Gardens of Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana Archaeological Site

Gardens of all kinds attract me like a moth to flame. Grand, monumental, historical, famous, botanical, natural or pruned to within an inch of its life, or beautifully designed small domestic gardens – each of these types of garden are places in which I find peace, joy and happiness.

Happiness is an Archaeological site to explore.

Tivoli, a small town about 30km from Rome, contains two UNESCO World Heritage sites – Villa D’Este, which has a very grand monumental garden, containing more fountains than I have ever seen in one garden and Villa Adriana (Hadrians Villa) which is an archaeological site.

Gardens of Villa D’Este

Visiting the gardens of the Villa D’Este was a most joyful and happy experience. I felt as if I had gone down a rabbit hole and entered an architectural wonderland. The garden is on several levels, covering around 4ha, with tree and hedge lined avenues, gardens with around 51 fountains, with hundreds of jets, water spouts and over 60 waterfalls (numbers not verified, but I can verify that there were more fountains, waterfalls and water features than I have ever seen in one garden.) Sculptures and cherubs abound, all making this garden feel like a giant fantasyland. Iris and roses were flowering profusely adding splashes of colour.

Villa d’Este was designed and laid out for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este by Pirro Ligorio. Work on the Villa and its gardens commenced in 1550 and took 20 years to complete, and is a splendid example of a High Renaissance garden.

Wandering along avenues, and down stairs and paths, my exploration of the garden felt like a never ending journey through paradise. One of the more fantastical fountains is the Rometta Fountain which is meant to represent ancient Rome.

I loved the tree lined Avenue of 100 fountains, so called because there are around 100 carved fountain heads, through which water falls into a long canal.

The garden covers an area known as Valle Gaudente – the Valley of Pleasure. What an apt place to create a garden – my visit was a pleasure – although pleasure is only a small part of the experience. Emerging from the rabbit hole, back to my reality was a less than optimum experience.

Villa Adriana – Hadrian’s Villa

Hadrian was born in 76CE and was the Roman Emperor 117CE to 138CE, when he died. He is buried in the Castel Saint’Angelo in Rome.

He was responsible for building projects throughout the Roman Empire, with the Pantheon in Rome being his most substantial achievement. He was also responsible for the building a defensive wall, (Hadrians Wall) marking the northern limit of Roman Britain.

I have visited the Pantheon on numerous occasions and seen a few of the remains of Hadrians Wall. During the dark days of the plague, to assist motivating myself to get out of bed, I completed a virtual walk alongside Hadrians Wall, which during the course of the walk, provided extensive views of the wall.

How could I resist a visit to the ruins and archaeological site of one of the places Hadrian called home.

The Villa complex was built between 118CE and 121CE over 120 hectares. As befitting a Roman Emperor, it was opulent – clearly no humble abode – as the plan indicates.

Plan Hadrian’s Villa – Photo Credit Alamy.

The Villa was Hadrian’s retreat from Rome. Wandering around the site I could imagine the grandeur, despite the ruins. Reflecting Hadrians scholarship and extensive travels, the complex of seven classical buildings were based on Greek and Roman classical architecture. The pools, canal, baths and sculptures complete the “international” style of architecture.

The remains of the various water features and sculptures give a better idea of how grand this country retreat was. Makes my family’s country retreat, a bach at the beach on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, seem like a squalid hut.

The Serapeon of Canopus was supposedly an Egyptian style canal. There was a Theatre with a round colonnaded pool, baths and Hadrians swimming pool – the Poercile.

Above: Serapeon Canopus

In Hadrians day, there were extensive gardens – landscaped, wilderness areas and farmland. Today very little of the area contains gardens. There are large expanses of grass, numerous varieties of trees and shrubs, and some large areas of wildflowers, which on the day I visited were a glorious mass of colour.

My visits to archaeological sites have always proved to be a great learning experience. I research before I visit, and research and learn in more depth after a visit. The visit to Villa Adriana was no exception.

When I came to the end of my day in Tivoli, I was happy to be returning to Rome and its glories – if I had been returning home, the black dog would have not have only been breathing down my neck, it would have been perched on my shoulder.

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