Tivoli day 2

Tivoli and Hadrian’s Villa 2/2

The sculptures that were dug up on this side also seemed heavily inspired by Egyptian sculpture. A reconstruction can be seen here in the Vatican museum. They were the Egyptian gods: Ptah, Isis and Osiris. The Serapeum is a large nympheum shaped like a semi-circular exedra. The front room has a domed roof that was cast from one piece. Behind the apse with the recesses we find a long hallway with a barrel vault very reminiscent of a cave. Just like in the semi-circular front room we find reservoirs. The Serapeum was mostly built inside of hill. Serapeum was the god who ruled the dead and lived in the Earth. This made the artificial caverns with its water features a very suitable surrounding. The room was likely used as a triclinium: a room where Hadrian dined with his guests.

Serapeum front and back    Youtube    Youtube digital reconstruction
serapeum villa Hadrian

We now walk back to a third major area: the Peristylia. Many buildings in this part of the complex have a peristilum. In Roman days, this was a garden surrounded by a colonnade. When we see the large thermae, we turn right to see the Praetorium on our right hand side. These buildings were likely used for the staff and as storage space. We continue west to see on our left-hand side the barracks of the ‘Vigili’ (fire brigade). This two-story space was also used by the staff.

A bit further ahead we find the court of the Dorian columns. The building was a basilisk where Hadrianus judged. The rectangular hall measured 32 x 32 metres. The building was surrounded in part by a portico, supported by 36 pillars. The capitals and the base of the pillars were made in the Dorian style. A part of these pillars with the architrave, frieze and with the closing barrel vault can still be seen today.

Court with Dorian columns
Youtube digitale reconstruction     Youtube digitale reconstruction courtyard 
court with Dorian columns Villa Hadrian

The Dorian pillars are special in that they deviate completely from classical canon. The renewal of the columns is much stronger than allowed by classical (vitruvian) rules.

We subsequently arrive at the quadriportico with a fish pond and a cryptoporticus, which we will of course enter. If you look closely, you can make out quite a bit of graffiti, including a signature by the famous Giovanni Battista Piranese.

quadriportico Villa Hadrian Tivoli
Cyptoporticus of the quadriportico interior and exterior
cryptoporticus of the quadriportico Villa Hadrian Tivoli

We head towards the most western excavated building: the Piazza d’Oro. Architecture-wise, this is one of the most striking and interesting buildings. If you attend the daily programme VI, which covers the 17th century architect Borromini, you should pay attention to how many elements of the hypaethral find their way with Borromini. The building consists of a large square gathering of columns of 100 x 60 metres, with a pond at the very centre, which in turn is surrounded by a garden.

Model Piazza d’Oro 3D   Youtube digitale reconstruction Piazza d’Oro  Map
Current situation and remnants

photo: Carole Raddato

Piazza  d’Oro reconstruction
Hadrian's villa Piazza  d’Oro reconstruction

photo: The Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project Matthew Brennan

Piazza d’Oro scale model
villa Adriana Tivoli Piazza d' Oro scale model

The Piazza d’Oro is positioned on the north-east/south-west axis and it has multiple entrances. The courtyard is sizeable, 46×37 metres.

The map of the Piazza d’Oro:
1. Entrance with an octagonal ribbed vault 2. Double colonnade of the peristilium 3. Axial pond 4. Courtyard 5. Hypaethral room with complex curved lines 6. Nympheum shaped like an exedra

Remains of the hypaethral room drawing    Youtube reconstruction
hypethrale ruimte Villa Hadrianus

Interestingly, the hypaethral room with the nympheum behind it is shaped like a quarter circle. The hypaethral (Greek: hypaithrs = below the open sky) is a centred plane with an octagon within which a cross-shaped map is written. The walls of this cross shape alternate between concave and convex. In addition, it uses central and diagonal axes. Maps with these types of axes have greatly influenced baroque architecture. Baroque artists, including the likes of Cortona, Borromini and Bernini often used central maps with concave and convex wall spaces.

Imperial palace maquette and map
Hadrian's villa imperial palace maquette

photo: Carole Raddato

The entrance building across from the hypaethral room is also remarkable. This too boasts a central map with curved walls. The dome is supported with an octagon ribbed vault. The striking thing is that only eight pillars support this vault, and similar to the Pantheon, eight pillars support the domes.

Teatro Marittimo
Youtube Khan Academy Teatro Marittimo (5 minutes)   Youtube  3D model (0.23 minutes)
Villa Hadian Teatro Marittimo aerial picture

picture: Raimondo Luciani

Teatro Marittimo
Villa Adriana Teatro Marittimo Tivoli

Picture: sandromars

We now head North-East towards the Teatro Marittimo. On an island of just 27 metres across, there was a construction with all kinds of small rooms. A 4 metre wide canal was dug out around the island, which in turn was surrounded by a round portico.

Teatro Marittimo or the maritime theatre
Villa Hadrianus Tivoli ingang


Teatro Marittimo or the maritime theatre aerial picture
Khan Academy video Teatro Marittimo (5 minutes)   Youtube 3D model (0.23 minutes)
serapeum villa Hadrianus
Teatro Marittimo reconstruction
Hadrian's villa Teatro Marittimo reconstruction

bron: The Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project: State vs. Reconstruction

The columns and the nine metre high round wall are largely intact. If you measure the diameter of the large enclosure, it matches the Pantheon to a tee, 43.3 metres. The island could be reached via two rotatable wooden bridges (see below map, n. 4). Excavations even dug up the wheels that were mounted below the wooden bridges.

