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Maritime Theatre at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, Villa begun in 117 C.E.

A conversation with Dr. Bernard Frischer and Dr. Beth Harris

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Understanding Emperor Hadrian and His Cultural Expansion

Famous as Rome’s traveler, Emperor Hadrian oversaw the consolidation of the Roman Empire. The limits of conquest were recognised by an emperor famed more for his cultural tastes.

Portrait Bust of the Emperor Hadrian , 125-30 AD, via the British Museum, London (forefront) and the oculus of the Pantheon in Rome (background)

Emperor Hadrian was Trajan’s chosen successor during Rome’s Golden Age. The period of history between the reign of Trajan and the death of Marcus Aurelius – from AD 98 to 180 – is usually characterised as the height of the Roman Empire . The period was recognised as a golden age in part due to the character of the emperors themselves. It had begun, of course, with Trajan – the optimus princeps himself.

Significantly, the emperors during this period all adopted their successors. Lacking biological heirs of their own, they instead appointed their successors from the ‘best of men’ available meritocracy, not genealogy, appeared to be the principle that guided these emperors to imperial power. One would be forgiven for thinking that such a policy would put a stop to any issues surrounding the succession. The case of Hadrian dispelled any such notions. Reigning from AD 117 to 138, his reign was characterised by magnificent cultural expressions of Roman creativity. It was, however, also marked by periods of conflict and tension.


Secret 'Slave' Tunnels Discovered Under Roman Emperor's Villa

Amateur archaeologists have uncovered a massive network of tunnels under the Roman Emperor Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, Italy.

The underground passageways likely allowed thousands of slaves and merchants to keep the estate running without creating any distraction at the street level.

Though similar tunnels have been discovered at the complex before, the new discovery is exciting because the passageways were not mentioned in any ancient plans of the grounds, Marina De Franceschini, an archaeologist heading the excavation who works with the University of Trento, wrote in an email. [ See Photos of Hadrian's Villa and Secret Passageways ]

Underground network

Researchers have long known that a massive underground network of roads lay underneath the ruins of Hadrian's villa in Tivoli, Italy.

The villa was a retreat for the emperor Hadrian, a patron of art and architecture who reigned from A.D. 117 to A.D. 138.

But while Hadrian discussed affairs of state and held grand dinner parties in his opulent house, underneath him, a network of nearly invisible people kept the estate running.

The underground passageways allowed thousands of merchants, slaves and carts laden with goods to enter the villa without causing any hustle and bustle.

"It is a very modern solution, something similar to what you see today in cruise ships where you have luxury quarters for the passengers and a parallel system of corridors for the personnel," De Franceschini said.

Slaves chiseled the passageways out of the soft tufa rock, and the same rock was then was used to construct the villa. But over the centuries, soil had completely filled in the underground tunnels and their full extent was a mystery.

Using ancient architectural plans, researchers had uncovered passageways underneath southwestern part of the ruins, but they suspected there must be more.

New passageway

So a few years ago, Franceschini asked for help excavating the eastern portion from a group called Sotterranei di Roma, or Underground Rome. These speleologists and amateur archaeologists specialize in rappelling into underground tunnels and excavating them, said Inge Weustig, a classicist who works with the group.

After carrying countless buckets of dirt from the narrow subterranean passageways — some of which are just a few feet wide — the team uncovered an entirely new passageway, leading from an area of the Villa called the Academy to a 2.5 miles (4 km) underground roadway called the Grande Trapezio.

The specific purpose of the system of passageways remains a mystery, but it lies on the outskirts of Hadrian's Villa, Weustig said.

"It is seen as the more private part of the whole complex," Weustig told LiveScience. "They've interpreted it as a kind of secret or more remote place in the villa where he could just go to be alone, or at least with a few people."


