Hadrian’s Villa Travel Guide

Maritime Theater, Villa Adriana, Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli Italy

Introduction

Hadrian’s Villa, or Villa Adriana, was constructed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian around the second century AD as a place to retreat to when he wanted to relax and get away from Rome itself for a while. He was said to have disliked the palace on Palatine Hill which added to his reasons to construct a vacation palace. Later on, he would decide to make his vacation villa his permanent home, and from there, he ruled the Roman Empire. Because of this move, it meant that the villa had to be expanded in order to accommodate his multitude of servants and soldiers, as well as his entire court. Facilities also had to be created to satisfy the needs of this enormous entourage, which is why the complex as we know it today is enormous.

Hadrian's Villa complex mapThere were numerous utilitarian buildings such as bath houses, libraries, and banquet halls, as well as underground chambers and quarters where servants lived, away from view of guests and visitors. Meanwhile, there were also structures that were solely for Hadrian’s use such as the area’s most beautiful building, the Maritime Theater where he retreated to when he did not want to be disturbed. Here, we would have his privacy and be able to devote his spare time to his other interests such as philosophy and painting.

Because he has traveled a lot abroad, Hadrian also added to the villa further by commissioning the construction of replicas of some of his favorite buildings that he visited while he was overseas, and all to scale. He also heavily favored Greek architecture, which is why many of the buildings in the complex are also replicas of famous Greek buildings. He then decorated his villa with a large amount of Greek artwork, mosaics, and statues, or replicas of such pieces.

After Hadrian’s reign, the villa was inherited and used by his various successors, all up until the decline of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, the complex fell into disuse, and eventually started falling apart. A major factor to its destruction is when in the 16th century, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este gutted the villa for building materials for his own nearby villa he was constructing at the time, the Villa d’Este. Much of the marble in Villa Adriana was removed, or destroyed in order to make lime for cement. The statues and artwork on the premises were also removed and taken to decorate the new rooms and gardens at Villa d’Este.

Hadrian's Villa Greek statue, Tivoli, Rome, ItalyThese days, only fragments and ruins of most of those structures remain, and only a few structures still stand. Many parts of it were either plundered or decayed, but the complex is so large that until now, there are still active excavations that continue to expose more parts of the complex. Meanwhile, items like statues that were unearthed at these excavations end up housed in various museums in Europe. There have also been some restoration efforts underway which allowed for some of the buildings and statues to be partially reconstructed. It has also been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and visitors can also view a scale model of Villa Adriana on the premises.

What to See

  • Maritime Theatre (Teatro Marittimo): located on an island in the middle of a round pool, and can only be reached via a small swing bridge, it was a circular building with a small dome. This was where Hadrian reportedly retreated to in order to get some privacy, or to paint and study.

  • Heliocaminus: A bath complex.

  • Hall of Philosophers: A rectangular building in the Greek style that is believed to have once been a library.

  • Library Courtyard: The original site of an older villa before Hadrian began constructing Villa Adriana.

  • Hall of Doric Pillars: a basilica bordered by doric pillars.

  • Golden Square (Piazza d’Oro): An elaborately decorated formal banquet and dining hall that was often used for state affairs.

  • Temple of Venus: a small circular building with doric columns dedicated to the goddess Venus.

  • Palace: Considered as the most important part of the villa, it features a throne room, where the emperor would welcome visitors and hold audiences.

  • Poecile: It is a large rectangular area with a large pond at the center. It is then surrounded by colonnaded porticos. It is said that the name of this point is derived from the Stoa Poikile in Greece, of which it is supposedly a replica of.

  • Canopus: a building that is a replica of the sanctuary of the god Serapis near Alexandria in Egypt.

  • Large and Small Thermae: large thermal complexes with a number of rooms specifically meant for cold and hot baths.

  • Mask mosaic, Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, Rome, ItalyGreek Theatre: Hadrian’s personal amphitheater which could seat up to 500 people.

  • Nymphaeum Stadium: Nymphaeum are monuments that are consecrated to the nymphs, and there are several of these inside Hadrian’s Villa, and the Stadium is the largest one.

  • One Hundred Rooms (Cento Camerelle): the underground complex of rooms and living quarters meant for servants and slaves.

Tips and Advice

  • Tivoli is very easy to reach from Rome, and you can either do it by train by taking the Roma-Pescara line and get off at station Tivoli, or you can take a bus from the Ponte Mammolo station that will take you to the station in Tivoli, Largo Naziano Unite.
  • If you wish to also visit Tivoli Gardens nearby, there is a local bus which shuttles visitors between the two sites, so watch out for that.