Villa of Hadrian
Luxurious imperial villa from the first century CE
The Meaning of the Individual Buildings
The Villa Hadriana was renowned already in antiquity for its rich collection of buildings associated with famous places or monuments from other parts of the empire.
Such associations were very common among wealthy Romans, at least from the first century BCE onward. It was a way of displaying culture and learnedness. Marcus Tullius Cicero had, in his villa in Tusculum, buildings called Lyceum and Academia, referring to the famous philosophical schools of ancient Greece. Augustus had in his residence on the Palatine Hill in Rome an area called Syracusa because it was inspired by a part of the palace of Dionysios of Syracuse.
The plan for Hadrian's villa followed similar ideas. Due to the dispersion of the artistic elements of the villa it is not always possible to identify the purpose or idea behind a building, but some structures are very characteristic.
The Canopus refers to an artificial canal that connected the Egyptian city of Canopus in the Nile delta with Alexandria. The city Canopus was famous for its Temple of Serapis, which in Hadrian's Villa is identified with the structure at the end of the lake. The Canopus was built before Hadrian's first journey to Egypt, so it cannot be said to be a reconstruction of something he had seen on this travels.
The identification of the Academia in the Villa Hadriana is probably more insecure, as very little is left of the buildings in question.
There were probably more such associations in the ancient villa which we can no longer discern.
The representation of a foreign monument in a Roman villa is not meant to copy the physical appearance of the monument, but rather to represent the values and ideas of the original. Hence a Lyceum in a Roman villa would be a place of philosophical discussions, not an exact replica of the building in Greece. The owner of the villa might not even have seen the real Lyceum. The same holds for the Villa Hadriana. The "foreign" buildings represent ideas, they are not copies.
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