To understand Rome you have to understand its history is divided into
would take two forms. First, the clear (and understandable) architecture
two periods. The first we are all familiar with: the ancient city. But once
of the Renaissance was challenged by the geometric complexity (and ex-
the Empire fell in roughly 500 AD, the city’s influence, wealth and popula-
cessive decoration) of Baroque architecture. This new style seems to say
tion declined during medieval times, until the city was actually abandoned
the world is a complex place, and to understand its mysteries you need a
(yes, it had no population). This occurred just before the Italian Renais-
guide, i.e. religion. Second, the Counter-Reformation led to a resurgence
sance when trading cities such as Florence were becoming dominant. This
of the power of the Pope and of the papal city, Rome. As a result, Rome is
was the time of the Reformation, when the supremacy of the Pope was
the Baroque city. With its history divided into two distinct periods, Rome
challenged throughout Europe. Of course, such liberalism would be chal-
sharply contrasts Paris, which has evolved without interruption since the
lenged by the reactionaries. The physical manifestation of this reaction
medieval city was born on Île St. Louis.
Foro Romano (500 B.C. to 300 A.D.)
VIA DEI FORI IMPERIALI
Basically, I think ruins are a bore. In most cases, there is too little left to
understand how people lived. There are a few sites worth a careful look.
There are actually two Forums in Rome. Foro Romano was built during the
republican period. There are numerous sites in this area to see, including the Temple of the Vestal Virgins and the great Basilica of Rome. This
building includes a central nave and two side aisles. It began as a courts
building and ended as a Christian church. This transformation is one of
the great political stories of all time.
Diocletian bi-furcated the leadership of Rome with two emperors – one
that would rule Rome (and Italy) and another that would rule the provinces. Constantine was born in Trier, Germany and rose to be the Emperor
of the provinces. Seeking to re-consolidate the power of Rome, Constantine marched on the city besieging it in 312 A.D. Seeking an ally within the
City’s walls he conspired with a Jewish religious sect that believed that
Christ was the savior. In the quid pro quo he elevated Christianity to become the religion of Rome after his victory.
The myth is that Constantine converted to Christianity; in fact he coopted the faith. Prior to Constantine the symbol of Christianity was the
fish, symbolic of the love of Christ. Constantine replaced this symbol with
the cross, symbolic both of the death of Christ and crucifixion, representing the power of Rome and the means of capital punishment reserved for
people who were not citizens of Rome.
Similarly, the Roman basilica, typically a judicial building, became the
prototype for the Christian church. It was as if the old empire slipped on a
new religious costume. Constantine had redefined a religion which would
now use the instruments of Roman authority as their symbols.
Just adjacent to the Foro Romano is the Imperial Forum that was constructed over successive generations by different emperors. With the
construction of this new Forum, the old one lost much of its importance,
becoming a gathering place for common people. Unfortunately, much of
the Imperial Forum is covered by a modern roadway. However, it is still
possible to trace its outline just north of the Foro Romano. Of certain
interest is the fact that Caligula built a wooden bridge from the Palatine
The Arch of Titus in the Foro Romano.
Hill, traditional residence of the Emperors, over the old Republican Forum
so he could reach the Imperial Forum without having to walk through the
throngs of ordinary people in the old Foro Romano. What a guy.
stroy Masada. For all this and a few other grisly reasons, Titus became
From the Arch of Titus, it is only a short walk to the Colosseo, erected to
Emperor. As a prelude to visiting the Colosseo walk across the Via dei Fori
honor Titus after his successful war to subdue the Jews. Study the bas
Imperiali and visit Nero’s Golden House.
relief panel inside the arch on the south side, there Roman soldiers are
pictured carrying away the Menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem. As
part of this campaign, he destroyed the second Temple constructed by
Herod, and began the Diaspora. With only a few exceptions, the Jews
were banned from the Temple Mount from 67 AD until the end of the Six
Day War in 1967. Herod left his subordinate, Flavius Silva, in charge of
the cleanup operation, which included the three year campaign to de-
Colosseo (72 - 82 A.D.)
