HADRIAN must have delighted in forcing Patrician Romans to make the 20-mile (30 km) trek to his Tibur Villa in the rugged hill country east of Rome. Perhaps the surroundings reminded him of his native Hispania. Perhaps he just despised Rome and its snooty residents because he had been taunted as a youth for his "Hispanic" accent and provincial manners.
Whatever the reason, he spent most of his reign as emperor far away from Rome, traveling to the far-flung corners of his realm. And when he wasn't traveling, he resided at his Villa, far removed from the city he abhorred. Anyone who wanted to see him was forced to make the journey over hill and dale out to Tibur. In the days of the "letica" or litter chair, it was an uncomfortable and wearying ordeal. And it still is, even in these days of rapid transit and buses.
"He must have enjoyed making them come all the way out here," Flamen Antonyus Subia told Priest Hernestus as they waited for one of the notorious overcrowded and unairconditioned "Blue Buses" that ferry passengers from a suburban commuter rail station out to Tivoli — and then walking a couple of miles along dusty roads to the imperial compound. Arriving hot and weary, you then ascend a steepish incline to the walls of the Villa itself before finally arriving, out of breath, at the top of a small hill surrounded by magnificent pines, cypress and olive trees. It is then that you realize what Hadrian loved about this place. A cool breeze wafts across the hilltop, carrying with it the scent of pine, cedar and bougainvillea and other flowering plants.
Antonyus had never been to Hadrian's Villa until his Sacred Pilgrimage, but he knows the layout of the compound by heart, having studied its floor plans and schematic drawings for years. "So people would arrive here," Antonyus said, pointing to the entry portals only a few meters from the enormous bath complex. "And they would immediately be invited into the baths to freshen up before being admitted into the presence of the Emperor." Even in a ruinous state, the baths are breathtakingly enormous, towering the equivalent of six stories overhead. The private quarters are less easily discerned today, though Antonyus marched through them as if he had always been at home there. "Just imagine, this is where Hadrian slept," he said in awe. "And where do you suppose Antinous had his quarters? He must have had separate quarters of his own," Hernestus wondered.
"Somewhere with a nice view, no doubt," Antonyus speculated.
The Canopus area of the compound is still stunning even today. At the end of a long pool flanked by Greco-Egyptian style statuary is a seashell motif alcove.
"This is where they dined," Antonyus said with a sweep of his hand around the curved base of the alcove, "on dining couches all along here."
Very few tourists were there the day Antonyus visited the Villa, just one group from a charter buses and a few hardy souls who had made the rather harrowing trip on a careening and over-crowded public bus and the trek on foot from the bus stop.