Friday, August 6, 2010

In which I stop in at Hadrian's house

Today was my second-to-last full day in Rome, and I decided to spend it visiting Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, about an hour or so outside the city by a combination of Metro and bus. After having breakfast here at the hostel, I got started at about 9am, first taking the subway almost all the way to the end of Line B in a direction in which I hadn't traveled yet, and then getting on a bus to take me the rest of the way.

Judy, I was thinking about you today, because I was remembering our conversation wondering whether there are places in Italy that are as ugly and undistinguished as Florham Park, NJ - the answer is that there definitely are. The majority of my ride between Rome and Tivoli was a tour of Ugly Italy, an endless string of brutalist apartment buildings, strip malls, sad office parks, and auto mechanics. Not all of Italy looks like Letters to Juliet - but the last short stretch up to Tivoli was quite lovely!

When I got to Tivoli, I knew I was supposed to buy a bus ticket from a tobacconist (I will not buy this record, it is scratched!) and then proceed to the bus stop for a local bus to Hadrian's Villa. I had no trouble buying the ticket or finding the bus stop, but then I jumped the gun and got on the wrong bus. I knew I was supposed to take an orange city bus, but the first bus that pulled up was a blue bus like the one I'd taken to Tivoli, and it had a sign in the front that said Villa Adriana, so I asked the driver if he was going there (he said yes) and then got on.

Turns out I did the wrong thing.

There I was, waiting merrily to arrive at my destination, when the bus pulled over at a random spot on the road and told me I needed to get off there for Hadrian's Villa. I got off, but there was no villa to be found, and I had no idea where I was or how to get back to start over. Finally, I spotted a sign for the auto route to the villa pointing up a different street, so I decided to walk in that direction, occasionally seeing more auto signs. I finally made it to the villa after walking for at least a mile along roads that had no shade. So all was not completely lost.

The scenery in and around Hadrian's Villa was just lovely:

I'm really starting to develop a great appreciation for cypress trees, and I can understand why artists like van Gogh painted them so much. They are gorgeous and evocative exclamation points that appear all over the countryside, and I'm going to miss them when I go home.

Here I am in front of (I think) the so-called stadium:

That lanyard around my neck is attached to one of the villa's audio guides. This is the first time that I've rented an audio guide in Rome, and I did it because it's been a while since I last studied the layout of Hadrian's Villa, and I thought it might help me make the most of my trip and maybe even teach me a few new things. I'm not sure how successful this was - more than anything else, having the audio guide increased my stress level as I did my best to hit the numbers on the map in the right order. I may have been better off just looking around on my own and reading signs.

The other disappointing thing was that, compared to Ostia, there were very few ruins open for visitors to walk inside and see interesting things. For the most part, the paths direct you to stand outside a ruin and admire the outside, rather than experiencing it from within. I really like walking through ruins, so this made me sad. But such is life.

I did my best not to let it bother me too much - here's the best shot I could get of the Teatro Marittimo:

This tiny island was created by digging a moat around a very small space, and then covered with a sumptuous private residence for the emperor. This was the one place in the villa where I really felt close to Hadrian - it says a lot about the man that he valued his privacy enough to build himself a tiny island retreat within his already somewhat secluded country villa, complete with drawbridges to keep out unwanted visitors. When I stared at the moat, which Hadrian sometimes used for swimming, I was able to imagine a man swimming in them with the features of Hadrian as they have been handed down through his portraiture. I was glad to have this chance to think a bit more intimately about Hadrian.

Here is one view of the Golden Square:

This was an open area toward the edge of the villa. My audio guide made a lot of fuss about the innovative nature of the octagonal building at the center of this picture, and how it reflected on Hadrian's interest in architecture. Pretty neat!

And finally, the Canopus, Hadrian's mini-Nile:

For those of you keeping score at home, Hadrian's male lover Antinous was only mentioned once in the audio guide, not in reference to this part of the villa, and the guide referred to him as "Hadrian's young favorite." But personally, I would have thought this would have been a natural place to discuss Antinous. You know, it might be important to know that the emperor's boyfriend drowned in the Nile River when trying to figure our why he made a shrine to the Nile and to the Egyptian gods in his house. Just sayin'.

I think that's all I can handle tonight - I am too tired to organize any more thoughts, and I have to try to sleep somehow with the snoring of the guy in the next bed over. Thank goodness for earplugs!

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