were carted away, since no one seemed to be in residence after the fall of Rome.

In the 16th century, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este had most of what remained carted away to decorate his own home, the Villa d’Este in the nearby town of Tivoli, which we visited next.

The Villa is quite impressive, but the real star is the terraced Italian Renaissance gardens which cascade down from the house. Acres of wonder…

So yes, today was a lesson in how to spend your money with style, if you happen to have very full coffers of the stuff. Lesson learned. We will be going home to figure out how to fit a fountain in our very tiny garden.



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