More a mini city than a villa, this complex lies in Tivoli, ancient Tibur, about 25 km (16 miles) outside Rome. Built in stages between around 118 and 138 AD, it allowed Emperor Hadrian the freedom to indulge his own architectural experiments and develop influences from his travels across the Empire, in particular to Greece and Egypt. The villa was used by Hadrian’s successors sporadically and fell into disuse, only to be properly excavated after the Second World War. Despite that, even today, according to our guide, there are parts of the complex that visitors don’t get to see as they are the home of a local family.
Unlike its near neighbour the Villa d’Este, this is quite a flat site incorporating elements such as bath complexes, temples, soldiers’ quarters, theatre, living quarters, underground tunnels and – perhaps most famously – the Canopus designed by Hadrian to commemorate his lost love, Antinous.
The visitor first meets this beautifully executed model, showing how the whole complex would have looked in antiquity.
Entry to the site proper Is through this still impressive wall…
Two bath complexes are in evidence: one small (apparently easier to heat) for the emperor and nobles and another larger complex for the many slaves who would have ensured smooth running of the whole complex.
Despite the passage of time, there are remnants of the decorative styles that would have been on display here.
The Canopus is designed to reference that part of the Nile where Antinous met his death, and it is faced by a Serapeum (temple to the god Serapis). Greek style statues including caryatids line the poolside walk, and there’s even a crocodile as a nod to Egypt.
A much quieter site than anything we experienced in Rome itself, this is definitely a very special location that anyone interested in Roman history and architecture would enjoy.