Villa Adriana is a masterpiece that uniquely brings together the highest expressions of the material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. Study its monuments played a crucial role in the rediscovery of the elements of classical architecture by the architects of the Renaissance and the Baroque period. It also profoundly influenced many 19th- and 20th-century architects and designers.
The villa covers more than 120 ha on the slopes of the Tiburtine Hills. It was originally occupied by a late Republican villa, the property of Hadrian's wife, Vibia Sabina. The imperial residence was built over it in AD 118-38. It was a symbol of a power that was gradually becoming absolute and which distanced itself from the capital. After Hadrian's death in 138, his successors preferred Rome as their permanent residence, but the villa continued to be enlarged and further embellished. Constantine the Great is alleged to have removed some of its finer pieces to his new capital, Byzantium. The villa was sacked and plundered by successive barbarian invaders and fell into neglect, being used as a quarry by builders and lime-burners. Interest in the ruins was rekindled in the 15th century by Pope Pius II (Aeneas Silvius). Excavations to recover its glories were ordered by Alexander VI at the beginning of the 16th century. When Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este began to construct his nearby Villa d'Este he continued the excavations, supervised by his architect Pirro Ligorio, to obtain works of art to adorn it.
The many structures are arranged without any overall plan within this area. They fall into four specific groups. The first group includes the Greek Theatre and the Temple of Aphrodite Cnidi. The theatre, which is in a good state of conservation, although only fragmentary, is of conventional design. Its cavea is cut into the hillside and is some 36 m in diameter. The small circular temple is situated in a large semi-circular exedra.
The second group, including the Maritime Theatre, Court of the Libraries, Latin and Greek Libraries, Imperial Palace and Golden Square, is the core of the complex, aligned with the Vale of Tempe. The various elements are grouped round four peristyles. The Maritime (or Naval) Theatre is a circular structure 43 m in diameter; the Ionic marble peristyle encloses a circular moat surrounding a central island with a miniature villa. The Court of the Libraries, the oldest part of the ensemble, is a colonnaded portico with a nymphaeum on its northern side. The two 'libraries' are reached by passages on either side of the nymphaeum. The palace consists of a complex of rooms around a courtyard. The Golden Square is one of the most impressive buildings in the complex: the vast peristyle is surrounded by a two-aisled portico with alternate columns in cipollino marble and Egyptian granite
The third group comprises the Pecile, Stadium and its associated buildings, Small and Large Thermae, Canopus, Serapeum and Cento Camerelle. The Pecile (or Poikile) is a reproduction of an imposing structure in Athens famous for its paintings and its associations with the Stoic philosophers which consists of a large rectangular enclosure. Part of its massive walls survives; they had colonnades on either side. In the centre was a rectangular pool enclosed by a free space, perhaps used as a racetrack. The two sets of baths are conventional in form. The smaller is considered to have been used exclusively by women. The Canopus is an elongated canal imitating the famous sanctuary of Serapis near Alexandria. The semi-circular exedra of the Serapeum is located at its southern end.
The fourth group includes the Lily Pond, Roccabruna Tower and Academy. The tower is a complex of buildings, the purpose of which is not clearly established. In addition to these structures, there is a complex of underground elements, includingcryptoportici and underground galleries, used for internal communications and storage. A number of the ancient structures are overlaid by a series of farmhouses and other buildings, mostly from the 18th century. They were built directly on the earlier foundations and it is difficult to dissociate them from the ancient structures.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description[in French only]
Sur cette zone se dressait à l'origine une villa de la fin de la République, présumée propriété de l'épouse d'Hadrien, Vibia Sabina. La résidence impériale fut construite au même endroit en deux étapes, 118-125 et 125-138, symbole d'un pouvoir qui devenait progressivement absolu et qui s'éloignait de la capitale : c'est pourquoi on l'a comparée au Versailles de Louis XIV. Après la mort d'Hadrien en 138, ses successeurs préférèrent faire de Rome leur résidence permanente, mais la villa continua cependant de s'agrandir et d'être embellie. On dit que Constantin Ier le Grand aurait emporté certaines de ses plus belles pièces dans sa nouvelle capitale, Byzance.
La villa fut ensuite mise à sac et pillée par des hordes successives d'envahisseurs barbares, et elle finit par tomber à l'abandon. Ainsi, dans les siècles qui suivirent, les constructeurs et les chaufourniers l'utilisèrent comme carrière.
Ce n'est qu'au XVe siècle que l'intérêt pour ces ruines renaquit, sous l'influence du pape Pie II (Æneas Silvius). Au début du XVIe siècle, Alexandre VI ordonna des fouilles pour récupérer des objets d'art. Quand le cardinal Hippolyte II d'Este commença la construction de sa villa d'Este, toute proche, il poursuivit les fouilles, sous la direction de son architecte Pirro Ligorio, espérant orner sa nouvelle demeure des oeuvres d'art découvertes. Par la suite, les fouilles se poursuivirent sporadiquement jusqu'à ce que la villa Adriana devienne la propriété du tout jeune État italien, en 1870.