  • The grandiose setting was located in the sprawling, 200 acre, Villa Adriana in Tivoli, 20 miles from Rome
  • From 128 AD, the villa became the official residence from within which Hadrian directly ran his empire
  • The villa complex would have played host to a full court as well as visiting dignitaries and bureaucrats.
  • Hadrian and wife, Vibia Sabina, would have breakfasted in front of two fountains, silhouetted by the sun
  • This carefully designed scene, amid the grandiose villa, would reinforce the Emperor's status to onlookers

Published: 14:22 BST, 9 February 2021 | Updated: 19:00 BST, 9 February 2021

The room in which the Roman emperor Hadrian and his reportedly long-suffering wife Vibia Sabina likely held elaborate power breakfasts some 1,900 years ago has been discovered.

Archaeologists identified the setting within the Villa Adriana, a sprawling 200-acre complex at Tivoli that was initially built for the emperor as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of Rome in around 120 AD.

By the year 128 AD, however, Hadrian began governing the empire directly from the villa, which would have played host to a large court and numerous visiting guests and bureaucrats.

An avid scholar of art and history, Hadrian played a key role in the design of the complex, with buildings named for and reflecting the styles of places he had once visited on his travels.

It therefore merged both Roman and ancient Greek architecture, and was similarly decorated with Greek figures, such as copies of the Caryatids seen at the Acropolis and statues known as Poikilos.

It even had an Egyptian-themed area — Canopus, named for the city in which Hadrian's lover, Antinous, drowned — with a long, rectangular reflecting pool to represent the Nile in which the young man met his end.

Each of the carefully crafted rooms and structures would have established the Emperor's taste and power — reinforcing his status among his watching courtiers.

Pictured, the Villa Adriana's Maritime Theatre, Emperor Hadrian's 'villa within a villa' in which he would have lived personally. Inspired by a typical Roman home, it would have featured an basin with a rainwater catching basin known as an 'impluvium', around which were nestled a lounge, a library, heated baths, various bedrooms with attached latrines, a library. Pictured: the Maritime Theatre as seen today. It may be familiar to British TV afficidionas as the location of one stand-off between Sandra Oh's 'Eve Polastri' and Jodie Comer's Villanelle in the BBC series 'Killing Eve'

Arguably the grandest part of the villa was the so-called Maritime Theatre, a 35-room complex isolated from the rest of the complex by a marble-lined, ring-shaped pool. Thought accessible by means of two retractable wooden bridges, the 130-feet wide island enclosure would have been used by Hadrian as a sort-of retreat — a 'villa within a villa', as it were — with a design partly inspired the layout of a typical Roman home

The room within which the emperor Hadrian and his wife likely held elaborate power breakfasts some 1,900 years ago has been discovered. Pictured, the ruins of the Villa Adriana

Initially built as a retreat from Rome around 120 AD, Hadrian (depicted left) began governing the empire directly from the villa by 128 AD, with the sprawling 200 acre complex playing host to a large court and numerous visiting guests and bureaucrats. Some experts believe that the land came via the family of his reportedly long-suffering wife, Vibia Sabina (right)

EMPEROR HADRIAN

Hadrian, or 'Caesar Traianus Hadrianus' was Roman emperor from 117–138, and was the first cousin once removed of his predecessor, Trajan.

He was an avid scholar who travelled nearly every province in the empire and sought to make Athens its cultural capital. Despite his good works, his Senate found him remote and authoritarian, with others noting his enigmatic, curious and often cruel nature.

His marital relationship was said to have been unhappy — and, childless, the pair adopted to secure an heir and in Antoninus Pius, Hadrian's successor.

Lying some 20 miles to the east of Rome, at the foot of the Apennine mountains, the Villa Adriana would have been surrounded by landscaped gardens, wilderness areas and cultivated farmlands.

Experts believe that Hadrian would begin his days at the villa by taking breakfast on a marble platform in a flooded, semi circular room.

Two fountains would have spurted water into the air behind him and his wife, Vibia Sabina, while light poured in through a vast window, casting imposing silhouettes of the pair to those so favoured to be allowed to see them.

'It was a quasi-theatrical spectacle,' Villa Adriana director and Italian art historian Andrea Bruciati told the Times when the site was reopened yesterday.