The Coliseum is the postcard-picture building that more than anything
else symbolizes Rome. The building in fact deserves its reputation. One
of the largest sports venues in the Roman Empire, the level of technical
sophistication in the structure could rival any modern US arena. Layers
of circulation space surround the building, giving easy access for spectators. Entering the enclosure, the underground vaults that housed animals, gladiators, and Christians can be seen from above. At times, the
arena was flooded for the staging of naval battles. Around the top of the
arena you will see large brackets that held wooden poles. These were
used to suspend the vela roof - a fabric sunshade that could be drawn
over the arena, leaving a circular opening at the center for hot air to escape. After Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome,
the gladiatorial games continued. In 404 AD, a monk jumped into the
arena to protest the games. In response, the crowd killed the monk and
the games continued - now these were fans that really loved their sport.
And you thought the fans at the Garden were tough.
Note: If the line for tickets is long, you can walk over to the entry to the Palatine Hill and purchase a ticket that will give you access to both the Palatine
and the Colosseo. You can then skip to the head of the line.
Domus Aurea (65 A.D.) PARCO OPPIO
The Golden House built by Nero was a vast assemblage of buildings which
included a major lake. Only completed three years before Nero’s death
the building had a brief life before Emperor Vespasian began its demolition. The lake was drained and became the site of the Colosseo. Over the
years the buildings became the foundations for later Roman buildings.
Today many of the internal chambers have been excavated and it is possible to understand the monumental scale of an Emporer’s residence.
Pantheon (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE PARTHENON IN ATHENS)
PIAZZA DEL ROTONDA
This is possibly the best-preserved Roman building anywhere in the world.
Until the advent of the indoor arena in the 20th Century, it was one of the
largest interior spaces ever built by man. In fact, it is larger in diameter
than the dome of St. Peter’s. It was for centuries the a largest dome in the
world, only surpassed by Brunelleschi’s dome over the Duomo in Florence,
which remains to this day the largest masonry span in the world.
It was built by the Emperor Hadrian as a temple (Hadrian, like Thomas
Jefferson, was both a great politician and a great architect). More important than these structural details is the essence of the space. It is a
great, dark interior space, as high as it is wide, lit by a single round oculus
at the top of the dome. On a sunny day the lighting effect is spectacular. Hadrian invented a new form for religious architecture that would be
repeated over and over again (it must be like the guy who invented the
Early Christian Architecture and San Clemente
(built on a 4C Church from 1099-1108)
Via di San Giovanni and Via Celimontana
There are a few examples of early Christian churches in Rome. One of them is San Clemente. It is interesting only in its organization. There is a forecourt separated from the street in front of the church. This
outdoor space was used to lecture the recent converts to Christianity before they were allowed to enter
the church. In later churches, the need to have a space for the novitiates declines and the forecourt disappears. Once inside the space is dark and cool, and the art contributes to the sense of mysticism. This
sense of mystical space begins with these early basilicas and their influence reaches as far as the Gothic
architecture of France.
Baths of Caracalla (206-17 A.D.),
VIA DELLE TERME DI CARACALLA
In a bad case of dirty architectural tricks, Roman architecture is accused
of lacking originality, having only copied the Greeks. This is a bad rap.
The Greeks invented an ornamental system that is the basis of the Roman
system. On the other hand, Greek architecture is spatially simple - generally, their buildings contained single rooms or a series of rooms arranged
in a linear order. In addition, their sense of urban design was built around
the concept of a sacred path or sacred place with no thought of developing a hierarchy. In comparison, Roman architecture and urban design was
highly complex. Interior spaces were rich and varied. This visual richness
was supported by the development of the arch and dome - concepts the
Greeks did not understand. On an urban scale, the Romans conceived
a complex organization of spaces, plazas, and public buildings. Key to
these innovations was the Roman cruciform planning concept. In effect,
spaces could be related along two axes, instead of the linear order of
The Baths of Caracalla.
Greek planning. The richness of Roman planning can be fully understood
in the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. The cruciform planning theme is
used over and over again to relate major to minor to even more minor
spaces. In addition, the Roman fascination for arches, vaults, and domes
are evident in the building’s structure.
The Campidoglio (1538-1655 A.D.), Michelangelo
PIAZZA DEL CAMPIDOGLIO
The Baths of Caracalla.
From the Foro Romano there is a stair that leads directly up the Capitoline
Hill to the Campidoglio. Pope Paul III, embarrassed by the condition of
the city, commissioned Michelangelo (herein after affectionately referred
to as Mike) to build this plaza to signify Rome’s re-emergence as the center of the world. This public plaza sits on top of the Capitoline Hill. The
space is defined by the medieval Senate building of Rome (Mike also did
the steps and new main entrance) and two angled museum buildings, built
by Mike or to Mike’s design by Rinaldi.
