A Morning in Tivoli: Visiting Hadrian’s Villa

The far end of the Canopus, a long pool that was part of a summer theater area

There are many things to do in Rome, but travelling just a short distance outside the city can provide a great experience at a much slower pace. Located just 30 kilometres (19 miles) outside the city, Tivoli is a break from the big city and home to two beautiful attractions.

For anyone interested in ancient history, Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) is a great choice. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, the large complex was designed as a retreat for Emperor Hadrian during the early 2nd century AD. Originally consisting of 120 hectares (300 acres), about 40 hectares of the villa are available for tourists to wander through.

It was a relatively easy trip to Tivoli because we were staying a block from the main train station in Rome (Termini). The area directly around the train station has a bit of a reputation, but we had no issues and it was convenient for transit.

We took a morning train to Tivoli station and then got a local bus to the Roman ruins.

Entry to the villa was at the top of the map where it says Villa Adriana

During the latter part of his reign, Hadrian governed the Roman Empire directly from the villa, preferring it to the Palatine Hill in Rome. The villa reflected Hadrian’s interests as it combined the architectural traditions of Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Presently the site holds the remains of some 30 buildings around the Tiburtine Hills.

Modern Tivoli in the distance
A 9-metre high wall near the entrance
Entering from the north, we went through a gate before finding ourselves near a large pool
The Pecile was a large artificial terrace raised 15 metres (50 feet) on the western side
The Hundred Chambers building near the Pecile. It had four stories of rooms and was likely used as a storage area as well as servant’s quarters

From the large open area we made our way towards the main group of buildings.

Off to the next sight
Philosopher’s Hall

As we approached the Philosopher’s Hall, we hard a commotion within. We quietly went by a large group of university-age students listening to a few older speakers giving fiery speeches. Judging by the mood it seemed like a political gathering, or an emotional one at the very least. Originally used for imperial audiences and meetings, it appeared the location for this day’s gathering was chosen on purpose. The sound of the group faded in the distance as we continued through the ruins.

The circular rooms of the bath complex

We made our way to one of Hadrian’s favourite places during the long summer evenings. Named after an Egyptian city, the Canopus used Egyptian themes along with a Greek design to imitate the waters of the Nile in its long pool.

At the other end of the pool, a semi-circular Serapeum was used as a banquet area for the emperor and his guests

From there we went through the Imperial Palace area. There were five courts that had a number of rooms in each, along with a library, latrine and other special rooms.

This area was located between the Imperial Palace and the Guard Barracks
A doric portico was in one corner, possibly the entrance to a meeting hall

Next we went down into one of the more unique features of the villa: the Maritime Theatre.

This area was at a lower level than much of the surrounding ruins. Going down through the portico we entered a circular enclosure with a moat and island in the middle surrounded by pillars. Likely used as a getaway from court duties, the tiny island originally held a house complete with atrium, library and baths.

Entering the Maritime Theatre
The house on the “island” in the middle of the moat
Temple of Venus

The area is still being excavated, and just a few months ago archaeologists found the ruins of Hadrian’s ornate breakfast chamber, so it’s a site that holds more treasures to be found.

On the way out

We spent over three hours at the villa and found it spread out and uncrowded. The paths were marked and there were trails throughout the complex. It was well worth the trip, and we still had one more place to visit in Tivoil. We took the bus back to the town so we could make our next stop at the Villa D’Este. But that’s for next time.

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