Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hadrian’s Villa ( Villa Adriana in Italian / Villa Hadriana in Latin) is a vast complex built in the 2nd century AD at the request of Emperor Hadrian.
Wonderfully well-preserved, Hadrian’s Villa is by far one of the most impressive ancient sites in Italy: a must-see for any visitor exploring Rome and its surroundings!
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to know more about the history of Rome? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city (in English). It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Are you looking for a hotel in Rome? Be sure to check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in Rome? Advice & recommendations
Are you planning your stay in Rome? Check out Captain Ulysses’ detailed article on the best things to do in the city: A Guide to Rome
Brief history of Hadrian’s Villa (aka Villa Adriana)
Hadrian’s Villa in Antiquity
Construction of Hadrian’s Villa
In the 2nd century AD, Emperor Hadrian forsook Rome and the Palatine Hill to build an immense imperial complex some thirty kilometers from the capital, in Tivoli (Tibur in Latin), on the slopes of the Tiburtine Mountains.
The choice of this location was no coincidence: supplied with water by 4 aqueducts, the site was until then occupied by a villa belonging to the emperor’s wife (Sabina) and was located near quarries of tuff, pozzolana and travertine.
Emperor Hadrian himself was actively involved in drawing up the plans for his vast complex and drew inspiration from the monuments that he discovered during his travels to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. The buildings of Villa Adriana therefore reflect the architectural traditions of ancient Rome, ancient Greece and ancient Egypt.
Construction work on Hadrian’s Villa began in 117 AD and ended in 138 AD (on the year of the Emperor’s death).
Daily life at Hadrian’s Villa
If Hadrian’s Villa seems at first sight to be built entirely in the open air, an immense system of galleries was actually hidden underground. They made it possible to supply the whole of the complex… but also served, it seems, as a parking lot to “store” the chariots!
Archaeologists estimate that Hadrian’s Villa could accommodate up to 3000 people: the Emperor and his court, philosophers and scholars under the protection of the Emperor, soldiers of the Praetorian Guard as well as countless servants!
When Emperor Hadrian died, his villa continued to attract Roman nobles. But the site gradually fell into oblivion after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
👑 Who was Emperor Hadrian? 👑
Emperor Hadrian was born in 76 AD, near present-day Sevilla, and died in 138 AD in Italy. He reigned over ancient Rome from 117 to 138. Hadrian was a poet and a philosopher. Historians consider him a learned and peaceful emperor who dedicated his reign to the appeasement of conflicts in the Roman Empire.
Hadrian’s Villa in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, Hadrian’s Villa became a distant memory and the site was abandoned for over 10 centuries.
Hadrian’s Villa since the Renaissance
Hadrian’s Villa was rediscovered by the historian and humanist archaeologist Flavio Biondo during the Renaissance.
The ancient complex then became a place of pilgrimage for artists who came here to seek inspiration (among whom the architect Francesco Borromini, who worked on the redesign of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran and on the construction of Palazzo Barberini).
In 1870, Hadrian’s Villa became the property of the Italian State, which launched major archaeological excavation programs.
Hadrian’s Villa today
The Villa Adriana was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Today, only a small portion of the villa (about 1/3) has been excavated: archaeologists still have some 80 hectares of ancient ruins to explore!
Visiting Hadrian’s Villa
💡 For information 💡
Hadrian’s Villa is located in Tivoli, as is the magnificent Villa d’Este, famous worldwide for its stunning gardens. Most visitors therefore decide to combine the visit of both sites on a day-tour to Tivoli.
A word of advice: put on comfy shoes! While only a minority of the Villa Adriana is open to the public today, it still represents almost 40 hectares (out of 120 hectares in total)!
The portion of Hadrian’s Villa which is open to the public comprises a good few monuments, including baths, pleasure gardens and buildings of all kinds. There is plenty to discover.
In order not to get lost and miss out on the site’s most emblematic buildings, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends that you opt for the audioguide (available in several languages | €5).
While visiting Hadrian’s Villa, don’t miss:
- The Maritime Theater : this is undoubtedly one of the most impressive buildings on the site. The Maritime Theater consists of an artificial island located in the middle of a pond surrounded by a peristyle (= a colonnade). Historians presume that this monument was a sanctuary.
- The Canopus: the Canopus is a rectangular body of water surrounded by columns, which is said to have been inspired by the canal connecting the cities of Alexandria and Canopus in antiquity (hence its name). It would seem that the Emperor dedicated this place to his deceased lover, Antinoüs, who drowned at the age of 20.
- The Baths: There were two thermal complexes at the Villa Adriana. The small baths were reserved for the Emperor and his court, the large baths for the rest of the inhabitants of the complex (apart from servants).
- The Pœcile Complex: the Pœcile Complex is a vast space comprising a huge rectangular basin (110 meters x 25 meters) which probably served as a pleasure garden.
- The Imperial Palace: The Imperial Palace was the residence of the Emperor and his court. It was originally the villa of Sabina, the Emperor’s wife (present on the site before the construction of Villa Adriana). Hadrian simply restored the building.
- The Hospitalia: this vast building comprising some ten rooms served, it seems, as a residence for the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard garrisoned at Hadrian’s Villa.
- The Hall of Philosophers : adjoining the Imperial Palace, this large hall served, according to historians, as a library.
You will also find a small museum on site where the statues found on site and spared by the many looters who robbed Hadrian’s Villa over the centuries are exhibited.
|November to January||9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.|
|February||9 a.m. to 6 p.m.|
|March||9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.|
|April||9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.|
|May to August||9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.|
|September||9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.|
|October||9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.|
Admission to Hadrian’s Villa is €10 full price, €5 for young EU nationals aged 18-25. Entry is free for visitors under 18 years old.
Getting to Hadrian’s Villa
Hadrian’s Villa is located on the outskirts of the city of Tivoli, some thirty kilometers from Rome.
Visitors have several options to get to the Villa:
- 🚌 The bus: from Ponte Mammolo station (metro line B) | Cotral bus line Ponte Mammolo – Tivoli | Bivio Adriana stop | 4 € round trip
- 🚃 The train: from Roma – Tiburtina station (metro line A) | €5.20 round trip then CAT 4 bus from Tivoli to get to Hadrian’s Villa
- 🚗 The car: if you’re planning on exploring the whole country rather than simply staying in Rome, the easiest way is to rent a car. Captain Ulysses recommends booking your car on Rentalcars, an online platform which compares the prices of a multitude of rental agencies (Hertz, Sixt, etc.).
- 🚐 Organized day-tour: you can also book a guided day-tour from Rome which includes transport, entrance tickets to Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa as well as the services of a guide.
More info here.
Note: the CAT4 bus line goes to Villa Este (in the center of Tivoli) from Hadrian’s Villa. To return to Rome, you can then take the Cortal bus a few steps from the Villa d’Este.
💬 Captain Ulysses’ advice 💬
If you want to get to Tivoli on your own, the Captain recommends taking the bus rather than the train (Tivoli station is not located in the city centre).
If you prefer to avoid a series of bus journeys (Rome – Hadrian’s Villa then Hadrian’s Villa – Villa d’Este then Villa d’Este – Rome), the Captain recommends to opt for an organized day-trip.
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions!
🎟️ Activities: as for booking visits and tourist activities, Captain Ulysses recommends three websites: GetYourGuide, Tiqets and Civitatis. Guided tours, cruises, skip-the-line tickets, tourist activities… there’s plenty to choose from!
🎫 Citypass: if you are staying in Rome for several days, it may be worth investing in the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card . As well as entry to some of the capital’s most iconic sites, these passes include access to public transport.
🚐 Transfers: if you want to arrive in Rome serenely, you can book your transfer from the airport to the city centre in advance. A car will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the city. Find out more: transfers in Rome.
🚌 Local transport: Rome has a comprehensive public transport system: metro, bus and tram. Access to public transport is included in the Roma Pass and the Omnia Card. If you wish, you can also opt for a hop-on hop-off bus tour which stops at all the top tourist attractions in Rome (audio guide included).
✈️ Flights and trains: to book your flights to Rome, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
As for trains, the Captain recommends Trainline to book your tickets.