Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) in Tivoli near Rome is an exceptional complex of classical buildings created by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. Almost immediately after becoming emperor, Hadrian made plans for an imperial villa in the countryside about 30 kilometres east of Rome. In ancient times it occupied about 120 hectares of land and was designed as an ‘ideal city’, combing the best elements of the architectural heritage of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Hadrian’s Villa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important cultural and archaeological site.
Thanks to the abundance of water and the beautiful hilly landscapes, the city of Tivoli, formerly known as Tibur, had been a popular retreat for important individuals and especially senators since the Republican era. Indeed, Hadrian created his Imperial residence on the site of a small Republican villa, possibly built on land owned by his wife Vibia Sabina (see map of pre-existing Republican and Augustan structures here). Occupying a low plain on the slopes of the Tiburtine Hills, Hadrian’s Villa was the richest and largest villa of the Roman Empire, generously spread out over 120 hectares (an area larger than Pompeii). The quantity of buildings, the originality and complexity of the architectural forms make the complex a unique monument in the history of ancient architecture.
The initial construction of the villa began a year after Hadrian’s assumption of power when he initiated the renovation of the existing structures into something magnificent. The monumental project was completed about 10 years later in 128 AD when the villa became Hadrian’s official residence. The Emperor travelled frequently and whenever he returned to Italy, Tibur was his preferred residence, away from the heat and bustle of Rome.
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 theatre, 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.
His villa at Tibur was marvellously constructed, and he actually gave to parts of it the names of provinces and places of the greatest renown, calling them, for instance, Lyceum, Academia, Prytaneum, Canopus, Poecile and Tempe. And in order not to omit anything, he even made a Hades. Historia Augusta
Named for the ancient city near Alexandria in Egypt, the Canopus is believed to represent the Nile Delta that Hadrian visited in 130 AD where his lover Antinous drowned that same year. The colonnade of the Canopus was supported by caryatids like those of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens. Greek and Egyptian culture and architecture were obviously reflected in his villa and since Hadrian was very interested in architecture and was himself a capable architect, it is highly likely that he took part in the design and planning of the villa.
A detailed study of the buildings, and especially of the brick stamps, allowed the reconstruction of the chronology of the hadrianic buildings. Two phases of constructions, marked by the travels of Hadrian, have been identified. The first phase of construction, which witnessed the greatest amount of building activity, extended until 125 AD when Hadrian returned from the first of his great journeys in Greece and in the East. Hadrian resided at the villa in the summer of 125 AD and probably stayed there until he embarked on his second journey in 128 AD.
Phase I (118-125 AD): Maritime Theatre, Hall of the Philosophers, Heliocaminus Baths, Pecile, Nymphaeum Stadium, Small and Large Baths.
Phase II (125-134 AD): Greek and Latin Libraries, Academia, Hundred Chambers, Piazza d’Oro, Canopus, Antinoeion.
After the death of Hadrian in 138 AD the villa was occasionally used by his various successors. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the villa fell into disrepair and was taken apart piece by piece over the centuries, with one local cardinal stripping off marble in the 16th century to build his own Villa d’Este located nearby. Proper excavations only started in 1870 by the Italian government and continue even today in part by the Italian archaeological authorities, in part by the various foreign academies in Rome.
Many beautiful artifacts have been unearthed at the Villa including marble statues, frescoes, mosaics and ornate architecture. Most statues have been removed from the villa, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, and are now displayed in major antiquities collections elsewhere in Europe and North America.
One of the most recent discoveries made in Hadrian’s Villa were the remains of a temple complex devoted to Antinous (the Antinoeion) which consisted of two small twin temples facing each other in front of a semi-circular colonnaded exedra.
The European Archaeological Park of Bliesbruck-Reinheim (French: Parc archéologique européen de Bliesbruck-Reinheim) is an archaeological park stretching on both sides of the German-French border between the towns of Reinheim (Saarland) and Bliesbruck (Moselle). This cross-border project was created in 1989 and combines excavations and reconstructions of Celtic and Roman finds over an area of more than 70 ha. with exhibition and educational facilities. The grave of the famous Reinheim Celtic Princess was found here and visitors can see an impressive walk-in reconstruction of the burial. On the German side are the foundations of what was once an ornate Roman villa and partially reconstructed outhouses. On the French side are the remains of the small Gallo-Roman town and the partially reconstructed public baths.
The first excavations on the site took place between 1806 and 1809, then in 1879 in the area of the Roman Villa of Reinheim. In 1954 the tomb of the Celtic Princess of Reinheim was discovered in a sand pit and was excavated. Further investigations in 1956 and 1957 revealed that there had originally been three large burial mounds (tumuli) dating from the 4th century BC, of which the princess’ tomb was just the smallest with a diameter of 20 metres. The other two mounds had diameters of 22 metres and 36.5 metres respectively. All three mounds were surrounded by circular ditches of 0.6 metres and 1.2 metres.
The grave of the Princess of Reinheim is dated to the early La Tène Iron Age period, at the beginning of the 4th century BC. The tomb was filled with exceptionally rich funerary objects: a bronze mirror in figurine form, a complete dinner service consisting of two simple bronze plates, a fine bronze jug and two openwork gold cuffs. The princess wore a gold torque around her neck and a gold bangle on her right wrist, two gold rings on her fingers and three rings of gold and glass around her left forearm. The reconstruction of the Princess of Reiheim’s tomb is approximately 100 metres west of the original burial site. Inside the mound are copies of the artifacts exhibited (the originals are in the Museum of Prehistory and Protohistory in Saarbrücken).
In the Summer of 1987, systematic excavations work provided evidence of a Roman villa complex consisting of a large palatial residence (pars urbana) and an economic area (pars rustica). This complex was constructed in the 2nd half of the 1st century AD and reached its greatest size during the 1st half of the 3rd century AD. The main building of the pars urbana measured 80 metres from east to west and 62 metres from north to south. It had a rectangular middle section with a wing on either side. One portion of the building in the north end of the west wing was the villa’s private thermal baths with an under-floor heating (hypocaust). The pars urbana was a large courtyard enclosing an area 300 metres long and 135 metres wide and surrounded by a wall. Rectangular buildings which served as workshops stood on either side of the courtyard.
In 2000 an equestrian iron mask with bronze plating was found at the rear of one of the courtyard’s buildings. Used in ceremonial or sporting events, this hinged-visor was attached to a cavalryman’s helmet.
Within 250 metres of the Gallo-Roman villa are the remains of a small settlement or ‘vicus‘ of approximately 20 hectares dating from the middle of the 1st century AD. The excavations revealed that the vicus consisted of a craftsmen’s quarter of 14 terraced-buildings stretching along both sides of a secondary road and used for manufacturing and trade. Here people cooked, baked and produced iron and bronze. The dominant feature of this small city was the monumental public bathhouse complex which has been partially reconstructed and is sheltered by a roof. An eastern artisanal quarter and forum area have yet to be fully excavated. At its peak, the city had more than 100 houses and more than 1,000 inhabitants.
The Saarland and Moselle Valley’s ancient Roman heritage has a lot to offer to tourists and scholars alike. More than 120 antique sights along the Moselle and the Saar rivers, the Saarland and Luxembourg are testament to the Gallo-Roman era north of the Alps (further information here).
Visiting the Archaeological Park of Bliesbruck-Reinheim: The park is open daily from 15th March to 31st October from 10am to 6pm.