The high point is crowned by a statue of Marcus Aurelius (you know the
Emperor who was murdered by his son in “Gladiator”) and moved to this
location by Mike. Note, the statue is plastic, the original was moved in
the late 1980’s to a museum. If this had been a Renaissance space, the
Villa Guilia (1550 – 55), G. Vignola
façade would have formed a square or a rectangle in plan. Instead, it is a
VIALE DELLE BELLE ARTI
trapezoid, this shape gives the space an energy that seems to compress
the power of the Senate building between the aperture between the two
Completed by Vignola, one of the earliest Baroque architects, the build-
smaller buildings on either side. The view through this aperture is towards
ing illustrates two points: the decadence of the times, and the spatial
St. Peter’s dome seen in the distance (Mike liked the Pope). This compo-
sophistication of the Baroque. The building was built by Pope Julius III
sition reverses the orientation of the hill; in ancient times the buildings
as a suburban villa. Florence developed the Urban Palace as a building
on the hill faced the Roman Forum. The gentle crown at the center of the
type devoted to business and city life. The suburban type was usually
oval, topped by a statue of the Roman emperor, suggests Rome is again
constructed just outside the city walls, and was supposed to “interpret”
the center of universe. The orientation of the statue facing the Vatican
the transition from city to country. It was usually built for pleasure. This
suggests where the new center of the world can be found.
building contains nothing but some reception rooms, bedrooms, and the
gardens - you can imagine what went on in this place. Spatially, the build-
ing is fascinating. Think of it as a path, entered through a flat, imposing
To understand the wonders of this period, we have to understand the evolution of religious thinking during the period.
During the Renaissance, there was a relaxation in the strict control over
religious thought. Intellectually, man was seen at the center of the universe. This movement became known as the Reformation and resulted in
the decline of the influence of the Pope and the highly-centralized Roman
Catholic Church. The Reformation was also a response to the decadence
of the period. During this time, there was a succession of Popes who
viewed their position as a means to political power and earthly wealth.
These men were mean, greedy, war-like, and indulged themselves at every turn with the pleasures of the flesh. Not only were they corrupt, they
weren’t very good at it. They lost the wars they fought, their back-room
deals were widely reported, and everyone knew about their illegitimate
children. The Reformation was both a new world view and a rejection of
an old corrupt order, and Renaissance architecture, the architecture of
Florence, became a direct expression of this movement.
Of course, Church leaders would not go quietly into the night. In response,
they launched the Counter-Reformation. The Counter-Reformation was
less than successful for similar reasons. Even with these attributes, these
men were able to hire the best, and the resulting buildings and public
spaces are wonderful. They created an architecture which became increasingly complex, an approach to design which suggested that you
needed an interpreter (the Pope or other church leaders) to understand
the Villa Guilia.
urban façade. You quickly realize you are in a ‘U’-shaped building. From
than the columns at the upper end of the stair – this creates the illusion
the entry you can follow the arcades on either side - try this, the colon-
of great length and height. The Vatican Museum is dull: but you have to
nade leads to a small walled garden. Originally, these overlooked vistas
go through the Museum to get to the Sistine Chapel. Recommendation:
of the countryside surrounding Rome; they expressed the transition from
no one ever tells you to bring some binoculars, and you need them to see
city to country.
Now walk back to the starting point and look through the series of axially aligned openings. You see in the distance a statue in a garden some
distance away. As you walk towards this destination you rise upon a short
flight of steps and reach an overlook, which looks down three stories to
a tiny Nymphaeum (a portico supported by sculpted female forms). You
sense that to reach your destination, you must descend into the earth
(away from God, closer to the underworld) where you are tempted by the
female icons. If they allow you (they didn’t the last time I was there), you
will eventually discover a small spiral stair that leads up to the garden
beyond. The changes of level, the vistas, and the axes are all Baroque.
Notice that the scale is walkable and very comfortable. Italian gardens
are always human-scaled, showing nature perfected and man a part of
an ordered universe. French gardens are infinite, intended to be viewed
from horseback, expressing the power of the French state.
