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Day Trip from Rome: Traipsing Around Tivoli

I took a day tour from Rome of Hadrian's Villa and Villa D'Este in Tivoli, checking off two more UNESCO sites. I was at the end of a 5 week trip through Greece and Italy and decided a day tour that handled all the transportation sounded like the perfect plan.

Tivoli is a commune of the metropolitan area of Rome, located strategically on the River Aniene. It was founded about 600 years before Roman times and became especially important during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. During the Middle Ages, Tivoli was controlled by the Papal States and was fortified with a wall. During the Renaissance, Villa d'Este was built and Tivoli continued to prosper. Today, its economy is based mainly in tourism and its quarries.

Hadrian's Villa is another archeological site that was buried by a volcanic blast. Much of the site is still unexcavated.

Hadrian enjoyed his summer home... he only ruled for about 20 years, so he accomplished a lot in his short reign.

One of the marks of Hadrian's buildings is that he used the local volcanic rock and a form of concrete as the base of all buildings. This base was then covered with a stucco-like plaster and painted with frescoes. Since he wanted to celebrate the breadth of the Roman Empire, he used ideas from all over; including Greece and Egypt.

The Grecco library is a twin to the Latin library adjacent.

The Sala de Filosofi (Hall of the Philosophers) is a covered circular salon that included a channel all around. Hadrian lived here during the early construction phases.

The Theattro was used for athletic and cultural performances.

The Hospitalia was where visiting guests would stay in a dormitory-like setting. Most rooms had 3-5 beds. The mosaic outlined where different beds were placed.

A few signs of the original frescoes remain.

The Caserma die Vigili was the barracks, located between the offices and the palace.

The Terme was the baths. This included a "frigid" bath, a tepid bath, a steam room, and a hot bath.

The Canopo is the pride and joy of the site, and it is easy to see why. It is an absolutely stunning pool surrounded by columns and statuary.


After Hadrian's Villa, we went into the town of Tivoli, walking by the old fortress to our lunch stop.

... and then carried on to Villa D'Este. The Villa D'este is a 16th century estate known for its terraced gardens with hundred of fountains, It is an Italian State Museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I truly enjoyed learning the history of this estate. It was built by the wealthy influential Ippolito Il d'Este. Born in 1509, he was brought up to enjoy all the finest things that life had to offer someone of his station. He inherited the title of Archbishop of Milan at 9 years old. Not being particularly devout, he used the church to gain even greater power. He would curry favour with those who needed to be impressed with musicians, prostitutes, feasts, and "rivers of wine".

When d'Este was made governor of Tivoli, he was unimpressed with the housing available and started construction of a new estate better fitting his standing. He drew inspiration from Hadrian's villa... even "borrowing" some of the statuaries and marble from the ancient estate.

The villa is a two level building with grand, uniquely-designed rooms. The art grotesque ceilings and frescoes are bright, lively and humourous. The large salon is the first room visited. From there you can wander through the others rooms, including the cardinal's bedroom.

The walls of the bedroom were originally covered with gold and silver-painted leather. Most of these decorations have disappeared in time but the wooden gilded ceiling still shows the Este crest.

You can also visit the chapel and library, adorned with frescoes that mix Roman and Christian symbols. The lower floor is known as the Noble Floor, with many ornately decorated rooms. Each room is painted with frescoes and mosaics unique to each room. Most are related to nature, mythology, or religion.

The largest room is the Hall of the Fountain, named for the fountain inside. It was the reception hall for greeting guests arriving through the garden (formerly the main entrance). It was also used for other social events.

From the villa, there are several stairways and paths leading down into the gardens. The effect is that the whole space feels a bit like an amphitheatre. It was a fabulous place to spend the afternoon. The hundreds of fountains and the shaded gardens kept the gardens cool and pleasant. Alfredo, the guide, was extremely knowledgeable and was able to answer my million+ questions.

There are hundreds of fountains... all powered by gravity and sourced by the Arno River (not the Tiber that services Rome)

The "Hundred Fountains" Walk is a line of lion-headed fountains pouring into a long trough.

And onto more fountains.... this was the freshest and coolest I have been over the last 5 weeks. There was a lovely breeze which splashed the water onto visitors, plenty of shade, and plenty of cold, potable water. The views were absolutely spectacular.

Some fountains seemed rather naughty which fit everything I was learning about D'Este.

This fountain reminded me of "Hamburger Falls" in Plitvice National Park in Croatia... the guide informed me that it was inspired by those same waterfalls.

At yet another lower level, are three ponds full of fish and turtles.

As I wandered the gardens, I found it easy to imagine the grand parties and the important visitors enjoying the estate. I would guess the family and visitors spent most of their summers outside in the gardens.

It is possible to visit Tivoli and the estates from Rome via public transportation but it is a bit complicated, which I why I chose a tour. Most tours leave from Rome and combine Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa on the same day trip.


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