The network of roads becomes subterranean in Villa Adriana, Tivoli

Giorgio Verdiani

The Villa was the tomb of my travels, the last encampment of the nomad, the equivalent, though in marble, of the tents and pavilions of the princes of Asia. Almost everything that appeals to our taste has already been tried in the world of forms; I turned toward the realm of colours: jasper as green as the depths of the sea, porphyry dense as flesh, basalt and sombre obsidian. The crimson of the hangings was adorned with more and more intricate embroideries; the mosaics of the walls or pavements were never too golden, too white, or too dark. Each building-stone was the strange concretion of a will, a memory, and sometimes a challenge. Each structure was the chart of a dream. Marguerite Yourcenar, “Memoirs of Hadrian”, Tellus Stabilita, p. 122

In terms of vastness, compositive complexity and technical mag-nificence, Hadrian’s Villa represents perhaps the apex of Roman architecture during the second century. Built compendium of the philosopher and traveller Emperor, it leads back to the meanings of his reign in the many buildings that stand today as ruins in a dense infrastructural network made of roads, passages, and hypogean pathways which today appear almost as a metaphor for the secret links that interlace Yourcenar’s text. Hadrian’s knowledge of the world and the artistic and architectural culture encountered in the various regions of the Empire not only influenced but also constituted the linguistic origin of the architecture of the Villa. There is no doubt that this place shows echoes of many different architectural styles, especially of Greek and Egyptian derivation.

The extension and organisation of the complex turned it into a manifesto of the architectural culture of Hadrian’s era of which a varied and wide set of aspects has been preserved to this day, and of which a definitive mapping of all its parts has not been made. A building system of uch dimensions at the time had surely shifted the problem of the single building to that of the almost urban scale, requiring adequate compositive and infrastructural conditions in order to resolve specific problems inherent to the movement of people and goods within the settlement. Thus the choice, involved in the planimetric and distributive definition of the project, of creating an articulated network of in-dependent and invisible connections in the areas devoted exclusively to court life.

There were to main purposes for this: to avoid having a direct view over the everyday service activities, and to create special spaces to be enjoyed during the sweltering Summer season and during rainy days. From the Roman road network, from the connections to the main supply and circulation routes, the pathways were inserted into the circuit of the Villa, which absorbed them and made them disappear into a hypogean network capable of directly providing the individual pavilions with all that was necessary. Ramps and stairways permitted access at the necessary points, connecting the surface to the underground yet maintaining the specialisation of the pathways.

In the Villa, today, a variety of these partially or completely underground connecting passages are still visible and some may be visited: some were built after an open-air excavation, then covered with vaults and walls in order to integrate them to other buildings or to disappear into the landscape; others were made by simply excavating tunnels into the tuff, of which there are wide layers in the whole area of the Villa. The name used for indicating the first type of these structures, those excavated and then completed with a built section, is cryptoportica, the same term which is often used also for indicating, erroneously, tunnels simply excavated into the rock.


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