According to the expert, the platform would have connected to four bedchambers, each with a latrine bedecked with marble panels and precious stones.

'The villa was a machine that served to represent the emperor’s divinity. It was almost futuristic,' Dr Bruciati continued.


Emperor Hadrian's Private Retreat, the - History

Introduction to Hadrian's Villa

Representation of Hadrian's Villa site maps

Hadrian's Villa or Villa Adriana is situated on a small plain extending on the slopes of the Tiburine Hills. Its location is south-east of Tivoli, a town 28 km from Rome accessed in those times by the Via Tiburtina and the Aniene river, a tributary of the Tiber river. The site chosen for the Imperial residence is said to have been occupied by a smaller villa in the Republican age, owned by the family of Hadrian's wife (1). The existing structure was use in the subsequent renovations and enlargements that Hadrian order in the site around 117 AD. The ending of this enormous building project is debated, however one can say that in terms of land size, the villa spread across an area twice that of Pompeii.

Composed of over 30 buildings, the villa was created with the purpose of being Hadrian's retreat from Rome. Parts of the complex were named after well-known buildings and palaces that the emperor had visited on his travels around the empire. For example, the Canopus is a representation of the resort next to Alexandria of the same name. The recreation or association of famous buildings was very common among wealthy Romans, as it was a way of displaying culture and knowledge. One can see this in Marcus Tullius Cicero's villa in Tusculum where the buildings called Lyceum and Academia, refer to the famous philosophical schools of ancient Greece (5).

Among other distinctions, it is the greatest example of an Alexandrian garden and possibly one of the most spectacular Roman gardens. Sir Banister Fletcher depicts the gardens when he wrote in History of Architecture: "Walking around it today, it is still possible to experience something of the variety of architectural forms and settings, and the skillful way in which Hadrian and his architect have contrived the meetings of the axes, the surprises that await the turning of a corner, and the vistas that open to view" (2).

The villa is a true testament to the building prowess of the Romans due to its complexity. The site is an array of distinctive architectural creations where one can distinguish in the domes and shapes of buildings. These elements are in no way intended to follow symmetry as they are believe to have followed the shape of the rugged terrain around the villa. It is a major achievement of Western art due to its novel forms, planning and the visual and allusive invention. In antiquity, the villa use to posses many colorful mosaics and precious marbles, however, after years of treasure hunting and removal of them, only black an white mosaics remain in the site (5). Although the architect is unknown, it is said that Hadrian had a direct intervention in the design of the villa.

The complex spans an area of about 120 hectares. The central part of the palace was a traditionally structured villa that included a garden with an elongated fountain (Pecile) and view to the valley. It is surrounded by the Greek and Latin library, the main residential parts of the palace and farther away, the Golden Court. The Hospitalia or guestrooms were in the northeast side of the imperial palace. To the west, we have the Canupus and the bath with a couple of administrative buildings like the Praetoeium Pavilion. All this buildings where connected by corridors and/ or underground passages which are believe to be intended for the servants inn order to not disturb official functions in the ground levels (3).

Representation of the West-side of Hadrian's Villa

Image from: villa-adriana.net

There are several theories about its location. First, Tivoli provided the adequate supply for the construction materials needed to undertake such an ample project. For example, the renowned travertine quarries of Tivoli and the supplies of tufa, pozzolona and lime for production of cement help in the subsequent statues and foundations planned. The villa's plans called for the creation of lots of pools, baths and gardens which need a steady supply of water to maintain. This problem was solve in Tivoli by its abundant water resources that provide the water for four aqueducts leading to Rome (3). After Hadrian's questionable rise to power and his lack of popularity, the secluded location of the villa served as a shield from the criticism and the aristocrats, at the same time, it served his desire to stay away from Rome (3).

