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Gardens & ruins
Gardens of Ninfa
Villa Lante, Bagnaia
Villa d'Este, Tivoli
Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli
Villa Gregoriana, Tivoli
Terracina temple

Villa Adriana
Mosaic flooring, Villa Adriana
Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana, Tivoli

Ruins of Hadrian's vast palace complex outside Rome

Hadrian's Villa Hadrian's Villa (Villa Adriana in Italian) is a large and awe-inspiring archaeological site outside Rome. Spreading over acres of countryside, this is the spot chosen by the Emperor Hadrian for a huge palace. His luxurious complex included a theatre, libraries, a stadium, many water features, thermal baths, servants' quarters and underground supply tunnels. The scale is amazing, and today's visitors can spend hours wandering among the extensive ruins. The villa is on the plains below the hill town Tivoli, which is also famous for the fountains and waterfalls of the Villa d'Este. It can be visited by public transport, although travellers should read the details below and look up the latest timetables before they travel.

Hadrian supervised the building work personally, and architectural features were included to remind the emperor of his travels, of the countries he had visited and the times spent with his drowned favourite, Antinous, around whose youthful charm a cult was established. The emperor who built a wall across Britain was an educated, complex and interesting soldier, and his countryside palace, even in ruins, provides fascinating insights into his world.

Visiting Hadrian's Villa

One of the first stops on a tour of the villa is a little pavilion which houses a 1950s plastic model of the villa, giving visitors an idea of the original appearance of the site. Then, passing through a large wall you arrive at a small rectangular lake, a restored fishpond once enclosed within a Greek-style gymnasium. It is thought that Hadrian modelled parts of his palace on sites he knew and admired throughout his empire, from Athens to Egypt.

The most evocative parts of the huge site include the 'Naval Theatre', a wonderful study or retreat for the emperor on a tiny island surrounded by a circular colonnaded moat; the Canopus, a long lake ornamented with statues and arcades and backed by elegant halls for feasting; a Greek theatre; and wide underground tunnels - large enough for horses and carts - used presumably for servicing the palace. Fine mosaics are still preserved in a row of sleeping-chambers, and some of the more recent finds and statues from the site are on display in a museum near the Canopus.

Practical advice

The villa covers a huge area and is pretty confusing. It really helps to have a detailed guidebook which will give context to what you are seeing - or even consider hiring a tour guide. Even though some of the building's uses are speculation, the descriptions will bring the visit to life. You could easily spend several hours exploring the grounds, so it's a good idea to bring a bottle of water (you can refill it at a tap just inside the gates) and some food. There are plenty of pleasant and shady stretches of grass where you can sit and relax, admiring the ruins, dreaming of the past or just enjoying the quiet countryside atmosphere. Visitors should wear practical shoes and comfortable clothing, and consider sun protection in the hotter months of the year.

Admission and facilities

Villa Adriana

Admission to the Villa costs 6.50, with the usual reductions applicable at state monuments. At the time of writing it is included on the Roma&Piu tourist card, which also includes travel on the Cotral buses from Rome (but not the local CAT service - read on for more about travel). The ticket office is outside the main entrance, in a little complex by the car park where there is also a bar, toilets and a shop selling souvenirs and guidebooks. There are more toilets a short way inside the entrance. The bar sells light refreshments, and a restaurant in an adjacent hotel serves more filling meals; there were no refreshments within the site itself when I last visited.

Public transport from Rome

Unluckily there is no totally hassle-free way to reach Hadrian's Villa from Rome. For a convenient or time-efficient visit, you might consider paying extra to come with an organised tour (try a company like Viator, listed on the right). However, it isn't too hard to make a trip using public buses, it just takes a bit of planning and patience.

From Rome to Tivoli: Frequent buses operated by Cotral run from Rome to Tivoli along the Via Tiburtina. They depart from a bus station outside Ponte Mammolo Metro station on Linea B, nine stops from Stazione Termini. This bus service stops on the main road, the Via Tiburtina, about a mile from Hadrian's Villa. Ask the driver where to get off, then walk along the suburban Via di Villa Adriana to the site's entrance. An alternative service from Rome to Tivoli, which runs along the Via Prenestina, stops nearer to the villa, but is very infrequent.

Villa Adriana

From Tivoli to the Villa Adriana. An alternative is to catch a second bus out from Tivoli to the archaeological site. A local company called CAT runs a bus service (numbers 4, 4X) from Tivoli to the suburbs near the Villa Adriana. It calls at various bus stops in Tivoli including Piazza Garibaldi. Tickets cost 1 per journey and can be bought at the CAT office, shops and news-stands in Tivoli and from a bar opposite the bus stop (buy your return ticket in advance). Ask the driver where to get off, as the bus drops you a few hundred yards from the site. To return towards Tivoli, leave the villa, walk past the little park and continue straight along the road for a few yards till you find a bus stop. Since the CAT local bus takes the same Via Tiburtina route up into Tivoli as the Cotral buses, you can cross the road and change to the Rome-bound service without riding all the way back into Tivoli.

Planning a day trip

If you are prepared for a long day sightseeing, I would recommend visiting both Tivoli and Hadrian's Villa. Arriving in Tivoli in the morning, you can spend a couple of hours visiting the town and perhaps seeing one of the other two villas. Then after lunch (or bringing a picnic), set off in the CAT bus to the Villa Adriana. You can then return to Rome by one of three methods: catch the occasional Via Prenestina bus, walk back to the Via Tiburtina to catch the frequent Rome Cotral bus, or take the CAT service either to the Via Tiburtina or all the way back into Tivoli and change there for a Rome service. It can be slow getting back into Rome during the rush hour, so it's worth considering visiting on a Saturday when the roads may be clearer.
> Tivoli travel and tourist information
> Tivoli hotels and B&Bs

Reading, preparation and further interest

To add to the experience of the Villa Adriana, Marguerite Yourcenar's fictionalised 'autobiography', Memoirs of Hadrian, provides a moving and learned portrayal of the man who ruled most of the known world, and built this grand villa. The little square at the entrance to the villa is now named after Yourcenar.

Most of the sculptures and some of the architectural features from the villa have been distributed throughout other museums. You can see some marble sculptures from this site at the British Museum in London, including a marble bust of Hadrian himself. The Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome was built by Hadrian as his mausoleum; he also rebuilt the Pantheon.

The Blue Guide to Rome contains several informative pages on the Villa Adriana, including a plan of the archaeological site.

On this site


Castelli Romani

Rome day trips


Lazio transport

Useful external links

Viator excursion from Rome to Tivoli

Tivoli area hotels

British Museum finds from Hadrian's Villa

CAT Tivoli buses

COTRAL buses

Italy car hire


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