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Monuments of Rome - Villa Adriana - Tivoli

The largest and most splendid of the Roman imperial villas stands about 20 km from Rome, on a low plateau south of the city of Tivoli, an area that was very famous at the time and characterised by numerous residences of aristocratic families. The huge complex of buildings was built (probably between 118 and 134 A.D.) at the behest of the Emperor Hadrian: a restless and intellectual character, inconstant and adventurous, a lover of travel and Greek culture, as well as a lover of architecture, he personally participated in the planning, probably designing many of the buildings. Thus, scattered over an immense area (at least 120 hectares), numerous groups of buildings arose, arranged in an apparently random - but in reality carefully studied - manner and separated by vast and luxuriant gardens.

Hadrian - as his biographer, Aelius Spartianus, tells us - wished to ideally unite in his palace the main monuments of the empire, in particular those of his beloved Greece; the sites of the villa - buildings, baths, nymphaeums, gardens and valleys - often bore the name of one of these monuments, and imitated, so to speak 'in miniature', their appearance. There was the Valley of Tempe, the Egyptian city of Canopus; also the Lyceum, the Academy and the Stoà Poikile, all famous buildings of 5th and 4th century BC Athens.
The richness of the architectural and sculptural decoration of the villa was extraordinary: despite the fact that it has been excavated several times and 'despoiled' of its most precious pieces, which now adorn the most famous 
Museums in Rome and around the world (including more than 500 statues of the highest quality in coloured marble and numerous mosaics with very fine tesserae; the famous one of the doves, now in the Capitoline Museums), one is still struck by the refinement of the floors in coloured marble scales ( opus sectile ), of which splendid examples remain. No less interesting is the architectural aspect: many of the villa's buildings feature bold and original innovations, perhaps conceived by Hadrian himself, including domes and cross domes and very complex floor plans, in a continuous succession of straight and curved, concave and convex lines, which appears new in Roman architecture, and is strikingly reminiscent of the buildings of Baroque Rome.
Among the most interesting complexes is the 'Pecile' (perhaps inspired by the 'Stoà Poikile', a famous portico in Athens), a monumental four-sided portico enclosing a garden with a large central pool. To the east of it are the 'Baths with Heliocaminus', a special room heated by means of stoves and sunlight, used for sunbathing in winter. Not to be missed is the 'Canopus', a long basin of water surrounded by porticoes and flowerbeds, and concluded by a large nymphaeum in the shape of an exedra, probably used for open-air banquets; the monument recalls the Egyptian city of Canopus and the long canal that connected it to Alexandria, famous for the night festivals that took place there. But the most singular and fascinating building is perhaps the so-called 'Maritime Theatre'. Circular in shape, it encloses a canal, in the middle of which rises a small round island, connected to the mainland by two revolving bridges (now replaced by a masonry one). The island is occupied by a dwelling and a small spa: a secluded residence with every comfort, certainly intended for the emperor himself for his quiet moments. Due to the originality of its conception, as well as the daring architecture of the island dwelling - with a complex alternation of concave and convex walls and large windows opening onto the water - the Maritime Theatre can perhaps be considered a symbol of the entire villa and the genius of its designer.

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