View of Geographical location of villa

Image courtesy of: Luis Vidal

After the conquest of Greece, the Romans were attracted to the luxury and beauty of the Hellenistic art. Roman of wealth and/or rank started to copy Hellenistic palaces and ended with a passion for villas (5). Therefore, they erected and own large country villas during the late republic and early empire. For example, Cicero, a writer who is clearly not close to being among the wealthiest of Roman, is said to have had eight villas. A closer link to Hadrian are the Julio-Claudians who built many villas. Augustus and Tiberius had villas atop the cliffs of Capri. Tiberius actually ruled the Roman Empire for most of his reign at this villa. These imperial villas started to grow in size and architectural complexity with the emperor Nero. The Domus Aurea, Nero's grandiose palace-estate in Rome, covered much of the Palatine, Caelian and Oppian hills with the valleys in between them. Suetonius describes its as having: " a pond like the sea [where the Coloseum now stands] surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country. " (4).

Nero's Domus Aurea villa in Rome

Hadrian's predecessor, Trajan, had a villa in Citavecchia that Pliny referred to as: " a beautiful villa overlooking the sea, surrounded by the greenest of fields" (4). The luxury villa in the background of a large estates became a status symbol and a requirement for emperors in the time of Hadrian (5). Thus, one can see how the history of villas with the previous emperors and with the aristocrats would serve as motivators for Hadrian to build his impressive villa.

After Hadrian's death, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius continued using the villa. Wall paintings dating from the reign of Septimus Serverus show the villa was used in the early third century. Constantine was the last emperor to "use" the villa by taking work of art and other valuables. After Constantine, the villa fell into ruin and abandonment. Like many Roman monuments, in late antiquity, the site was reprieved of its treasures by different people, which explains why some statues from the villa are found in private collections, museums or have disappeared (3). First, the Barbarians of Totila sacked the site then the city and bishop of Tivoli use it as a quarry. In the XVII century, it was excavated continuously and the treasures found would end up in the private collections of Cardinals and Popes. Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, the governor of Tivoli in the middle of the XVI century, ordered the redesign of Villa d'Este, which incurred the excavation and search for statues and other objects from the ruins of the Hadrian's Villa to be used in the decoration of Villa d'Este (5). This cycle of excavations and extraction of treasures from the site continued until the late 19th century, after the unification of Italy. Since the unification, the government took control of the site and allowed for national and international archeological groups to uncover and restore what we see today in the Hadrian's Villa. It has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of some current remains at Hadrian's Villa

Image courtesy of: Luis Vidal

(1) Morselli, Chiara, "Guide with Reconstructions of Villa Adriana and Villa d'Este", Roma: Vision s.r.l, 1995

(2) "Hadrian's Villa", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian's_Villa>

(3) Seindal, Rene "Hadrian's Villa. Luxurious imperial villa from the first century CE". 2004, 19 Oct 2004<http://sights.seindal.dk/sight/901_Hadrians_Villa.html>.

(4) MacDonald, William Lloyd and Pinto, John A. "Hadrian's villa and its legacy", New Haven : Yale University Press, 1995


Behind the scenes [ edit | edit source ]

The Emperor's Retreat first appeared as a location in the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game Star Wars Galaxies. It serves as the starting point for a number of interconnected quests, collectively termed the "Imperial Theme Park." Ε] Many of the characters mentioned in this article, including Palpatine, Vader, Thrawn, Veers, and the Inquisitors, are non-player characters (NPCs) in Galaxies who assign the quests.

Until September 14, 2007, the Imperial Theme Park consisted of different quests, all of them with endpoints much physically closer to the retreat. This changed with one of Galaxies ' updates. An NPC named Wurson Harro appeared in the retreat as well his sole purpose was to reset the Theme Park—done by speaking to him—for those players who had completed the old version. As it has not been indicated that previous versions of Galaxies have been rendered non-canon, both old and new versions of the Theme Park are included in this article.

The Champions of the Force installment of Star Wars Galaxies Trading Card Game shows a rather different rendition of the retreat than Galaxies. By precedent with works like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it is likely Galaxies ' simplified rendition is a matter of game mechanics, and the canon version is more like Champions of the Force.


Roman Emperor Hadrian's Villa Brought to Life with Gaming Software

In ruins today, Hadrian's Villa can only hint at its second-century glory. But a new digital archaeology project promises to transport computer users to the Roman emperor's opulent compound as it might have been nearly 2,000 years ago.

Five years in the making, the Digital Hadrian's Villa Project brings to life all 250 acres (101 hectares) of the estate in Tivoli, Italy, through 3D reconstructions and gaming software. The project launched Friday (Nov. 22), and the first of its 20 interactive Web players should be publicly available sometime before Thanksgiving (Nov. 28), said the project's leader Bernie Frischer of Indiana University.

The demo videos for these Web players sort of look like "The Sims," as they take advantage of a "virtual world" gaming platform. The software will allow users to tour the building complexes of Hadrian's Villa through an avatar of a historical figure such as a Roman senator, courtier or a slave, project researchers said. [See Images of Hadrian's Villa Reconstructed]

The project's genesis sounds something like a tale of artistic patronage in ancient Rome.

"I met a very wealthy person in the L.A.-area who loves Roman architecture and asked me if I could make a model of his favorite example of Roman architecture, which is Hadrian's Villa," Frischer said.

That donor gave Indiana University funds for the project, and Frischer started working on it in 2008. He was later supplemented by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Digital uncertainty

Now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the villa was used a retreat by emperor Hadrian, who ruled from A.D. 117 to A.D. 138. Located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Rome, the sprawling estate contained 30 building complexes, including palaces, temples, libraries, banquet halls and slaves' quarters, as well as some bizarre structures like the Maritime Theater, which, surrounded by a moat, contained Hadrian's private quarters. Researchers recently discovered an intricate network of underground passageways at Hadrian's Villa, which were likely traversed by thousands of slaves and merchants to keep the villa running smoothly.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, Frischer said his team would roll out Web players for 20 of the complexes at Hadrian's Villa, allowing users to explore digital reconstructions of the buildings based on scholarly research.

"The overall model reflects the thinking of experts who sign off on the models when they're done," Frischer told LiveScience.

But ruins aren't always generous. Sometimes archaeologists must interpret an entire complex based on what's left of its foundations. That was the case with the Sanctuary of Antinous, or Antinoeion, which honored Hadrian's male teenage lover Antinous who was deified after he drowned in the Nile in A.D. 130.

Frischer said the foundations are all that survive of the three-building Antinoeion. He based his model of the site on the interpretation by Zaccaria Mari, an archaeologist who excavated the sanctuary.

"Our reconstruction reflects exactly his vision of how it looks," Frischer said. According to Mari's interpretation, an obelisk dedicated to Antinous that now decorates Pincian Hill in Rome, would have originally stood in the middle of the sanctuary's plaza. Some scholars have, however, disputed this, arguing that there would not have been an obelisk in the Antinoeion, or that there was an obelisk, but not the one now on Pincian Hill.

"In this field of virtual heritage … one of the perennial problems we confront is uncertainty," Fischer told LiveScience. "There's always disagreement and there's always an absence of evidence."

The project also makes publicly available its "paradata" to be transparent about what academic research influenced each part of the reconstruction, Frischer said. He likened these bits of information to the footnotes in scholarly print publications.

Shadows on the ruins

Merging scholarly data into gaming software isn't intended to be used only by virtual tourists and history buffs. Frischer says scholars also might use his Web players to make discoveries.

A solar tracker plug-in can be added to the player. This feature uses astronomy data from NASA to show where sunlight would have fallen on any given time and day in history. Frischer said scholars are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of solar alignments in Roman architecture, giving the example of Rome's Pantheon, which was built under Hadrian. [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

"Recent work has shown that there is a major solar alignment on April 21," the day Romans celebrated as the anniversary of their city's founding, Frischer said. "The sunlight goes through the big opening of the dome in the Pantheon and illuminates the door at exactly Noon on April 21."

Running this solar tracker on his reconstruction has already revealed some interesting alignments. For example, on New Years Day in the Egyptian calendar &mdash July 20 &mdash the obelisk at the Antinoeion would have cast a shadow squarely down the center of Osiris-Antinous temple. (After his death, Antinous had been associated with the Egyptian god of the underworld, Osiris.) Frischer said Mari was "flabbergasted" to learn about this alignment.

