Visit to Hadrian’s Villa & Villa d’Este, Tivoli: Marjorie’s Blog

A Day on a Customized tour of Hadrian’s Villa, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Villa d’Este, Tivoli, organized and led by Dr. Diane Archibald of Cultural Heritage Walking Tours of Italy.

We were incredibly fortunate that Diane had agreed to act as teacher and guide for just the three of us, our granddaughter, who had just completed an undergraduate study semester abroad, my retired geologist husband Roger, and me. We were to visit Hadrian’s Villa in the morning and Villa D’Este in the afternoon.

Diane had hired a private driver for us, as getting to Tivoli from Rome is awkward. Our first stop was Hadrian’s Villa, built in the second century by Emperor Hadrian. My husband Roger is especially interested in the building stones of Italy and Italian architecture but he’s curious and interested in just about everything. Diane is the perfect guide for someone like him as she’s a committed teacher and is passionate about these ancient Italian sites.

She stopped us on the perimeter pathway. We examined the paving stones and began to learn how Hadrian had organized his villa, which was essentially a self-sufficient town. And that was the start of three fascinating hours of discovery into the private and public life and works of that incredible man Hadrian, a man well versed in engineering, architecture, military strategy, politics, philosophy, poetry and diplomacy – a man who in many ways would be an outstanding twenty-first century citizen. We of the twenty-first century wouldn’t countenance his habit of doing away with underlings who displeased him … but we are still blown away by the sophistication of his ideas and practices in futuristic architectural design, urban planning, peaceable relations with neighbouring states, and interest in the arts and philosophy. We learned, but at our own pace. We didn’t experience information overload. We had a most enjoyable experience, walking and talking, learning, and, of course, documenting that we indeed were actually there doing all that as we took pictures.

The afternoon program was not as intense. We time travelled from the second century to the sixteenth as we embarked on our tour of the Villa d’Este, built by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, son of Alfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia. The country villa is lavish, and worth a visit, but we were really there to enjoy the terraced gardens with their water features built using Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering. These gardens were the first of their kind and started a trend in late Renaissance mannerist style garden layout. Gardens, like the Villa d’Este garden began to pop up all over Renaissance Europe. Canadians erroneously tend to think of them as formal English gardens. It was great fun to actually visit the very first gardens of that type.

All in all, it was a memorable day. I’m still pinching myself about what I learned and the sights I saw.

Marjorie, Alberta, Canada, 2014