Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli #travelthursdays

I was a bit of a boffin at school, there are probably no ground breaking revelations there, but in each of my schools, I managed something pretty rare. New Zealand schools are pretty cliquey. I think it’s one of the things that drove me nuts about living in a small town, in a pretty small country.

Strangely I seemed to rally against the norm, and whilst I had one ‘main’ group of friends, I was on friendly terms with people from every group. That’s not to say that people were unfriendly, it’s not Lord of the Flies in Kiwi schools, but they just didn’t seem to intermingle too much. I had ‘cool’ friends, geeky friends, arty friends (sporty friends as well – they need cheerleaders, right?) but my favourites were the Classic History fiends. There weren’t many, but the class seemed to attract a really interesting mix of people, and it really was my favourite.

The battles, the parties, the immense buildings, the glamour – it all requires a little imagination, and that’s where I’m leading with this. Imagination.

We studied a dozen Ancient European monuments/buildings/attractions and unsurprisingly, Hadrians Villa’s was one of these. It wasn’t necessarily one of my study favourites (I’m pretty terrible with dates – there’s a lesson in there kids, play to your strengths) but once I finished the class, I swore to myself that one day I would visit these amazing monuments. So, one sunny afternoon eating Gelato in Roma, we decided to go on a day trip to the magnificent ruins of Hadrian’s Villa.


Not on a normal day trip you understand – you know, an air-conditioned mini-van with annoying audio guide – but we decided to be brave and get on a local coach & take a trip out 30km from the Italian capital to Tivoli. Wedged in amongst the locals, talking 1900 to the dozen, amidst laden baskets of vegetables, kids and pups running amok we sat back and relaxed whilst hoping madly to find the right stop.

Thankfully we hopped off at the right spot, and armed with a picnic, guide book and a lot of enthusiasm we began to explore the 1km+ site.

The villa was constructed at Tibur (modern-day Tivoli) as a retreat from Rome for Roman Emperor Hadrian during the second and third decades of the 2nd century AD. Hadrian was said to dislike the palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome, leading to the construction of the retreat. During the later years of his reign, he actually governed the empire from the villa and a large court therefore lived there permanently.




Words don’t do it justice. Going in mid-late September seemed to be the perfect time to go, the cusp of Summer and Autumn glory with the blue skies and 25’C temps perfect for exploring this 2nd century (A.D) complex.

A few hundred years ago, this entire site was overgrown, under earth and unrecognisable for the historic beauty it revealed itself to truly be.

Hadrian’s Villa was a complex of over 30 buildings, covering an area of at least 1 square kilometre (c. 250 acres) of which much is still unexcavated (ps. underground tunnels and caves have also been discovered this year!) The villa was the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreating a sacred landscape. The complex included palaces, several thermae, theatre, temples, libraries, state rooms, and quarters for courtiers, praetorians, and slaves.

When Hadrian died, various successors used the Villa, but it fell into disuse and disrepair and by the 16th Century was in partial ruin, and the buildings’ materials were being nicked for the Villa d’Este.

Can you imagine the parties they threw here? It’s now a UNESCO World History Site – where all those massive discos were thrown, amazing no?

It was an amazing structure even as a ruin, and we spent several happy hours getting a fill of the dusty history inbetween picnic stops. I’d highly recommend going if you’re in Italy, and don’t be afraid to use the local bus services – it’ll save you a load in fares. Just check which one you’re meant to be on… 

%d bloggers like this: