Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana is said to be the most remarkable and extravagant Roman Villa, more of a small city than a country mansion. The villa was built for Emperor Hadrian who did not like his palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome. When not traveling Hadrian preferred to live here rather than in Rome, and during the final years of his reign he lived here permanently from where he ruled the Empire. Consequently, the villa complex was required to accommodate his staff, courtiers, guards and slaves. Originally the property of his wife Vibia Sabina, the villa complex covers some 120 hectares and includes a variety of buildings many of which have architectural features and decorative sculptures copied from various places in the Mediterranean that Hadrian visited.


Hadrian’s Villa, designed by the Emperor himself, graces an area larger than Pompeii with its many pools, baths, fountains and majestic classical architecture. Designed for both business and pleasure, the villa contained many rooms that could accommodate large gatherings.

A large court lived there permanently and many visitors and bureaucrats were entertained and temporarily housed on site. The vast residential complex was therefore almost always teeming with people. The servants lived in hidden rooms and moved around the site through a series of service tunnels which allowed them to transport the goods from one area to another, well out of sight of the emperor.

Archaeologists have identified some 30 buildings including palaces, thermal baths, a theater, libraries, living quarters for the elite, lodgings for the servants as well as extensive gardens and dozens of fountains. Because Hadrian wanted to surround himself with reminders of his travels throughout the vast territories of the Empire, many structures had features and decorative sculptures copied from the various places the emperor visited.

The Hundred Chambers building was a series of rooms probably used for storing supplies and for housing the servants of the villa. Located along the western side of the Pecile terrace, it consisted of four stories of rooms.

The so-called Three Exedras building was a magnificent structure that probably served as a cenatio, or dining hall, with three semi-circular exedrae open on three sides and internal colonnades.

The Heliocaminus Baths was an elegant bathing complex with opus sectile decorating both floors and walls. It was the oldest bath complex of the villa, constructed on a portion of the site of the former Republican villa.

One of the most striking and best preserved parts of the Villa consists of a pool named Canopus and the so-called Serapeum, a monumental summer cenatio with a nymphaeum set at the southern end of the Canopus. Banqueters reclined in the open air under the half-dome of the Serapeum.

The Maritime Theatre was a complex with 35-room separated by a marble-lined canal from a circular colonnaded enclosure paved in white mosaic.

The Building with Doric Pillars was located between the Imperial Palace and the Guard Barracks. The hall may well have been used for imperial meetings and audiences.

The circular Temple of Venus is a lovely ruin, with a statue of Venus still extant.

We spent a lovely day here, and didn’t see all there was to see.

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