Archaeologists discover breakfast room where Roman emperor Hadrian and his wife held elaborate meals to display their power 1,900 years ago
- The grandiose setting was located in the sprawling, 200 acre, Villa Adriana in Tivoli, 20 miles from Rome
- From 128 AD, the villa became the official residence from within which Hadrian directly ran his empire
- The villa complex would have played host to a full court as well as visiting dignitaries and bureaucrats.
- Hadrian and wife, Vibia Sabina, would have breakfasted in front of two fountains, silhouetted by the sun
- This carefully designed scene, amid the grandiose villa, would reinforce the Emperor’s status to onlookers
The room in which the Roman emperor Hadrian and his reportedly long-suffering wife Vibia Sabina likely held elaborate power breakfasts some 1,900 years ago has been discovered.
Archaeologists identified the setting within the Villa Adriana, a sprawling 200-acre complex at Tivoli that was initially built for the emperor as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of Rome in around 120 AD.
By the year 128 AD, however, Hadrian began governing the empire directly from the villa, which would have played host to a large court and numerous visiting guests and bureaucrats.
An avid scholar of art and history, Hadrian played a key role in the design of the complex, with buildings named for and reflecting the styles of places he had once visited on his travels.
It therefore merged both Roman and ancient Greek architecture — and was similarly decorated with Greek figures, such as copies of the Caryatids seen at the Acropolis and statues known as Poikilos.
It even had an Egyptian-themed area — Canopus, named for the city in which Hadrian’s lover, Antinous, drowned — with a long, rectangular reflecting pool to represent the Nile in which the young man met his end.
Each of the carefully crafted rooms and structures would have established the Emperor’s taste and power — reinforcing his status among his watching courtiers.
The room containing the table at which the emperor Hadrian and his wife likely held elaborate power breakfasts some 1,900 years ago has been discovered. Pictured, the Villa Adriana
Arguably the grandest part of the villa was the so-called Maritime Theatre, a 35-room complex isolated from the rest of the complex by a marble-lined, ring-shaped pool. Thought accessible by means of two retractable wooden bridges, the 130-feet wide island enclosure would have been used by Hadrian as a sort-of retreat — a ‘villa within a villa’, as it were — with a design partly inspired the layout of a typical Roman home
At its centre, the Maritime Theatre would have featured an basin with a rainwater catching basin known as an ‘impluvium’, around which were nestled a lounge, a library, heated baths, various bedrooms with attached latrines, a library. Pictured: the Maritime Theatre as seen today. It may be familiar to British TV afficidionas as the location of one stand-off between Sandra Oh’s ‘Eve Polastri’ and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle in the BBC series ‘Killing Eve’
Initially built as a retreat from Rome around 120 AD, Hadrian (depicted left) began governing the empire directly from the villa by 128 AD, with the sprawling 200 acre complex playing host to a large court and numerous visiting guests and bureaucrats. Some experts believe that the land came via the family of his reportedly long-suffering wife, Vibia Sabina (right)
Hadrian, or ‘Caesar Traianus Hadrianus’ was Roman emperor from 117–138, and was the first cousin once removed of his predecessor, Trajan.
He was an avid scholar who travelled nearly every province in the empire and sought to make Athens its cultural capital. Despite his good works, his Senate found him remote and authoritarian, with others noting his enigmatic, curious and often cruel nature.
His marital relationship was said to have been unhappy — and, childless, the pair adopted to secure an heir and in Antoninus Pius, Hadrian’s successor.
Lying some 20 miles to the east of Rome, at the foot of the Apennine mountains, the Villa Adriana would have been surrounded by landscaped gardens, wilderness areas and cultivated farmlands.
Experts believe that Hadrian would began his days at the villa by taking breakfast on a marble platform in a flooded, semi circular room.
Two fountains would have spurted water into the air behind him and his wife, Vibia Sabina, while light poured in through a vast window, casting imposing silhouettes of the pair to those so favoured to be allowed to see them.
‘It was a quasi-theatrical spectacle,’ Villa Adriana director and Italian art historian Andrea Bruciati told the Times when the site was reopened yesterday.