Frischer said he is looking for a commercial partner or foundation to help apply the gaming software to another one of his projects, Rome Reborn, which created 3D models of ancient Rome.

Check back on the website of the Digital Hadrian's Villa Project to download the first Web player when it becomes available.


Primary Sources

(1) Cassius Dio, Roman History (c. AD 215)

He (Hadrian) personally viewed and investigated absolutely everything, not merely the usual. such as weapons, engines, trenches, ramparts and palisades, but also the private affairs of everyone, both of the men serving in the ranks and the officers.

(2) Eusebius, History of the Church (c. AD 325)

Hadrian. moved against the Jews. He destroyed thousands of men, women and children, and, under the law of war, enslaved their land. Hadrian then commanded that by a legal decree that the whole nation

should be prevented from entering Jerusalem. It was colonised by foreigners, and the Roman city changed its name.


Tour Description

A car, driver and guide will be waiting for you at your hotel to begin this private tour of Tivoli's Hadrian's Villa and the Villa D&rsquoEste. At the end of the tour you will be taken back to your hotel.

Explore the magnificent ruins of Hadrian&rsquos Villa

Hadrian&rsquos Villa is without question one of the most spectacular Roman ruins in the world: far more than just a house, the Villa is in reality a sprawling estate featuring a palace, theatres, expansive gardens, pools and fountains. When the emperor Hadrian wanted to escape from the heat and the political turmoil of Rome, he would retreat to his private villa in the countryside. But Hadrian&rsquos villa wasn't merely a pleasurable summer retreat: preferring the calm of Tivoli to the noise and bustle of Rome, Hadrian ruled the Roman Empire from the villa in the later years of his reign.

The enormous complex of the villa was Hadrian&rsquos fantasy project - a blend of architectural materials and styles inspired by his travels through the empire. On your private tour of Hadrian&rsquos Villa you&rsquoll explore buildings and gardens spread over an area twice the size of Pompeii. Along the way you'll learn about the life, career and artistic tastes of the emperor.

A day trip from Rome to Tivoli is the perfect opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of Roman history, while exploring the atmospheric ruins of Hadrian&rsquos Villa. As you walk through the vast arcades and visit the Throne Room, your personal guide will explain Hadrian&rsquos legacy as an emperor, from his military career to his art collection. More than five hundred pieces of statuary have been unearthed here over the centuries, and the art and architecture of the villa have inspired countless writers and artists. Exploring evocative sites such as the Private Library and the Maritime Theatre on your Tivoli day trip, you&rsquoll be captivated by the unique atmosphere of the villa and its gardens. The famous Canopy is another highlight this lake surrounded by arcades and statues is perhaps one of the most beautiful spots in all of Italy.

Your private guide will also discuss the personal life of Hadrian, including his famous doomed love affair with the young Antinous. Visiting Hadrian&rsquos Villa on a private tour allows you to discover the human side of the emperor, creating a more complete picture of Hadrian. The explanations of your guide will also give you a deeper understanding of the historical events at the time, as they explain how Rome was able to dominate the world.

Discover the breathtaking beauty of Villa d&rsquoEste

A very different kind of villa is the next stop on your Tivoli private tour. A walk through the historic town centre takes us to Villa d&rsquoEste, a 16th century villa renowned for its extraordinary beauty. Villa d&rsquoEste was the creation of Cardinal Ippolito d&rsquoEste (son of the Duke of Ferrara and the infamous Lucrezia Borgia), who commissioned Pirro Ligorio, an architect and classical scholar, to design a new villa and gardens exceeding even the grandeur of Hadrian&rsquos Villa.

