Fieldtrip Files: Villa Adriana & Villa d’Este–Tivoli, Italy

I wrote a blog about planning my first visit to Italy and a commenter replied that I had to see Villa d’Este.  It wasn’t to be missed.  When it came to planning my field trips outside of Rome–Tivoli was high on my list of possiblilities.  I found a day trip for a half day visit to Villa Adriana or Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Italy about 20 miles outside of Rome.  I booked it for the last day before I left Rome–a good choice because I returned to Rome with time to squeeze in a last minute visit to one of the many beautiful cathedrals (Santa Maria Maggiore) and grab a wonderfully filling and delicious gnocchi dinner.

The first stop is Villa Adriana as in built by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century–one of the greatest and most well traveled emperors in Rome’s history.  The mini city–it’s so large and more like a small city than country estate–is located about 5 miles outside of Tivoli.  Hadrian built the estate to escape deadly Roman politics, but close enough to stay in control over the empire.  Eventually, he moved his whole government there and ruled from Tivoli.  Hadrian used his many travels throughout the empire to inspire the design of different buildings throughout the complex.  Years after the fall of Rome, remnants of the marble and statuary used in the complex were stripped to decorate not only other noble estates (Villa d’Este) but other cathedrals and basilicas in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica).

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One of the more famous inspirations was the reflecting pool Canopus and grotto Serapeum after an Egyptian city Canopus and god Serapeum.  The architecture is more Greek and Roman with its arches and columns.  Public and private steam baths with a hole in the domed ceiling to let the steam escape and the baths are similar to the design of the Pantheon–another structure designed by Hadrian.  The Maritime Theatre is a popular feature often visited, but it was closed for restoration while I was visiting.  According to the tour guide, the complex is huge and overwhelming in sheer size to visit in one day–there are underground tunnels wide enough to accommodate animals on carts for slaves to keep the city running.  Slaves only “surfaced” to serve the emperor and his guests and then disappeared underground again.  They actually slept in caverns (pictured below left).

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Some practicalities to consider are there is a long, slightly uphill walk  (maybe a 1/2 mile or more–felt like much more) from the ticket booth to the actual grounds of the Villa.  If traveling by train from Rome–you have to either get a taxi or use the public bus from Tivoli.  If I ever go back, I would try to figure out the public transportation so I could come and go as I want.  The complex is about the size of Pompeii and you can spend the entire day there going in and around the ruins.  There are also museums on site.  The website link can offer more information-

Villa d’Este is from another era in Rome’s long history and located in the center of Tivoli built into the mountainside overlooking the surrounding countryside.  The Renaissance terraced gardens were built by Ippolito D’Este–Cardinal d’Este to you and me.  His mother–the warm and fuzzy Lucrezia Borgia (yes those Borgias…..) and his father Duke Alfonso I d’Este being her third husband.

Cardinal d’Este built Villa d’Este after being prevented from being voted in as Pope and he created the luxurious villa.  He stole the  marble and statuary remains of nearby Villa Adriana to decorate his own terraced gardens.  To this day, the fountains, and there are hundreds of fountains, operate without pumps or electricity.  All the water is spring fed from the mountain and gravity does all of the work.


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Villa d’Este is in the city center of Tivoli and can be easily accessed from the train station.  The area around Tivoli has villas built by other notable Romans, the area being a summer resort town to escape the heat of Rome.  Along with Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este, there are other historical sites to explore–Villa Gregoriana, Rocca Pia-a fortress built by Pope Pius, and Tivoli Cathedral.  Another fact to note, Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen is named after the gardens in Villa d’Este.  See the website for more information about Villa d’Este-


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