In the plain below Tivoli, a short distance from the town, lie the extensive remains of the Villa Adriana. This might be lesser known than Pompeii or the buildings of classical Rome, but it is one of the most important Roman sites in Italy, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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A Palace For The Emperor Hadrian
The spa town of Tivoli was a popular summer retreat for prominent Romans, and it was here that the Emperor Hadrian decided to build his villa between 118 and 138 CE. In fact, it was more like a small town than an individual home, and when complete it included more than thirty buildings. As well as the emperor’s palace there were baths, temples and public buildings, and numerous water features.
Hadrian’s Villa was the largest residence of any Roman emperor. The excavated area of parkland and buildings that you see today covers around a square kilometre, but the original estate was much larger (much of the site now being in private ownership).
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Villa Adriana became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. This was partly because it was regarded as an “exceptional survival from the Early Roman Empire”. Hadrian was a cultured and well-travelled man, and he personally oversaw the building of the villa and the associated administrative complex. The site is regarded as an “ideal city” of the time, combining the best elements of Roman, Greek and Egyptian architectural heritage.
A further consideration was that the rediscovery of the villa in the 15th century contributed enormously to the study and understanding of classical architecture. It had a profound influence upon architects of the time, and has continued to influence urban and domestic design up to the present day.
Exploring Hadrian’s Villa
When you arrive at the Villa Adriana there is a pleasant walk through woodland before you reach the main site. There are a few remains scattered among the trees, most notably the Temple of Venus. And, just before you reach the entrance to the palace, stop to look at the scale model of the villa as it once was (although ruined, parts of all of the structures remain today).
Walk through a large walled garden and onto the buildings of the palace, the baths, and various administrative and pleasure areas. You’ll see an Egyptian themed area and several bodies of water, some with statues. There are a few fragments of mosaic flooring and decorated walls, as well as lots of marble columns. It must have been quite magnificent when Hadrian lived here.
Don’t miss the small museum that contains several marble statues that were recovered from different parts of the site. Although most of the artefacts found during excavation are now in Rome, several items have been retained, including a fearsome looking crocodile!
LivItaly have a whole range of small group tours throughout Italy. Readers of this site can get a 5% discount on all of their tours by using discount code BEWITCHEDBYITALY
How To Visit The Villa Adriana
- The Villa Adriana is around 5 km from Tivoli, and buses run from Piazza Garibaldi (check times in advance – buses may be less frequent in winter).
- You could choose – as I did – to walk to and from Tivoli. Once you leave the main road you join a pedestrian path that has been created to allow people to walk between Villa Adriana and the Villa d’Este. This is a pleasant downhill stroll through olive groves – just remember that the return journey will be uphill!
- Tivoli is about 30 km from Rome, and can be reached by car or train (from Tiburtina station, with less frequent trains from Termini).
- The villa is open every day. It will be less crowded if you visit outside of the main summer season but note that during the winter some parts may be closed off due to restoration work.
- The site is extensive – be prepared for lots of walking!
- If you are planning also to visit the Villa d’Este and the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore you may find it cheaper to purchase a combined ticket for all three sites.
- If you’re travelling from Rome you could take a small group tour with LivItaly – this also includes a visit to the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. (If you’re booking this tour don’t forget to use discount code BEWITCHEDBYITALY for a 5% discount.)