Villa Adriana, (Hadrian’s Villa), Tivoli
One of the grandest and most luxurious of the residences of Roman emperors is to be found at Tibur, now known as Tivoli. In fact it is far more than a villa, containing as it does many other buildings of which more remains than the palace itself. There is the massive Poecile at the entrance (a copy of a building in Athens), large and small baths, elegant pool of water at the far end of the complex surrounded by columns and with a temple of Serapis behind (a copy of the Canopus in Egypt and a restful place to sit and have one’s picnic); libraries, a theatre on an island surrounded by water, the hospitalia or guest rooms, temples, Greek theatre and much more. The ‘long tour’ of two and a half hours took much longer, in spite of concentrating on the buildings where we hoped to find examples of cipollino.


Hadrian retired to Tivoli in 136 AD when he became ill and lived there until his death in 138. He was a talented and complicated character. ‘The sources for Hadrian are wretchedly inadequate: what we know of him suggests that he was the most versatile and intelligent of all these Emperors, but it is hard to see him as he really was. The lack of good narrative histories for Trajan and Hadrian, whose times saw the empire reach its zenith, must always impair judgement of these two Emperors’25. Aurelius Victor says of him, ‘Hadrian was so thoroughly imbued with Greek literature that many called him The Greekling. He was steeped in Athenian pursuits and habits and possessed not only their language but also their other disciplines. He was expert in song, lyre and medicine; he was musician, geometer, painter and a sculptor in Bronze or marble second only to Polycletus and Euphranus. In addition he was also witty. His memory was incredible. His energy was prodigious; he travelled through all the provinces, outstripping his suite, and restored and enlarged all their towns. He was various, manifold and multiform. He possessed a native control over vices and virtues and could govern his impulses by artifice: he cleverly concealed a nature that was envious, gloomy, wanton and inclined to inordinate display: he simulated continence, courtesy, and clemency and dissimulated his ardent passion for glory. His wife, Vibia Sabina, he abused like a slave and drove her to suicide’.26


At the villa Hadrian indulged his great passion for architecture, something he had indulged during his lifetime even while travelling, when ‘he was accompanied by an army of smiths, masons and carpenters’, according to the map-guide available at the entrance. Everywhere there is the same massive brick structure as in ancient Rome and in Ostia Antica. And there is the marble.

Buses leave Rome every 20 minutes from Ponte Mammolo metro station and the journey takes 50 minutes, passing close to the still flourishing travertine quarries, but it took some effort to persuade the bus driver to stop at the sign for the villa which is some distance from the entrance. However, it was well worth the visit.
There are some fragments of cipollino used in the ‘mosaic’ flooring of the room with the model of the villa (Fig 6). There are two columns of cipollino in the building marked 4 on the plan, the
Building of the Three Exedras, one of Hadrian’s most extraordinary projects, the purpose of which is unknown. The columns are badly broken and liberally held together with cement and the tallest has an estimated height of 6m. /20 Rf and diameter of .50-.60 m. /2 Rf, with a Corinthian capital and a carved base. The other column, even more broken and held together with more cement, is approximately 4.5 m. /15 Rf high and has the same diameter. It has no capital (Plates 2.9 A & 2.9B).

In the Great Thermae, (2.10A & 2.10B) in the Frigidarium, there are four columns of cipollino in varying states of disrepair. They are all mounted on square plinths as well as concave scotia. Facing them, from left to right the first has a height of between 7.5 and 8 m., /25-27 Rf, without the base, and a diameter of .75 m. /2.5 Rf. It has no capital. The second has the same height and diameter, measured from the bottom just above the base. This one has a broken Doric capital. The third and fourth are slightly shorter, approximately 7.5 m. /25.3 Rf high but both with the same diameter as the first two. The third has a small piece of Doric capital left; but the fourth does not have one (Plate 2.10 C).

The Canopus, recalling the ancient settlement of that name near modern Abukir in Egypt, celebrated the abundance of water in the area, and Hadrian’s reason for selecting the site for his villa. Around the pool there are statues and caryatids and a very lifelike crocodile said by the experts to be of cipollino. It is difficult to see the cipollino markings because the marble was said to have been treated with acid (vinegar) ‘Selectively releasing over several decades a few millimetres of calcite only, so leaving in relief the coloured non-carbonated fraction of the stone, has accentuated the roughness and the undulating zigzag warp and weft of the surface of the sculpture, rendering it very similar to the flake-like skin typical of the crocodile’27 (Plate 2.11).

In the Biblioteca Privata (Private Library) there is one column, probably cipollino, standing approximately 4 m. /13.5 Rf high with no capital but with a base and diameter of .45m. /1.5 Rf (Plate 2.12).

The Teatro Maritimo, The Villa of the Island of the Maritime Theatre, (Plate 2.13A) is the best known structure of Hadrian’s villa. A moat encircles a tiny island with a villa in the middle. The moat was once surrounded with a corridor-like portico with forty Ionic columns placed on a low wall. One of the first of the existing columns on the left might be cipollino. It is badly damaged and repaired and has a height of 7-8 m. /23-27 Rf. (Plate 2.13 B).

25 Dudley, Donald, The Romans, Hutchison, London, 1970, p.184-5.
26 Aurelius Victor quoted in Moses Hadas, p.106.

27 Lazzarini L, 2007, p.185.

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Maps and Plates

Fig 6 Plan of Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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Plate 2.9 Two cipollino columns, Building of the three Exedras, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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Plate 2.10A The Great Thermae, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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Plate 2.10B The Great Thermae, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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Plate 2.10C Four cipollino columns, The Great Thermae, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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Plate 2.11 Cipollino sculpture of a crocodile, the Canopus, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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Plate 2.12 One column, probably cipollino, Private Library, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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Plate 2.13A The Island of The Maritime Theatre, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli (reconstruction).

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Plate 2.13B One column, probably cipollino, The Island of the Maritime Theatre, Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli