AAR April Walks and Talks 4: Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli, Plus the Hillside Town of Ciciliano

Looking toward Tivoli, from the hillside town of Ciciliano

The great villa constructed by the Emperor Hadrian near Tivoli between AD 118 and the late 130s is one of the most original monuments from Greco-Roman antiquity, and indeed in the history of architecture and art. Its emotional power and instructive potential have remained undiminished since its rediscovery in the Renaissance. Set among terraces of olive trees on a vast, uneven tract below Tivoli, the Villa’s remains are spread across an area twice that of Pompeii, with new major finds still emerging. For more than five centuries a long series of architects, artists, and antiquarians have come to draw and study the ruins of Hadrian’s extraordinary retreat, observe the animating role of water in its design, and appreciate its engagement with the landscape.

Among the latest in that series of visitors was an American Academy in Rome group that explored on 24 April a selection of the Villa’s pavilions, several of which count among the most innovative and sophisticated examples of Roman architectural design. Leading the group was Academy Trustee John Pinto (FAAR’75, RAAR’06), currently also a Visiting Scholar at the Academy. Pinto is Howard Crosby Butler Memorial Professor of the History of Architecture at Princeton University, and author—among many other publications—of a major work on the Villa Adriana with William L. MacDonald FAAR’56. That book is Villa Adriana. La costruzione e il mito da Adriano a Louis Kahn, published by Electa (most recent edition 2006), which has its origin in their Hadrian’s Villa and its Legacy (Yale University Press 1995).

John Pinto FAAR’75, RAAR’06 at the pool of the Pecile, Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana: the Small Baths (top); mid-18th century graffiti in stucco (middle); the Great Baths (bottom)

Villa Adriana: pool at the so-called ‘Canopus’ (top); the ‘Piazza d’Oro’ (first middle); the Island (= so-called ‘Maritime Theater’ (second middle); ‘Temple of Venus’ (bottom)

The day trip continued with a glimpse at the “Ponte degli Archi” along the Via Empolitana several kilometers east of Tivoli, where there are impressive remains of the Marcia and Anio Vetus aqueducts. The AAR group concluded the trip late that afternoon at the hillside town of Ciciliano (overlooking the site of ancient Trebula Suffenas), to see the rich, wonderfully preserved remains of the the town’s medieval, Renaissance and Baroque past.

A group from the local Ciciliano historical preservation society, Comitato Articolo 9, accompanied Academy Fellows, Residents and visitors in the climb through the town, on a tour that culminated in the Castello Theodoli, normally closed to the public.

The Castello rests on a perhaps tenth century foundation, fortified by the Colonna after they took possession in 1373, retaining control until the mid-sixteenth century. In the 1570s Girolamo Theodoli, Bishop of Cadiz, finished the irregular and somewhat whimsical layout of the fortress, which remained in that family until recent years.

 The Castello is notable for its 16th century prison (with bone-chilling prisoners’ graffiti) and panorama of the surrounding area—from which one can see (given perfect conditions) the dome of Saint Peter’s.

The town of Ciciliano. Above (top two), 18th century prisoners’ graffiti from the Castello Theodoli; bottom, detail from church of S. Maria della Palla (1759) designed by Gerolamo Theodoli (1677-1766)

Warm thanks to Francesco Poggi, Mario Ceccarelli, and all of the members of Comitato Articolo 9 for making the in-depth visit to Ciciliano possible.

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