Tivoli and Hadrian’s Villa  1/2

Villa Adriana Tivoli

Picture: Paolo Bellini

The below story is mostly based on: Henri Stierlin, Imperium Romanum part I of the Etruscans to the fall of the empire, Taschen, Cologne 1996. We take the subway and head for the Pyramid of Cestius. The bus is waiting. We get out at the villa of Hadrian to look at the complex.

Entrance villa Hadrian and  youtube digital reconstruction 
entrance villa Hadrian Tivoli

picture (mouseover): mjsawyer

When we arrive at the entrance to the complex with a total area of 86 ha, we can see a scale model near the parking place.

Scale model villa Hadrian and aerial picture  current situation
Youtube model    Youtube aerial villa Hadrianus (18.31-20.08 minutes)     Youtube  drone
Villa Hadria model villa Tivoli

picture: chairsofa

A fair portion still hasn’t been excavated. Villa Hadrian, like all villas that were built by the Romans, were accessible by horse within one day at about 30 kilometres from Rome. The landscape that was selected by the emperor was at the foot of the hills at Tibur (Tivoli). This forest landscape with small rivers and meadows was owned by Sabina, Hadrianus’ wife.


pictures: michaelrogers

A. Pictures:
1.   Hadrian’s  villa
2.   Bluffton University (8 pages  137 picture)
3.   Rome Tivoli
4.   Wikimedia Commens

B.   Lecture:
5.   Lecture  professor Kleiner Yale University (starts 47.48 minutes)

C.   Youtube:
6.    Khan Academy  youtube: villa  Hadrian (8.03 minutes)
7.    Khan Academy youtube Teatro Marittimo (5 minutes)
8.    Digital reconstruction youtube  Jack Roebuck villa Hadrian (18.20 minutes)
9.    Digital reconstruction youtu Matthew Brennan (6.58 minutes)
10.  Digital reconstruction Dr. Bernard Fischer (8.03 minutes)
11.  Youtube aerial villa Hadrian (18.31-20.08 minutes)

D.   Reaserchproject:
12.   Digital project and intro youtube for user website (great website)
32.   Function and meaning of Hadrian’s villa

E.   Wikipedia:
14.  Wikipedia

Imperial palace
Hadrian's villa Imperial palace

Photo: Carole Raddato

The palace construction began in 118. The entire complex lacks a clear axis along which the different buildings are arranged, nor has it a central point. It is more akin to an organic whole that mother nature created spontaneously. The Villa of Hadrian consists of caves, ponds, fountains, waterfalls and lakes in between which different buildings are located. These buildings include palaces, libraries, stadiums, temples, bathhouses, sancturaries, an academica, the Teatro Marittimo and the Piazza d’Oro. Beneath the surface exists an entire network of service corridors. These were used by service personnel and carriages to transport goods. 4/5th of the entire complex is still at a subsurface level.

Hadrian’s Villa tunnels network of service corridors
Hadrian's Villa tunnels network of service corridors


Remnants south hall Stadium garden and reconstruction Niobide group   Map number  18    Video Niobe group
remnants south hall Stadium garden Hadrian's villa reconstruction Niobide group

The role and the meaning of the buildings are not entirely without controversy. According to the classical author Spartianus, the whole complex is a kind of travel report by Hadrian. Many buildings were named after famous buildings like the school of Aristotle, the academy, or the Poikile, the stoa in Athens. Still, the buildings you find here are not copies of the Greek. On the contrary, they are the personal and original designs by Hadrian himself.

 Map of the  villa of Hadrian and aerial picture

1. Theatre 2. Tholos of Venus 3. Temple terraces 4. Guest quarters 5. Latin library 6. Greek library 7. Republican villa 8. Courtyard for libraries 9. Teatro Marittimo 10. Philosopher Hall 11. ‘Poikile’- hippodrome 12. Courtyard of the winter palace 13. Heliocaminus 14. Piazza d’Oro 15. Court with Dorian columns Youtube reconstruction 16. Firemen barracks 17. Portico around the birdsmouth joints 18. Garden or stadium  youtube 19. Casino with three exedras 20. Small thermae 21. Vestibule and youtube reconstruction 22. Large thermae 23. Praetorium 24. Canopus and Youtube reconstruction 25. Temple of Serapeum and youtube reconstruction 26. Torre di Roccabruna and youtube reconstruction 27. Academy youtube reconstruction 28. Temple of Jupiter.

Aerial picture and the Poikile
Hadrian's villa aerial picture

It is likely that the different buildings involve the religious roles assumed by the emperor, including all kinds of rituals. For example, the emperor was worshipped as a companion to the gods in the naos, or he compared himself as rule of the cosmos with Jupiter and Helios. The emperor had various nicknames, Aulette (a flute player of Apollo) or Kallinikos (as Heracles). The different buildings served as a place to worship a certain cult. There was also a corridor system beneath the Villa of Hadrian that was used by service personnel.

