Nov. 12: Tivoli
We boarded our trams, metros, and buses to Tivoli with zeal, eager to see Hadrian’s Villa, one of the greatest sites of Imperial Rome. Fortunately, before we broke down the gates in enthusiasm, Prof. Ulrich gave us a thorough overview of the site’s history and layout. He discussed the layout of the site, which scholars subdivide according to function and allusions to different geographic parts of the Roman Empire. Throughout his lecture, Prof. Ulrich underscored that Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE) traveled extensively and loved architecture. His villa reflects these interests, with well-placed allusions to Athens (Stoa Poikile) and Egypt (the so-called Canopus) as well as through innovative areas such as the Maritime Theater and the Piazza D’Oro. Furthermore, Prof. Ulrich deemed Tivoli an architectural playground or laboratory. Hadrian, uninhibited by finances or public demands, experimented with conventional forms, such as the Doric Order. The space also reveals his fascination with water and his interest in the interplay between exterior and interior space. While, Apollodorus of Damascus, the acclaimed architect of Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan, ridiculed Hadrian’s designs (and was soon executed for his criticism), students, scholars, and artists continue to flock to the Villa to study Hadrian’s designs.
Armed with this comprehensive introduction to the Villa, we set out for the Stoa Poikile region, a peristyle courtyard surrounding a long pool (housing turtles and ducks!) in the middle. The original Stoa Poikile, or painted porch, sat on the north side of the Athenian Agora and featured artistically significant (and now-lost) paintings of the Battle of Marathon. While the paint has faded from Tivoli’s walls, we nonetheless enjoyed ambling around the serene pool. Next, we visited the (so-called) Sala dei Filosofi, an apsidal room, and the Maritime Theater (or Island Villa), a wondrous dining room surrounded by water. Although the Maritime Theater appeared confusing at first, Prof. Ulrich emphasized the axiality of the space, if we stood at the end of the axis. Unfortunately, restoration work and our fear of guard prevented us from experiencing this great view for ourselves. We continued our adventure at the guest house, where Hadrian housed some of his guests (in style, I might add). The uniformly sized rooms featured exquisite black and white mosaics, possibly (and probably) contemporaneous with those we had seen early this week at Ostia.
Of course, a day at Hadrian’s Villa would not be complete without a visit to the Piazza D’Oro, the famous Canopus (where we lunched and admired copies of to-scale copies of Caryatids). Mid-afternoon, the group split up to explore the site on its own. Several of us enjoyed visiting another bath complex before wandering back to the bus stop to return to Tratevere, where food, papers, and packing awaited. Check back soon for our updates about Florence!