San Pietro (1452-1612), D. Bramante, Michelangelo and
PIAZZA SAN PIETRO
The evolution of this building illustrates the transformation from Renaissance to Baroque architecture. Study Bramante’s original plan. Although
complex, it is a series of square and rectangular spaces with a clear and
understandable geometry. Mike redesigned it, keeping the square plan
but increasing the ornament while decreasing its clarity, and, of course,
adding the monumental dome. Finally, Moderno extended the nave,
creating a true Latin cross form, and added the façade. It began in the
Renaissance and was completed in the Baroque period. The complex
includes two examples of Bernini’s work: the Baldacchino covers the altar mediating between human scale and the scale of Mike’s dome; and
the great oval plaza. Borromini - always hanging around - completed
the formal stair that is guarded by the Swiss Guards. The stair is done
in forced perspective; i.e. the columns at the base of the stair are taller
San Pietro’s Basilica.
PIAZZA DEL POPOLO AND POPE SIXTUS IV
Pope Sixtus IV sought to express the power of Rome in one of the most
brilliant and innovative urban design schemes of all time - truly a revolutionary development. The linear streets that divide and organize the city
were imposed by the Pontiff on the medieval city. The Spanish Steps connect two of these axes that pass near one another at the top and bottom
of a hill. San Carlos alla Quattro Fontane (see above) marks an intersection of two of these axes with four fountains – one on each street corner.
At Piazza del Popolo, three of these axes come together. Stand with your
back to the Egyptian obelisk and you can look down three streets at once
- these vistas are anchored by two almost identical churches. The obelisks you see around Rome were brought to the city by the Caesars as
spoils of war, and were used centuries later by Sixtus to mark key points
The Plan of Rome by Pope Sixtus V
in his grand re-design of Rome. In Piazza del Popolo, the architecture is
of much less significance than the urban design concept, which is truly
To guage the significance of this development, consider this chain of influence: The French came to Rome and liked the power of these concepts
and built the Tuileries Palaces, which formed the axis of the Champs Elysees. The French, so impressed with what they had done, built Versailles.
The son of a gardener at Versailles liked what he saw and sold the con-
Piazza del Popolo
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Borromini
Campidoglio by Michelangelo
Porto Pia designed by Michelangelo
Santa Maria Maggiore
cept to George Washington, and we built Washington, DC. Napoleon III of
France thought he was being outdone by the hicks in America and ordered
Baron Haussman to slice miles of axial streets through medieval Paris,
giving rise to the city we know today. Paris, Versailles, Washington, DC,
and it all started here.
BERNINI and BORROMINI
Piazza Navona (1652-66),
(BUILT ON THE FOUNDATIONS OF A ROMAN CIRCUS, SANT’ AGNESE IN AGONE)
Borromini and the Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651),
One of Rome’s most famous plazas, the apartments that define the space
are built on the foundations of a Roman circus - remember the shape of
the chariot race in Ben Hur. The dominant façade on the plaza is a church
designed by Borromini. The Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini is in the
center of the Piazza just in front of the church. Check out one of Bernini’s
heroic figures in the fountain: his hands are raised in front of his face,
which has a look of horror in his eyes, as if he is horrified by the ugliness
of Borromini’s church façade. Meanwhile, Borromini added the figure of
St. Agnese at the right end of the parapet looking down at the fountain
with her hand raised, seemingly scolding Bernini for (reputedly) stealing
the commission to complete the fountain. Let’s face it: this was a tough
The Fountain of the Four Rivers.
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1638-41), G. Borromini
VIA DEL QUIRINALE AT VIA DELLA QUATTRO FONTANE
Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale (1658-70), F. Bernini
VIA DEL QUIRINALE
These two small churches are only separated by a small garden along
the Via del Quirinale. Each is ovular in shape, but the major axis of each
is oriented in different directions. In this case, Borromini did the better
building. The façade is wonderfully plastic, undulating in and out, and if
you study the interior dome, I defy you to understand the geometric order behind the intersecting crosses, though you’re sure there is one. The
name of the church refers to the four fountains which mark one of the
key intersections in Pope Sixtus IV axis pushed through the fabric of the
medieval city. Finally, walk from the chapel into the next space, a small
rectangular outdoor garden - notice the corners have been filled with reverse curves. The geometry of even the simplest spaces is disguised in
Palazzo Barberini (1628-38), with stairs by
Bernini and Borromini
VIA QUATTRO FONTANE
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane , by Borromini.
You enter the palace through a long portico. Following the colonnade
to the left, you encounter a wonderful square stair designed by Bernini.
However, if you follow the colonnade to the right, you find a wonderful,
but much smaller oval stair designed by - you guessed it - Borromini.
These guys took no prisoners. The importance of these stairs and others,
such as the Spanish Steps, is also very Baroque. In a Renaissance building the stair is hidden - it is too dynamic, disturbing the sense of peace
with the universe. With the dynamism of the Baroque, the stair becomes
a perfect expression of the movement.
