Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli is one of the Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Built by the request of the Emperor Hadrian, the Villa is a monumental living complex that even today continues to display the lavishness and enormous power of Ancient Rome.
In Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) was designed to be a home for the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 117 A.D. Construction began on top of the foundation of a pre-existing villa that belonged to his wife Vibia Sabina. The Villa, located 28 km (17.4 mi) from the Capital on the Monti Tiburtini, could be reached via the ancient Roman roads Tiburtina and Prenestina, or else by the River Aniene. The area was chosen for its abundant waters and availability of four aqueducts that passed through to Rome: Anio Vetus, Anio Nobus, Aqua Marcia and Aqua Claudia. One can still find here the sulphur water springs (the Acque Albule) that the Emperor enjoyed – today’s Tivoli Baths! Given archaeological evidence and certain written sources, we know that the Roman villa and the domus were partitioned into different settings with precise functions and according to a scheme that is often repeated; for example, the floor-plan of Hadrian’s Villa is comparable to those of the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii and the Villa of Poppaea in Oplontis (near Torre Annunziata). Despite the fact that the Villa utilizes traditional architectonic language and iconography, it was in any case projected in a rather different, original style.
It is shaped by a series of interdependent and inter-locking structures, each one with its own individual purpose: the structure with three exedrae, the Nymph Stadium, a fishing structure, the four-sided portico, the small thermal water baths, and the Praetors’ (Roman bodyguards’) vestibule. The symmetries and the interdependence of the structures – connected one to another via guarded access points created for both the privacy and security of the Emperor – make it clear that together they composed a monumental compound that mirrored Hadrian's image as a great and sophisticated man. In fact, to show off his tastes and inclinations, he reproduced inside this residence the places and monuments that had fascinated him during his innumerable travels. Inside the Villa complex, one can see the Poecile, a huge garden surrounded by an arcade with a swimming pool. This area was built so that one could take walks whether it was winter or summer. Then there is the Canopus, a long water basin embellished with columns and statues that culminate in a temple topped by an umbrella dome, and the remains of two bath areas: the Grandi Terme and the Piccole Terme (the large and small baths or thermae). The former contained a frigidarium or large pool of cold water (open-air) and a round room with a coffered dome; these coffers were rather particular in that they opened into five large windows. Covered in valuable and decorative stucco, these structures were purposed for the Imperial Family and their guests. The Grandi Terme, reserved for the personnel of the Villa, consisted of a heating system located under the floor, and a circular room outfitted as a sudatio or sauna.
Noteworthy is the large vaulted-arch ceiling in the central room, still in perfect condition (structurally) today, despite the collapse of one of the four supporting piers. Some of the – relatively – best preserved areas of the villa are the accademia, the stadio or arena, the Imperial Palace, the Philosophers’ Room, the Greek Theatre, and the Piazza d'oro, a majestic square the purpose of which was to be a “representation;” it was large enough to allow a vast peristyle decorated in refined stucco. Finally, the splendid Teatro Marittimo (Maritime Theatre) is an island of sorts elaborated with an iconic colonnade and circumscribed by a canal. This is where the Emperor isolated himself when he wanted to think amidst silence and tranquility.