Last Friday, the S-J’s decided to go on a little hike to check out some Roman ruins just outside of Tivoli. We decided to walk because Google Maps assured us there was no public transit from Tivoli to the site of Villa Adriana—-Google was wrong. There is public transit because it passed us as we traipsed down the Via Nazionale on our way to a non-descript and largely overgrown gravel path that is the walking trail. The fact that the trail is resplendent with crisscrossing, intertwined, thorn encrusted raspberry bushes should have been our first clue that this was not the preferred or most popular way to get where we were going. Plus, it wasn’t really a little hike, it was approximately 14 kilometers all around from the centre of Tivoli. We definitely crushed our Fitbit goal on this one. Anyway, let’s just say we got there and that it was worth it.
The Emperor Hadrian came to power at what is arguably the height of the Roman Empire; it had expanded about as far as it would go and was immensely wealthy. Unlike his predecessors, Hadrian decided not to continue with wars of conquest, but to stabilize the borders of the Empire (Hadrian’s wall in Britain is an extreme example of this) and turn his attention elsewhere. Unburdened by the expense of campaigning, Hadrian found himself with a few extra millions in the coffers and a hankering to build something. What better than a snazzy new summer cottage? Okay, palace, not cottage. Okay, freaking huge palace complex, not palace.
There are few places I can think of that I have seen that can rival the combination of wealth and chutzpah that was Villa Adriana, except contemporary Singapore. Even in a ruinous state, Hadrian’s little place in the country is awe inspiring. The site covers 130 hectares, includes a gymnasium/stadium that would put some facilities in medium sized Canadian cities to shame, a 250 metre long pond (and that’s just one of them), two bath houses, the smallest of which is at least eight times the size of our house, three theatres and three libraries. This, I should note, is just the shortened list of the features. All of this was designed with the grandeur of Rome in mind and with the finest materials they could lay their hands on. You know it was good stuff, because bits of it can be seen in ancient buildings in Tivoli where the later Italians treated the villa as a handy building materials centre.
Walking around the villa was a bit like being a child on Christmas day, everywhere you looked there was a new treat. After hiking the site for two and a half hours under a sunny Italian sky, we decided that we were ready to face the hike back to Tivoli (uphill all the way!) and the prospect of a well earned lunch. Looking back at Villa Adriana, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the scope of the site and the power of an Empire that could command the sort of resources needed to create such a place for one man.