Wall of Poikile large size
wall villa Hadrian

We follow the signs that list the various constructions. After looking at the scale model, we arrive in the ‘Poikile’. If you walk underneath the gate, you can still see the pond in the middle.

Poikile original and current
pond of the Poikile Villa Hadrian

This is also the first building the visitors from Rome would see when arriving at the villa. The complex was more than 200 metres long and a hundred metres wide. It was surrounded by a double colonnade. The 10-metre high wall at the centre of the double colonnade can still be seen today.

Pond of the Poikile aerial picture 
pond of the Poikile Villa Hadrian

pictures: patrick.cyga en jags_aw_usa

The name, Poikile, is derived from this colossal wall. The building was named after the famous painted column walkway: the Stoa in Athens. Still, this complex was some seven times bigger than its Athenian counterpart. The covered walkways provided enough shade for the visitor. Gardens were in between the pond and the columns. On the east side, we can see the remnants of a building with three exedras. A part of Poikile is supported by a four-story substructure that is clearly positioned lower.


Scale model Poikile
Hadrian's villa scale model Poikile

These were likely the living quarters of the service personnel: the so-called One Hundred Rooms. If you walk further south, you will see how these rooms continue all the way to the vestibule. 

Vestibule Villa Hadrianus Tivoli


Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Small Baths (left) the Vestibulum (center) the Great Baths (right)
 Model of Hadrian's Villa showing the Small Baths (left), the Vestibulum (center) and the Great Baths (right)

Photo: Carole Raddato

We continue south towards the Canopus area. As soon as we head this way, we will first see the remnants of some smaller and larger thermae. The small thermae have an octagonal hall with straight and convex walls.

Small thermae and  youtube  digital reconstruction
Small thermae Villa Hadrian

This part was likely once an apodyterium, in other words, a dressing room. It is plausible that these baths were used expressly by women. If we continue walking we will see the large thermae not far from the small baths.

Aerial large thermae     Youtube  digital reconstruction
Large thermae Villa Hadrian

These were for the men. The large central round hall was probably a sudatio (sauna). We can deduce this from the lack of water pipes. In addition, we can find in succession: the tepidarium (tepid), the caldarium (hot) and a space with three baths. In the middle we find the frigidarium (cold) bath. Both thermae types were used by the service personnel.

If we continue southwards we arrive at the pond after which this part of the Villa Hadrianus was named: the Canopus. The first one you see is a pond of 119 x 18 metres that ends at the Serapis sanctuary. The Canopus was dug out in a small and low-altitude valley.

Canopus with view over the Serapeum    Youtube digital reconstruction
Canopus Serapis Villa Hadrianus

pictures: eucharisto deo en Romanus_too

This pond was named after and based on a canal in Alexandria: the Euripos. This canal led to an anabranch of the Nile that hosted the sanctuary devoted to Serapis. And indeed, this sanctuary in Alexandria was also designed by Hadrianus. A part of the portico is still intact. The architrave alternates between round arches and some statues remain between the columns. As virtually always, these are copies of Greek originals.

Canopus and reconstruction
Canopus reconstructie Villa Hadrianus Tivoli i

photos: The Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project  Matthew Brennan

Serapeum and video digitale reconstructie
 Serapeum Canopus Villa Hadrian

foto’s: jags_aw_usa en Gauis Caecilius

The Romans were capable of producing large-scale accurate marble copies of the predominantly bronze Greek statues. They developed a clever method to do this, but more on that later. When you stand in front of the three sculptures of Mars, Mercury and Minerva, you see a number of caryatids on the right. These sculptures originally supported a pergola. These sculptures are also accurate copies of the Erectheion-caryatids in Athens, commissioned by Hadrianus. The sculptures we see now are copies made of cement. The sculptures that Hadrianus commissioned copies of can now be found in a museum. In addition, there were also sculptures of the Nile, the Tiber and a crocodile.

The crocodile and the caryatids
Youtube reconstruction (0.17 minutes)
Canopus the crocodile and the caryatids Villa Hadrian

pictures: mjsawyer en Gauis Caecilius

The southern part, the Serapeum-temple, has been reconstructed using the many fragments found in the Canopos layers. A reconstruction can be seen here in the Vatican museum.
Map of the Canopus: 1. Alternating curved and straight portico 2. Large pond (‘canal’) 3. Small reservoirs 4. Serapeum-sanctuary

Serapeum-sanctuary and reconstruction Vatican museum
Serapeum-sanctuary reconstruction Vatican museum Villa Hadrian

picture (mouseover): Gabriel Longás

On the south side of the Canopos the motif of the columns alternated between straight and curved architraves. Unfortunately, only a few columns of this portico remain.

Canopus Villa Hadrian

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