The name, the maritime theatre, has nothing to do with the building’s purpose. There is little consensus between archaeologists as to what the meaning of the complex was. It is often thought that Hadrianus used the space to retreat and do some reading and relaxing. In this sense, it gets pointed out that the Teatro Marittimo is situated exactly between the ‘philosopher’s hall’ and the Greek and Latin libraries. They then add that the island itself also had a library. The island complex was provided with all sorts of rooms save a kitchen, which were usually present in Roman house, albeit much smaller than was customary.

 Library large size        Youtube library maritime theatre (start at 1.12  minutes)

There is one interpretation that posits that this strange complex was not just any miniature house, but a depiction of the universe with an observatory dome right at its centre. This is where the stars were consulted. The Piazzo d’Oro is the navel of the Villa of Hadrianus. The key to the meaning of this complex traces back to a description by Terentius Varo, who describes his bird house in detail. There are quite some similarities between this bird house that was built 170 years earlier and the Teatro Marittimo. For example, both have an island with a tholos that holds a canopy on top, a round canal and a round colonnade surrounding it.

Map of the Teatro Marittimo in the Villa of Hadrianus: 1. Entrance 2. Circular portico 3. Water canal 4. Moveable bridges 5. Pronaos (front hall) 6. Central canopy 7. Apse

Varro describes his bird house in detail. The classical author describes that in the tholos you could read the wind direction. In addition, it allowed you to consult the stars. After all, the stars held the key for the future. The entire whole, the canal, island and the tholas with its dome is nothing more than a miniature cosmos. It ‘was a depiction of the many animal, plant and mineral kingdoms.’

People inhabited the island; fish swam in the canal water (aquarium), and the air was home to the birds, of which some transitioned from water to air, like the ducks that were often mentioned. In addition, the water could be checked through the water pipe system, so just like in the Golden House (Nero’s palace in Rome) rain could come down. The dome’s mechanism illustrated the movement of the planets and the stars, while the wind vane showed the wind direction. In antiquity, the wind was regarded as the driving force behind the movement of the stars and therefore largely influenced the horoscope.

HenrHenri Stierlin, Imperium Romanum part I of the Etruscans to the fall of the empire, Taschen, Cologne 1996 p. 178

Map Varro bird house
Rconstruction of the bird house
Teatro Marittimo plattegrond Varro vogelverblijf Villa Hadrianus
1. Entrance
2. fishpond
3. Circular, wooden colonnade around the pond
4. Ring-shaped pond
5. Island with a marble tholos holding a triclinium
6. Birdsmouth joints
7. Dome above the central tholos, with wind vane.

The conclusion is drawn from comparing the bird house of Varro and the Teatro Marittimo that the whole signifies an ‘aula regia after the universe, and we have to assume that atop the central canopy in the middle of the island, a bronze dome once stood. This likely held a mechanical planetarium to read the horoscope.’ (Henri Stierlin p. 178). We know of Hadrianus that he too regularly consulted the stars.

It is likely that nets in the portico or just above the canal prevented the birds, including ducks, from escaping the Teatro Marittimo. The fish swam in between the water plants in the canal. In the dome of the tholos, the emperor could read his future or that of the Roman empire. He had an amazing mechanism at his disposal to do so, built from different gear wheels.

In 1900, fishermen surfaced a device that was named after the island of Antikythera (Wikipedia). It measured 32 x 17 cm, with 30 gear wheels, each holding about 15 to 225 teeth. The casing of this gear construction contained an inscription that was eventually deciphered. Among other things, it lists the names of the constellations. It was discovered in 1974 that this mechanism could simulate the configuration of the heavenly bodies, at ‘any time in the past, the present or the future’. (Stierlin, p. 181).

The Antikythera mechanism reconstruction
Youtube  7.51 (minutes)
The Antikythera mechanism

After visiting this special island, we walk north and see on our right hand side the temple terraces. These terraces were likely once the vestibule of a large home. From that location one would enjoy a spectacular view over the entire valley with its many gardens, fountains, water bodies, trees and buildings.

Remnants of the temple terraces
remnants of the temple terraces Hadrian's villa

If we continue towards the exit and divert Eastward, we see a small round temple: the tholos of Venus. As opposed to all other buildings in the Villa of Hadrianus, this little building was a copy of a Greek temple on the island of Cnidos devoted to the Goddess Aphrodite. Four columns with an entablement can still be seen today.

Nymphaeum Circular temple dedicated to the Venus of Cnidos
Nymphaeum Circular temple dedicated to the Venus of Cnidos

Photo: Carole Raddato

Tholos of Venus reconstruction and Praxiteles ‘Venus of Cnidos’
Tholos of Venus Villa Hadrian Tivoli

In the middle you can see the remnants of a cage that was likely used for religious rituals. Excavations uncovered the remnants of a Roman copy of a sculpture that you saw back at the Vatican museum (Cortile ottagono): The Venus of Cnidos by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles.

Praxiteles ‘Venus of Cnidos’ 
Praxiteles Venus of Cnidos Villa Hadrian

As we walk further we will see another theater. This building is also quite small with a diameter of 36 meters, little more has been preserved.

Scale model Greek actors and remnants
remnants of the Greek theatre Villa Hadrian Tivoli

We will probably check the neighbouring village, if we’re not too constrained on time. Tivoli. Unfortunately, the Villa d’Este is closed on Mondays, leaving us unable to view this famous villa from the Renaissance.

End of day two.