A walk through the gardens of Villa d&rsquoEste gives us some idea of what Hadrian&rsquos Villa must have been like at the height of its splendour. These extravagant gardens contain 500 fountains, creating a sense of luxury, wealth, and limitless imagination. On your walk through the shady gardens, your personal guide will explain how the cardinal&rsquos vision became a reality. Visiting Villa d&rsquoEste will also give you a new perspective on Hadrian&rsquos Villa, as you discover how Cardinal d&rsquoEste stole many statues and monuments from the archaeological site in order to decorate his own gardens.

On your Tivoli Day Trip from Rome you&rsquoll also have the chance to explore the opulent rooms of Villa D&rsquoEste, which are decorated with magnificent frescoes. As you stroll through these spectacular rooms and admire the views from the Cardinal&rsquos bedroom window, your guide will tell you about the public and private life of d&rsquoEste, a patron of the arts and lover of luxury who aspired to become pope.

Following in the footsteps of the emperor Hadrian and Cardinal d'Este, this day trip from Rome is the ideal way to escape the bustle of the city, enjoying the beauty and tranquillity of these beautiful villas and their gardens.

To learn more about Tivoli and it's wonderful historical villas, check out our Insider Guide to Tivoli.


3. Villa Gregoriana: A Mysterious Marriage of Art and Nature

Tivoli boasts a third villa in its environs, less well-known than Hadrian&rsquos Villa or the Villa d&rsquoEste, but well worth a visit in its own right. The Villa Gregoriana was the brainchild of Pope Gregory XVI in the 1830s, part of a project to contain the unruly river Aniene, and unlike the carefully designed spaces of its illustrious neighbours is a rustic haven for wildlife where untamed nature and Roman architectural remains vie for supremacy. Located in a valley known in antiquity as the Valle dell&rsquoInferno, or the Valley of Hell, the villa is linked to the town by the picturesque Ponte Gregoriano. Pack your walking shoes, because this one&rsquos quite a hike!

What to See at the Villa Gregoriana

Descending into the valley you&rsquoll pass the spectacular 120 metre high Great Waterfall, where the rushing waters of the river Aniene spew out from the rock-face and tumble over a gorge &ndash the same water that made the gardens of Hadrian and Ippolito d&rsquoEste possible, but that also threatened to engulf the town. At the base of the waterfall are dark and mysterious caves known as the Grotto of Neptune and the Grotto of the Sirens. Wreathed in the tangled trees and vines of the villa&rsquos grounds you&rsquoll also come across the remains of the ancient villa of the consul Manlius Vopiscus, immortalised by the poet Horace. Most impressive of all, though, is the incredible first-century B.C. Temple of Vesta, a circular temple ringed with beautifully carved Corinthian capitals perched on the edge of the abyss.

How to Get to Tivoli from Rome

There are three main ways to get to Tivoli from Rome. The easiest, and in our opinion best, option is to book a guided tour of Hadrian&rsquos Villa and the Villa d&rsquoEste that includes private transportation from Rome - such as Through Eternity's Tivoli Day Trip from Rome .

If you want to go it alone and are just going to Hadrian&rsquos Villa, then hop on the B line of Rome&rsquos metro system heading north towards the terminus Rebibbia. Get off at the penultimate stop, Ponte Mammolo. The metro stop is linked to a bus station operated by the Cotral company &ndash just follow the signs. Buy your tickets in the downstairs cafe at the station, asking for tickets to Tivoli. Get off at the Villa Adriana stop, 300 metres from the site. Just ask the driver to let you know the stop nearest the Villa and he or she will be happy to oblige. To plan your journey in advance, use Cotral&rsquos online journey planner &ndash enter Roma Ponte Mammolo in the &ldquoFROM&rdquo field and Villa Adriana in the &ldquoTO&rdquo field.

If you want to visit the Villa d&rsquoEste first, then you might find it easier to take the train from Rome&rsquos Tiburtina station to the town of Tivoli. From here you can easily reach the Villa d&rsquoEste on foot. You can also catch a local shuttle bus that will take you to Hadrian&rsquos Villa from here.

We hope you enjoyed our guide to the 3 Tivoli villas. If you&rsquod like to learn more or want to arrange a trip to any of the sites featured in our guide, get in touch with Through Eternity today!



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