Villa Adriana (Tivoli)

From the World Heritage inscription for the Villa Adriana (Tivoli):

The Villa Adriana (Tivoli) 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 theater, 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 center 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, including cryptoportici 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.

Villa Adriana

The second of the two villa world heritage sites in Tivoli is Villa Adriana aka Hadrian’s Villa.

Of the two villas, Hadrian’s gets only a small fraction of the number of visitors that the Villa d’Este gets. It is a much larger site which requires more walking and most of the site are ruins. That being said, they might be better ruins than the Roman Forum itself and it is one of the few places near Rome where you can view ruins without large crowds.

You can still see the rooms, pools, and baths of the palace even though much of the facing marble has been removed. You can also still see bits of original fresco near the ceiling of the baths as well as original marble work in some places.

If you visit the villa, you should also visit the Villa d’Este and the Vatican Museum in conjunction. Both sites have material and art objects taken from Hadrian’s Villa. Many of the statues dedicated to Hadrian’s young male lover Antinous in the Vatican Museum and much of the marble is now in the Villa d’Este.

The Villa Adriana is only 10 minutes by car from the Villa d’Este and is 30-60 minutes from the center of Rome depending on traffic. The villa is not near the center of town, so if you take a bus or train, you will need to take a local bus or taxi to get to the site.

The villa is an exceptional site and given its proximity to Rome should be considered a must-see for anyone interested in Roman history.


Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana, also known as Hadrian’s Villa, is a Roman archaeological complex located in Tivoli, Italy. This is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 during the 23rd session. It is located close to another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli – Villa d’Este. The impressive villa is now under the ownership of the Republic of Italy. The Polo Museale del Lazio has directed and supervised the villa since December 2014.

The ruins of Villa Adriana are located about 5 kilometers outside of Tivoli’s city center. Its magnificence has been compared to anything you will find in Rome. The villa was constructed in 118 and 138 AD. It is also one of the largest villas from the ancient world, spanning 120 hectares in land area. About 40 hectares of the entire property is open to the public.

About Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana is a large and awe-inspiring Roman archaeological complex – the biggest of its kind outside Rome. The spot was specifically chosen by Emperor Hadrian to build his massive complex in. Within the complex, you will find various monuments such as a theater, stadium, library, thermal baths, underground supply tunnels, servant’s quarters, and numerous water features such as fountains and pools. The sacred landscape at the villa is considered as the best example of an Alexandrian Roman garden.

The scale of this complex is amazing; visitors could spend hours exploring the various expanses of the ruins. Roman Emperor Hadrian had the Villa Adriana built since he disliked staying in the Palatine Hill in Rome. For this reason, he commissioned the building of the retreat during the 2nd century AD. While he run the empire, he lived in the villa.

Villa Adriana

By the time of the Roman Empire’s decline in the 4th century, the villa fell into a state of disuse. Eventually, some of the statues and marbles were taken away from the villa. During the 16th century, when Cardinal Ippolito d’Este commissioned the building of Villa d’Este, he asked that the remaining statues and marbles from Villa Adriana taken to his villa for decoration.

In 1999, UNESCO named Villa Adriana as a cultural World Heritage Site for its historical and archaeological significance. It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tivoli, along with the nearby Villa d’Este. Due to the rapid deterioration of the ruins at Villa Adriana, it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites on the endangered list.

Tips for Visiting

Villa Adriana

Before you visit Villa Adriana, you need to keep these practical tips in mind:

  • The villa is expansive! You could spend hours exploring the grounds. Make sure to carry bottled water with you.
  • The admission fee for the villa is €6.50. You can get a ticket at the ticket office at the main entrance. In this area, you will also find a souvenir shop, bar, and toilets.
  • There is parking available on-site but for a €3 fee.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

Gary Arndt
Gary Arndt

Gary began traveling the world in 2007. His travels have taken him to over 200 countries and territories and 400 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

He is a 3x Lowell Thomas Award winner and a 3x North American Travel Photographer of the Year.