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A peaceful oasis for a busy emperor

Canopo at Villa Adriana

When we think of the Roman Empire, the Eternal city and its monuments are most likely what comes to mind. It is no secret that Roman emperors engaged in constructing magnificent public and private buildings. One of the best preserved and largest imperial domus is not in Rome, but in Tivoli, a small town 30 km from the capital.

Shortly after becoming emperor in 117 CE, Hadrian began building his sprawling residence over 120 hectares of land (300 acres). The gentle landscape made Tivoli a popular choice for Romans’ rural estates and Hadrian made full use of the Villa by declaring it his official residence from which he governed the empire. In 1999, Villa Adriana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and 40 acres of the site can still be visited today.

Mosaic Theatrical Masks of Comedy and Tragedy originally from Villa Adriana, II Century CE, Rome, Musei Capitolini

This complex reflects Hadrian’s keen interest in art and architecture. His personal ideas were implemented in the very unusual distribution and shape of the villa. The richness of the decorations was so great that over centuries, the marbles, mosaics, statues and columns were removed and used in new buildings. Many Italian and European museums and collections are believed to have works originating from Villa Adriana.

The complex included residential buildings, spas, nymphaeums, pavilions, theaters, temples and gardens.In addition to surface paths, the various buildings were connected by an underground network of roads used for pedestrians and vehicles.

Maritime Theater at Villa Adriana

Perhaps, the most interesting installations are the Canopo (Canopus) and the Teatro Marittimo (Maritime Theater). The Canopo was inspired by the Egyptian canal connecting the cities of Canopus and Alexandria, famous for great nocturnal celebrations. The Teatro Marittimo, was more likely used as an observatory where Hadrian would consult the stars, track the movement of the planets and read his future. The round building incorporated in its center a round island with a smaller circular building and a bronze dome. It was reachable by two moveable wooden bridges.

Villa Adriana, was a perfect place for Hadrian, where he would find respite after his military expeditions, and for those of us who seek to better understand the grandeur of a Roman emperor.

Video of Digital Reconstruction of Villa Adriana

Article written by Valentina Andreucci in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team

All Villa Adriana Photos Courtesy of Valentina Andreucci

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