One of my favorite things about my summer abroad so far is my History of Art in Rome class. What makes the class special is that once a week we take a field trip to historic sites in the city of Rome so that we can see the art we’re learning about in person (and even better, for free). So far, we’ve visited the Capitoline Museums, the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Pantheon, and lots of historical churches. While those trips are fun, what I like even better is our excursions—day long trips to fantastic locations that you can’t miss if you’re studying Italian art!
Our first excursion was this past Friday to Hadrian’s Villa, an archeological site of an ancient village-like palace built under the emperor Hadrian. While a villa just means a house with gardens, Hadrian’s Villa was more like a small town! It’s so large that archeologists haven’t even unearthed every part of it yet. Even after centuries of exposure to the natural elements and pillaging, the villa is still incredibly impressive and beautiful. Personally, I think Hadrian was one of the most interesting Roman emperors because he showed an appreciation and admiration for the foreign places the empire conquered. He was also an avid architect and philosopher, as well as a successful emperor. He loved to travel to the far reaches of the empire, and he built tributes to them in his villa.
One of the coolest things about Hadrian’s Villa was the Canopus, an area with a dining area for entertaining guest that overlooked a large fish pond. The pond and surrounding buildings and statues were modeled after a place in Egypt that Hadrian visited on his travels throughout the empire. What made the Canopus especially interesting was that it also had Greek influences, as can be seen in the Corinthian columns and statues. The villa also had well preserved bath houses, many other ponds, and a building called the Maritime Theatre where Hadrian was thought to retreat when he needed isolation. It even had drawbridges that could be raised to prevent anyone from entering.
After out time at Hadrian’s Villa, we traveled to Tivoli to see the villa there. The Tivoli Villa is a terraced garden that was built in the image of Hadrian’s Villa. They even pillaged some of the sculptures from Hadiran’s Villa and brought them to the Tivoli Villa. It is famous for its many magnificent fountains. One of my favorites was The Hundred Fountains, which, despite the name, has over 300 spouts! It extends the length of an entire wall and has many different animals and mask carvings spewing water. The fountains are tiered into three layers, and each feeds into the one below it. The Hundred Fountains was a symbol for aqueducts, which were incredibly vital for the construction and success of the Roman Empire.
I’m glad on got to visit these places with my History of Art class because my professor was able to tell us so much about the beautiful things we saw. Taking the class has also introduced me to a new way of looking at ancient art and architecture. Seeing these incredible locations definitely means more to me when I know the history behind their construction and purpose.