Tivoli: a step back into historic luxury

Hadrian's Villa
The town of Tivoli

Once you’ve roamed the Roman Forum and seen how the Roman aristocracy worked and you’ve toured the Colosseum and seen how they were entertained, come to Tivoli and see how they relaxed. Tivoli is a town of about 55,000 20 miles (33 kilometers) east of Rome tucked high in the Alban Hills. 

It is home to two of the most luxurious sites in Lazio: Hadrian’s Villa, built by the popular Emperor Hadrian between 117-138 AD, and Villa d’Este, a 16th century outdoor paradise with beautiful fountains, tree-lined walkways and landscaped grottoes. 

Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The town is pleasant and at 740-foot (225 meters) elevation, it’s a good place to escape Rome’s summer heat. They are only a mile and a half apart and can easily be seen in a day with handy local transport. The villas’ ruins are hardly ruined at all. 

They’re remarkably well preserved and while you can no longer swim in the pools or bathe in the fountains, you’ll get a feel for life in Rome’s greatest periods: the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. At least it was for those in power.

Hadrian's Villa
Hadrian's Villa
Tivoli Villa D'Este
Hadrian's Villa
Ancient wall of Hadrian's Villa
The Canopo at Hadrian's Villa

Things to do

1 • Hadrian’s Villa: Emperor Hadrian made one of his marks in Rome with architecture. He had the Pantheon rebuilt to what you see today and also built Castel Sant’Angelo, the massive castle across the river from Rome’s Centro Storico. But he also built a huge villa on 250 acres, bigger than the city of Pompeii. It featured 30 buildings, 100 fountains, swimming pools, long lines of statues, an enormous bathhouse, a canal inspired by the Nile and a vestibule with skylight. You can walk through the Grande Terme, a huge bathhouse complete with a gym, Turkish baths and a frigidarium to cool down. It’s lined with mosaics and bricks.

2 • Canopo: The highlight of Hadrian’s Villa is Canopo, a 120 x 20-meter pool lined with statues with Egyptian themes. He named it after the Egyptian town of Canopus where his young gay lover, Antinous, drowned, causing Hadrian to “weep like a woman.” You can see orange Koi swimming around the pool and take an ancient staircase one floor for a more panoramic view. Much of the villa’s design is Greek as Hadrian was obsessed with Ancient Greece. Originally from Spain, he came to Rome to study as a teenager and became obsessed with the Classics.

3 • Villa d’Este: Originally a Benedictine convent, Villa d’Este was converted into lavious gardens by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este in the late 16th century. Walk along the tree-lined paths and marvel at the huge fountains spewing waterfalls. Enter the villa through Piazza Trento next to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Go to the courtyard and see the Fountain of Venus, the only fountain that has kept its original appearance. It’s framed by two Doric columns and topped with a fourth century marble bust of Emperor Constantine. Before reaching the gardens, you’ll go through a manicured park with water pouring from gargoyles and walking paths lined with cypress trees. Bernini designed the Fountain of the Organ where water pressure plays music through a concealed organ.1 

Hadrian’s Villa, €12, 39-07-74-38-2733,  www.villa.adriana@coopculture.it, 8:15 a.m.-5 p.m. through Feb. 26; 8:15 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Feb. 27-March 26; 8:15 a.m.-7:30 p.m. March 27-Sept. 17.
Villa d’Este, €19, 8:45 a.m.-5 p.m., prenotazione@coopculture.it, 39-07-74-33-2920.

Where is it?

20 miles east of Rome

How to get there: Cotral buses leave every two hours from Rome’s Tiburtina station to Tivoli’s Piazza Garibaldi. The 47-minute trip is €2-3. Trains leave hourly from Tiburtina station for Tivoli. The one-hour trip is €3. By car, take Via Tiburtina or A24, the Rome-L’Aquila autostrada. Between Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este is 1 1/2 miles (2.3 kilometers). Buses leave every four hours. Walk 15 minutes from Villa Hadrian to the bus stop. Villa d’Este is a four-minute walk from its bus stop. Cost is €1.

Where to eat?

Villa Esedra, Via di Villa Adriana 51, 39-07-74-534-913, https://www.ristorantevillaesedra.it/, noon-3 p.m., 7:30-11 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday. Located 200 meters from Hadrian’s Villa, it has an elegant setting indoors or, in summer, tables in the garden in the shade of pine trees. Try the straccetti tacchino (wide, ribbon-like pasta with turkey) or scampi risotto (thick rice soup with prawns).
Lunch for two with wine and dessert was € 50.

For more informations

Tourist information point, Piazzale delle Nazioni Unite, 39-07-7431-3536, 10 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.

The Seraneum at Hadrian's Villa