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

Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este, Tivoli Day Excursion

Our walking tour of Hadrian’s Villa begins in the morning with a private car from Rome to the archaeological site. After a morning on the site we continue by car to the nearby hilltop town of Tivoli for lunch on the terraces of the Villa d’Este followed by a walking tour of the gardens and fountains of this famous Renaissance villa designed by the Renaissance architect Pirro Ligorio for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, and inspired by the ancient site of Hadrian’s Villa. Tour is 7 hours.

Hadrian’s Villa, the country estate of the ancient Roman emperor Hadrian
(c.116/118-136/138 A.D.) is believed to be one of the largest archaeological sites in Europe covering more than 120 hectare, and since 1999 has been declared a World Heritage site.

A visit to the archaeological site of the Emperor’s country estate is a window into the life of Hadrian and his remarkable accomplishments, as well as an in-depth experience of the life of Imperial Rome in the early 2nd century A.D.

This magnificent estate located near Tivoli in the Tibertine hills represents a concept of ‘a way of living’ for an ideal city with well over 100 buildings and structures terraced into the gentle undulating topography and joined together through gardens and intricate systems of waterways. The buildings include a winter and summer palace, Greek and Latin libraries, Piazza d’Oro designed to awe and inspire, large and small thermae, palestra, temples, theatres, exedras, the private island retreat of the Emperor, and the Canopus, an elongated canal influenced by his trip along the Nile river.

The complex system of underground ‘cryptaporticus’ (passageways) reveals to us the extensive infrastructure of the world of the slaves and services that contributed to the daily life of the estate.

The architectural elements used by Hadrian in his design of the buildings and structures as well as the landscape design have continued to influence architects and designers for close to 2000 years including through the Renaissance (Brunelleschi, Michelangelo) and the Baroque (Borromini, Bernini), and have continued to be a major influence in the 20th and 21st centuries.

There is the option of taking a regional train to Tivoli instead of a private car.

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© Cultural Heritage Walking Tours, Italy 2013

Ostia Antica: A Window into the Daily Lives of the Early Romans and Ostians

Our walking tour of the archaeological site of Ostia Antica provides us with an exceptional window into the daily lives of the early Romans and Ostians. Ostia, which means mouth is located at the mouth of the Tiber River where the river meets the Tyrrhenian sea about 30 kms from the city of Rome. Due to its strategic location, it was first a military outpost for Rome in 4th c BC, and later during the Republican era of the Roman Empire became a thriving port of business and trade. The development of the town continued under the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian with luxurious villas and garden apartment complexes built close to the coastline.

At this amazing site the ancient city unfolds at our feet. As all ancient Roman settlements the early urban planning of the town followed a grid with a central axis the decumanus and an intersecting axis the cardo. The town begins from the coastline expanding inland and hugging the form of the ancient Tiber river. Water plays an important role in the formation of this ancient town – in it’s natural form, the sea and the Tiber river – and in it’s constructed form, the public baths and fountains.

On this site we witness both the public and private life of the early Romans and Ostians, captured in the surving architectural structures of the public baths, theatre, forum, capitolineum, fire hall, tavernas, insula (private apartment complexes), houses, luxurious garden apartments, and the built representation of numerous and diverse religions, including an early Christian Basilica and what is said to be the oldest Synagogue in diaspora.

As the exotic marbles of the Mediterranean and North Africa were shipped from their sites of origin through Ostia en route to Rome, the town is oppulent in it’s use of marble in the public baths, as the Forum baths, and still in tact floor mosaics that grace the Neptune baths built during the time of the Emperor Hadrian and the interior floors (pavimenti) of private apartments and homes.

That the town thrived in business and trade can be seen in the ‘corporation square’, a name given by archaeologists to a city square surrounded on three sides by a building that housed individual offices that are accessed through a porticus. These offices represent businesses (corporations) and guilds that served the many forms of trade and financial interactions of the town. Each office is distinguished by a floor mosaic, many still in situ, that tells a visual story to the visitor of the purpose/function of the office.

This ancient settlement, which spans from 4th c BCE to 5th c AD is an important site of the cultural heritage of the ancient Romans representing 900 years of development. Like Pompeii the town was stopped in time; Pompeii encapsulated by an act of nature, Ostia was encapsulated much later by nature when the town ceased to be a port city of the Roman Empire and was abandoned.

The archaeological site of Ostia Antica is easily accessible with Cultural Heritage Walking Tours, a short regional train ride from the city of Rome. See

© Cultural Heritage Walking Tours, Italy, 2012