Bernini decided the perfect stair
would be square in plan, while
Borromini designed an elliptical
Trevi Fountain (1732-62), N. Salvi
the most part, remained unchanged since Sixtus had constructed his
VIA DELLA CONSULTA
interventions on the old city. These changes were intended to add the
public buildings needed by a modern government and improve traffic flow
Okay, okay: so this is the only site that we have to see that has no re-
through the city. Up until the mid-Twenties, these changes were within
deeming architectural value. It is Disneyesque at best.
the traditional boundaries of the city. In the early Thirties, Mussolini’s
planners decided to build a new city center known as EUR on the outskirts
of the city. This new center would include buildings for both business and
government. Perhaps the best building in the complex is the Palazzo dei
Ricevimenti e dei Congressi.
FASCISM AND THE ITALIAN FUTURISTS
Before World War I there was a radical artistic movement that has come
down to us as the Italian Futurists. This group included writers, poets,
artists, and architects. They espoused an out-of-balance philosophy,
which suggested that the future would evolve out of violence, rape and
warfare. Somehow, these intense physical experiences would release a
new level of creativity. Their work emphasized speed, motion, militarism,
and industry. Perhaps the most talented architect in this group was Antonio Sant’Elia. Before World War I he generated a series of remarkable
images of an industrial-like landscape of towering buildings, bridges, and
transportation grids. In the true spirit of Italian Futurists, he volunteered
for the Italian army and was killed in the trenches. After the war, this
movement led indirectly to the founding of the Fascist Party and the rise
of Mussolini. Unlike Hitler, Mussolini was a modernist. He encouraged
and supported a group of young architects with a variety of significant
commissions. In the end, these designers felt their work was co-opted
by Mussolini, transformed from a liberating statement to a celebration of
the new Fascist state. Most of the work completed during this period does
not measure up to the modernist designs completed in the European democracies of the period - France, Germany (before Hitler), and Austria
- but there are two developments that are worth the trip.
With the final defeat of the Pope by Garibaldi in 1869, Rome became,
for the first time since the Empire, the capital of a secular state. This
immediately lead to a series of plans to modernize the city that had, for
Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi.
When the Vandals invaded Italy, they used a simple method to force the
surrender of Rome - they broke the aqueducts. However, for a thousand
years the water still poured from these fantastic works of engineering.
This became a disaster in the flat, low farmlands south of the ancient
city. These areas became swamps for centuries. With the advent of the
Renaissance Popes, the aqueducts were repaired in order to “power” the
many fountains they built within the city to celebrate their own accomplishments. But these rulers lacked the will and the wherewithal to drain
the swamps south of the city. This remained a problem until Mussolini
came to power. One of his most successful public works projects was to
Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi (1937–42),
drain these areas and make the farmland productive again for the first
time in fifteen-hundred years.
PIAZZALE DEI CONGRESSI
Designed by Adelberto Libera, one of the young architects of the movement, this building was intended as a large meeting hall for major public
events. Mussolini favored symmetry in his modernism, and also called for
a new decorative order that would take the form of a Doric column with a
rounded capital and a shaft exhibiting the traditional “entasis,” the slight
bulge in the middle of the shaft favored by the Greeks. Libera favored
asymmetry and the complete elimination of decoration.
In the Congress Hall, he conformed to the demand for symmetry, but
dropped the rounded capital from his columns. The concept for the building is quite simple: a low, rectangular base defines the entry and provides
the supporting functions. Then a square block rises from the base topped
with a cross-vaulted roof that allows light to enter through high clerestory windows. On the eastern edge is a highly sculptural small auditorium
that was part of Libera’s original design, but after it was destroyed by fire,
it was rebuilt and improved by Paulo Portoghesi.
Where there is farmland, there are farmers and the need for towns. As a
result, this public works project included the building of five new towns.
All five are strung down the middle of the low-lying plain that leads to the
sea. The far end is anchored by Saubaudia, which is on the ocean and the
most successful of the five towns.
The most important building architecturally is the post office by Libera.
However, of most importance is the success of the town plan, which abandons the tenants of classical planning with its rigid symmetries and demonstrates it is possible to build a truly modern town based on asymmetrical relationships, and space that flows from one open space to another.
You might study the “farm” inspired mural over the main entrance to the
parish church – you will find Mussolini helping to harvest the grain.
