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Historic Gardens

Emperor Hadrian's Extravagant Retreat

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Hadrian's Villa Photo © Alice Joyce

Outside Rome, a bit southwest of the town of Tivoli in Lazio Province, the monumental Roman ruins of Villa Adriana stand as a testament to the ambitions and fancies of Emperor Hadrian. Based upon the emperor’s design and built in the 2nd century A.D., the villa site presents a remarkable fusion of ostentatious architecture – a vast complex of buildings and thermal baths – cradled within hundreds of acres of green terrain.

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Hadrian's Villa - Canopus Photo © Alice Joyce

The Canopus

In what remains of the Emperor’s extravagant retreat, once impeccable garden settings demonstrate the influences of Greek and Egyptian art, especially the preserved area of the Canopus; its name taken from an Egyptian city.

Hadrian's Villa Statuary Reflected Photo © Alice Joyce

Hadrians Villa Architecture Photo © Alice Joyce

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Hadrian's Villa Photo © Alice Joyce

Set off by magnificent statuary and fountains, the central feature – a long reflecting pool, is watched over by caryatids – figures copied from the Athenian temple of Erechteion, and linked to the god Sarapis. Colonnades remind visitors of the Villa’s once glorious structures.

Travelers generally set aside a day to immerse themselves in the ancient history of Villa Adriana, reimagining the goings-on in the marvelous courtyards, together with time spent at the nearby Villa d’Este, commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este. With the passing of many centuries, the deterioration of Hadrian’s magnificent architectural complex may be seen to follow the decline of the Roman Empire itself. Further adding to the ruin of Villa Adriana’s artifacts and architecture, Cardinal d’Este claimed many of the site’s superb marble elements and statues, placing them in his own ostentatious country estate.

A stone crocodile pays homage to Hadrian’s memories of the Nile.

Hadrian's Villa Crocodile / Photo © Copyright Alice Joyce

The most magical of all Italian landscapes…. Ninfa!

3 comments to Villa Adriana: Emperor Hadrian’s Opulent Retreat

  • You’ve got to appreciate Hadrian’s sensibility to beauty. (And no, I’m not just talking about Antinous…)

  • Dear Alice, To my shame I have to admit that I have not visited Hadrian’s Villa but your posting has really prompted me to do something about this before too many seasons go past. Deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site and full of intrigue, this looks to be a most wonderful place. I have so enjoyed reading this.

  • Thanks for posting this. We visited a couple of years ago but were so dazzled by our subsequent trip to the Villa d’Este that I had forgotten how remarkable this place is.