Just outside Tivoli, and visible from several city viewpoints, are the remains of a large Roman amphitheatre and temple complex. This is the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor (or Santuario di Ercole Vincitore), an important building of the Republican era. But why was it built, what can you see today, and why should you visit the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor?
What Was The Santuario Di Ercole Vincitore?
Although Hercules was Greek, there was a well established tradition that he was involved in the founding of Rome. A cult gradually grew up around the deified hero, and temples were built in his name. The sanctuary at Tivoli was one of the most important places devoted to the worship of Hercules.
Built in the 2nd century CE, the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor had a theatre and a temple complex with a large statue of Hercules at the centre. It also included a substantial commercial area, and it was a convenient place for the collection of tolls from travellers passing between Rome and Tivoli on the Via Tiburtina.
In later centuries the site housed a church, and it was subsequently repurposed for industrial use. Some of the Roman artefacts were removed in the 16th century to be used in the construction of the nearby Villa d’Este.
Exploring The Sanctuary Of Hercules Victor
Although the Sanctuary Of Hercules Victor is not as extensive as the nearby Villa Adriana, I found it one of the most interesting sites in Tivoli, because of the variety of things to explore. You’ll find elements from different periods of history, a small museum of artefacts recovered from the site, and a stretch of old Roman road.
It also has an interesting location on the plain beneath Tivoli, looking up at the hill town and at the gardens of the Villa d’Este.
Looking down on the sanctuary from Tivoli the first thing that catches your eye is likely to be the mostly-intact amphitheatre. This was built into the contours of the hillside, so spectators must have had sweeping views of the countryside as well as of the performers.
The theatre had a capacity of up to 3,600 people.
The temple was at the centre of a large square surrounded by three porticos (the treportici), the fourth side giving access to the amphitheatre. Little now remains of the temple, but you can walk along one of the porticos and look through the arches to the ruined courtyard.
Note the marble slabs along the edge of the portico. These were the bases upon which statues of important figures connected with the temple once stood. A side room contains a scale model of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore as it appeared in Roman times.
An Old Roman Road
The sanctuary was located on the Via Tiburtina between Rome and Tibur (as Tivoli was then known). Structural problems meant that it had to be built across the road, rather than to one side as originally planned. In an amazing feat of engineering a small section of the Via Tiburtina was diverted underground to run beneath the sanctuary.
This underground road was called the Via Tecta (or “covered street”). Arches on either side of the road housed shops and other businesses. Peer into those arches as you walk along the Via Tecta: some of them now hold artworks and historic artefacts.
Post-Roman Heritage Of The Santuario Di Ercole Vincitore
The site was later destroyed and plundered for building materials. Two monastic churches were later built here, but they too fell into ruin. Eventually the site was adapted for industrial use, facilitated by its location and by abundant sources of water nearby.
The roof that you now see above the Treportici was part of a paper mill. The sanctuary also hosted woollen mills, a cannon foundry, and a hydroelectricity plant. Look out for remnants of various industrial structures as you first enter the site.
How To Visit The Sanctuary Of Hercules Victor
- From the centre of Tivoli you can reach the sanctuary by walking along the Via San Valerio. Now a cobbled street, this was once part of the Via Valeria, a continuation of the Via Tiburtina.
- The Sanctuary Of Hercules Victor is open every day except for 25 December and 1 January.
- Entrance is free on the first Sunday of each month.
- If you are planning also to visit the Villa d’Este and the Villa Adriana you may find it cheaper to purchase a combined ticket for all three sites.
- Comfortable footwear is advised.