Palazetto della Sport (1958-59), Pier Luigi Nervi
VIA CRISTOFORO COLOMBO 42
Designed by the Italian architect and engineer Pier Luigi Nevi, this is the
most important building in the complex built for the 1960 Olympic games.
Nervi advocated an approach in which architectural form grew out of the
structural concept for the building. This is a near-perfect expression of
this concept. The main dome is defined by a series of crossing and radiating ribs of concrete. As they approach the edge of the dome, the ribs
Chiesa di DioPadre Misericordioso.
converge on a series of equally-spaced points where flying buttresses
transfer the loads to the ground. Nervi inserts a clerestory of glass to
connect the edge of the dome to the bowl of the seating area. The light
flooding in from all sides makes the massive dome appear weightless.
Renzo Piano recently completed a new orchestra hall for Rome, but it is
not one of his better buildings. Zaha Hadid is working on a new modern
art museum for the city, but it is not completed yet. The most important
Palazetto della Sport.
new building in Rome is the Millenium Church designed by Richard Meier
Chiesa di DioPadre Misericordioso (2000-03),
VIA F. TAVOGLIERI AT LARGO CEVASCO
Rome has over four hundred churches, but most of them were built prior
to WWII. There were few parish churches in the rapidly growing outlying
suburbs of the city. The Vatican recognized this issue and proposed to
build fifty new churches. Of these one would become an iconic symbol
of the Roman Catholic Church in the new millennium. For this one church
the Vatican would sponsor an international invited competition for the
assignment. Working with a local architect, they went from a long list, to a
short list, to a list of invited competitors to be judged by a group of church
elders. One of the underground stories about this competition is that the
day the list of invited entries were being assembled and the competition
advisor pointed out that none of the finalists were Catholic and three of
them were American Jews. In the end, Richard Meier was selected to design the Millennium Church.
His solution is based around four solid elements connected by a lacy glass
membrane. The backbone of the project is a solid bar to the east, to the
west the nave is defined by three free standing curving shells. The glass
infill allows each of these four shapes to float in a visually stimulating
white space. Stark and sculptural, the building is iconic, it does represent
the Catholic Church in the 21st Century – but its contrast with the tired
and dismal worker housing that surrounds the building is symbolic in a
very different way.
Directions: From Via Prenestina, about 2 KM west of the Grande Raccordo Anulare (there is an exit off the ring road at this roadway), take
Via di Tor Tre Treste south for about 1.2 KM (make sure you stay on this
road because it bends around), take Via V.F. Frazzi west, this road will turn
into Via Tovaglieri, this road will lead to Largo Cevasco (sounds nice, but
Largo Cevasco is just an asphalt parking lot between a number of high
Chiesa di DioPadre Misericordioso.
Hadrian’s Villa (AD 118-134)
To escape the heat and malaria in the city, Hadrian built this resort village for the use of his court. As both an emperor and as an architect, he
designed the complex to reflect, in small scale, some of the sites he had
visited and admired throughout the Empire. This is a ruin worth visiting.
In cities such as Pompei and Ostia Antica (the ancient port of Rome near
present day Ostia) it is possible to begin to understand daily life in Roman times. But the planning of these towns is a straightforward grid. In
Hadrian’s Villa it is possible to understand the complexity and richness of
Roman urban design.
Toward the end of his life, the Emperor became despondent over the
death of his gay lover. It is rumored that he slowly sank into insanity,
deserted by the court, yet still the most powerful man in the Empire, he
wandered the Villa attended by only his personal guard and servants. It
is this image of madness amidst immense wealth which is the underlying theme. Visit the Maritime Theater, a circular arcade around a donut
shaped pool, which creates a tiny island, and imagine the Emperor alone
with his thoughts.
When the end came, Hadrian was buried along the Tiber atop a conical
hill covered with conifers. The hill rested on a masonry drum and was
accessed by a circular ramp running around the inside of the drum. In
medieval times, a castle was built atop the masonry base, and is today
Castel Sant’ Angelo. The circular ramp is still used to reach the castle.
Villa d’Este (1550-72),
Palace designed by
Pirro Ligorio, but most famous for the gardens
laid out by Ligorio and Giacomo della Porta
Perhaps one of the best know gardens in the world, it combines the traditional formal Italian garden with an amazing array of water “events.”
Built like Hadrian’s Villa to escape the heat of the city, the evaporative
cooling effect to the water makes this more than a visual success.
© Joseph Valerio