According to the expert, the platform would have connected to four bedchambers, each with a latrine bedecked with marble panels and precious stones.
‘The villa was a machine that served to represent the emperor’s divinity. It was almost futuristic,’ Dr Bruciati continued.
‘Politicians could learn from him today,’ he concluded.
Arguably the grandest part of the villa was the so-called Maritime Theatre, a 35-room complex isolated from the rest of the complex by a marble-lined, ring-shaped pool which, in turn, was surrounded my a colonnade paved in white mosaics.
This setting may be familiar to British TV afficidionas as the location of the stand-off between Sandra Oh’s ‘Eve Polastri’ and Jodie Comer’s fashionable assassin Villanelle in the second season of the BBC series ‘Killing Eve’.
Thought accessible by means of two retractable wooden bridges, the 130-feet wide island enclosure would have been used by Hadrian as a sort-of retreat — a ‘villa within a villa’ — with a design partly inspired the layout of a typical Roman home.
Its centre would have featured an basin with a rainwater catching basin known as an ‘impluvium’, around which were nestled a lounge, a library, heated baths, various bedrooms with attached latrines, a library.
In the present day, access to the central island in the theatre is granted to tourists visiting the site by two permanent concrete bridges.
The villa’s design merged both Roman, Egyptian and ancient Greek architecture — and was similarly decorated with Greek figures, such as copies of the Caryatids seen at the Acropolis (pictured, by the Canopus pool)and statues known as Poikilos
Pictured: the so-called ‘Temple of Venus’ at Hadrian’s Villa. The design was a copy of the famous Temple of Aphrodite at Cnidos in Asia Minor, which reputedly housed the first nude cult statue of the goddess
Pictured: an artist’s model reconstruction of part of Hadrian’s villa. The building with the central pool is the Poecile — the Praetorian fort — while to its left can be seen the entrance and rooves of the Maritime Theatre
Pictured: an artist’s model reconstruction of part of Hadrian’s villa, showing the so-called Golden square
After Hadrian’s passing in the July of 138 AD, the Villa Adriana went on to be occupied by some of his successors — including, it is believed, his adopted son Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius and Septimius Severus.
In the 270s, the site is thought to have become the home of Septimia Zenobia, the deposed queen of Syria’s Palmyrene Empire. By the 4th century AD and the decline of the Roman empire, however, the villa fell into disuse, with valuable marble and statues having been removed.
The complex would go on to be used as a warehouse by both sides during the war between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantine Empire, with marble from the structure being repurposed to extract lime for construction using on-site kilns. Much of the remaining marble was later removed in the 16th century to decorate the nearby Villa d’Este.
Today, the ruined villa is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site — and, in September 2013, a network of tunnels beneath the site, which were thought to have been used as service routes for staff to move around the complex while remaining out of sight.
Archaeologists identified the setting within the Villa Adriana, a sprawling 200-acre complex at Tivoli that was initially built as a retreat from Rome around 120 AD
Pictured, the ruins of Hadrian’s villa. Today, the remains are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Pictured: the villa’s ‘Stoa Poikile’, a colonnaded walk (or ‘painted portico) copied from its famous counterpart in Athens
THE VILLA ADRIANA, TIVOLI
Hadrian’s Villa was built at Tibur, which is now known as Tivoli, around 20 miles to the east of Rome.
It was used as a retreat for Roman Emperor Hadrian during 2nd Century AD. The villa was started in 117AD and completed around three years later.
Towards the end of his reign, Hadrian governed the empire from the villa and built a court in order to have official meetings.
When the Roman Empire fell the palace was looted and damaged, but the underground network of tunnels beneath it remained ‘almost intact’.
The estate is made of over 30 building covering around 296 acres and includes palaces, thermae (spas), theatres, temples and libraries, as well as slaves’ and courtiers’ quarters.
There is also a pool and an artificial grotto named Canopus and Serapeum, respectively. They were named after the Egyptian city of Canopus, where a temple, called Serapeum, was dedicated to the god Serapis.
In 1998, archaeologists discovered a temple built in honour of god Antinous.
The villa was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
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