Villa Adriana, Villa d’Este, and the Subiaco Monastery

Day 8 – Villa Adriana, Villa d’Este, and Subiaco Monastery

Daily Wrap-Up

One Word
  • Barb: Details
  • Mike: Privilege
  • Jen: Stories
Two Words
  • Barb: Decorated debris
  • Mike: Fountains everywhere
  • Jen: Wall-to-rock-wall art
Three or Four Words
  • Barb: Rooms upon rooms
  • Mike: Cool monastery, wacky Catholics
  • Jen: I can stitch that
One Sentence
  • Barb: I want Villa d’Este to be my home.
  • Mike: Being rich, or perhaps even emporer, definitely has an up side.
  • Jen: I want to oversee the painting of a castle: Different rooms will depict stories from great novels.
Hadrian's Villa Maritime Theater

The Maritime Theater in Hadrian’s Villa.

Mike and Barb think I’m playing fast and loose with my Wrap-Up rules, what with the compound modifier in my two words and the colon in my sentence.

They are wrong.

Today we traveled south to visit Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), Villa d’Este, and the Benedictine Monastery in Subiaco.

Today’s themes: Grand scales, Colors, Patterns

The Grand Baths at Hadrian's Villa

Inside the Grand Baths at Hadrian’s Villa.

Grand Scales

Wow. Wow. Wow! Everything today was huge! In size, scope, and the fun and pleasure I had seeing it.

Our first stop was Emperor Hadrian’s Villa, built in the 2nd century AD. The villa encompasses about 250 acres and has some 30 buildings. Hadrian was a well-traveled man, and he brought home to the Villa ideas, styles, and names from other places, namely Greece and Egypt. There were enormous, beautifully decorated pools, libraries, theaters, and living quarters, as well as pillars, domes, statues, and mosaics.

The deterioration is significant, and birds seem to have moved in and taken over. The countless nooks, crannies, ledges, and holes make excellent nesting areas. Nowadays, it’s Hadrian’s Bird House. Just as the villa was spectacular in its day, the bird house is spectacular now.

The Great Thermae at Hadrian's Villa

The Grand Baths (Great Thermae) at Hadrian’s Villa…from the other side.

The Canopus at Hadrian's Villa

The Canopus at Hadrian’s Villa, modeled after an Egyptian site. The far end has been identified as a grand “triclinium,” dining room, used for summer parties and banquets.

Caryatids in the Canopus at Hadrian's Villa

Copies of Greek “caryatids” along one side of the pool in the Canopus. Caryatids are statues of women that take the place of columns.

Jen and Barb as caryatids

Twenty-first century American caryatids in Hadrian’s Villa.

Our second stop was Villa d’Este. This villa in Tivoli was built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este in the 16th century. It stayed within that family until 1624 when it passed to the Habsburgs. After WWI it became a property of the Italian State. The property includes a grand house with room upon room of wall-to-wall-and-ceiling frescoes. The paintings portray stories and myths, but my favorite parts might have been the fancy borders and fillings between the story paintings. They’re just random decorative designs, but they are everywhere, unsung heroes adding busy beauty to the big picture while allowing the focus to remain on the story images.

Even more fantastic than the house is the terraced garden with its gazillion fountains. A number of art pieces from Hadrian’s Villa ended up here, appropriated when the villa fell into disuse. I got some ideas for my 17 acres!

Part of the garden at Villa d'Este

Part of the garden at Villa d’Este

A fountain in the garden at Villa d'Este

A fountain in the garden at Villa d’Este. (Jen, Mike, Barb)

Our third and final stop was the 12th-century Abbey of San Benedetto, a monastery in Subiaco built onto a mountainside, incorporating the cave St. Benedict lived in for three years as a hermit. The human stonework blends right into the rock of the mountainside; in some places it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other begins.

Like Villa d’Este, the monastery is painted wall-to-rock-wall with frescoes telling St. Benedict’s story and more. Again, I was attracted to the non-storytelling elements, the bright colors, and just the enormous scope of the artwork and decoration. It’s overwhelming, impossible to take in completely. My eyes skimmed over everything and picked out a few details here and there to really look at.

It’s fun to do this with Barb and Mike because we share the things that catch our eyes and what they make us think of. Barb’s the art history pro, and she knows a lot of the stories and characters the images portray.


Another thing I especially loved was the bright, vivid color. I love being surrounded by color.

You know how the Greek and Roman ruins are white? Well, they’re only white because the color has worn away. When those columns and walls were young, they were brightly colored.

That’s something I learned in the Great Courses we watched prior to coming here. What a happy discovery!

One of many scenes at Villa d'Este

One of many scenes at Villa d’Este.

Funny painting at Villa d'Este

If you look closely, you discover some great tidbits, like this funny guy. At Villa d’Este.


My favorite area of Hadrian’s Villa was the Hospitalia. Small rooms lined each side of a wide hall, and the floor in each room was tiled in fancy mosaic patterns, all of them different.

Initially, we interpreted “Hospitalia” as “hospital,” as in a place sick people would go, but the fancy flooring makes more sense interpreted as “hospitality area” or guest quarters. Sometimes it pays to read those signs posted here and there at historical sites.

Every cool mosaic makes me think, “I can stitch that.”

Black and white mosaic patterns

Mosaic floor patterns in the Hospitalia at Hadrian’s Villa.

Categories: Italy, Travel

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