Villa of Hadrian
Luxurious imperial villa from the first century CE
The Building Process
The construction of the villa was begun immediately after Hadrian became emperor in 118 CE and a first phase of construction extended until 125 CE, when Hadrian returned from the first of his great journeys. He resided at the villa in the summer of 125 CE and probably stayed there regularly until he embarked on the second journey in 128 CE, so the central parts of the villa must have been fully functional and presentable as an imperial residence in 125 CE.
The villa wasn't completely finished in 125 CE, and apparently Hadrian also made minor changes and additions to the overall plan during his stay in Italy, so a second period of construction in 125-134 CE brought the project to an end.
Hadrian was very interested in architecture and himself a capable architect, so it is highly likely that he took part in the design and planning of the villa from the beginning and in detail. It is not known, however, who exactly the architect was.
Even though many of the buildings are associated with famous buildings or places in other parts of the empire, the construction techniques used are very Roman. Almost all the buildings are constructed in opus mixtum, a combination of cement, small tufa blocks and bricks, which is a technique invented by the Romans.
The construction techniques give the archaeologists some very valuable information that helps date the villa and the individual buildings. The bricks are often stamped with the names of the Roman consuls of the year of production, and this stamp provides a perfect dating instrument for the construction of the individual walls.
The imperial palace is constructed on top of an older villa from the first century BCE. It is now known whether this villa was still in use, or whether it was abandoned and in ruin, when Hadrian decided on the location for his new residence. In any case, most of the previous villa was demolished and removed to make room for the new villa, but some parts are still present, such as a cryptoporticus with mosaic ceiling under the imperial palace. Parts of the old villa might have been used during the earliest period of construction.
The first few buildings to be erected as part of Hadrian's project were the Maritime Theatre and the Hall of the Philosophers, which both have bricks with a 117 CE date, and the Heliocaminus Baths where many bricks carry a pre-123 CE date. These buildings can reasonably be seen as additions to the earlier villa. It is worth noting that the orientation of precisely these three buildings is unique in the villa.
The vast majority of bricks are from 123/124 CE, and they have been used in almost every building in the villa. This surge of activity was probably provoked by the news that the emperor was about the return to Rome in 125 CE. This also demonstrates beyond any doubt that the Villa Hadriana is a result of a single unified plan, and not an agglomerate of buildings that have grown over time.
Later bricks, dated from 126 CE and later, are also found, mostly in the Building with Peristyle Pool and in the Golden Court. These parts of the villa were therefore finished in the second phase of construction, but since they also contain older bricks, they were initiated during the first phase.
Concluding, the Villa Hadriana was built after a unified plan. It was constructed over an older villa, and the first buildings could be additions to the older villa, but when construction of the imperial residence started, the overall plan was already laid out. Most of the central parts of the villa was ready for use in 125 CE, but some parts were finished later, in the period 125-134 CE.
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