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Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli: A virtual tour

A virtual tour of Hadrian's Villa using a 3D digital model of the villa created under the direction of Dr. Bernard Frischer. The ruins of Hadrian's Villa, in the town of Tivoli, near Rome, is spread over an area of approximately 250 acres. Many of the structures were designed by the Emperor Hadrian who ruled from 117 until his death in 138 C.E. This virtual rendering is based on current archeological research and has been created in consultation with art historians, archaeologists, and museum curators with expertise in this area. Please note, a few features are necessarily assumptions based on the best available evidence. Speakers: Dr. Bernard Frischer and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] BETH HARRIS: Here we are in a virtual world that recreates Hadrian's Villa the way that it looked in the second century AD, created by Dr. Bernie Frischer. And Bernie, you're here in the virtual world with us. BERNARD FRISCHER: Yes, I'm really Hadrianos. You're seeing me right now. So this is really my place. I built it between 117 and when I died in 138. And now I've come back to earth and to life to show you around. BETH HARRIS: And I notice that you have a beard, but I don't think most emperors did before you. BERNARD FRISCHER: One ancient biographer said it was because I had acne and was trying to hide it, but that is not true. The real reason is I loved Athens and the Athenian philosophical schools, and all philosophers wore beards. BETH HARRIS: And here we are in your villa, which is located outside of Rome. So how long did you work on this? BERNARD FRISCHER: Really from the moment I became emperor in 117. I started thinking, wouldn't it be good to have a government retreat, outside of Rome, but near Rome? And one reason that I thought that was that, unfortunately, in my early days as emperor, in 117, I had to put three senators to death. So that always made me a little bit sheepish about being in Rome. BETH HARRIS: How big is this villa? BERNARD FRISCHER: Well, you would say about 200, 250 acres. And there are 30 major building complexes. I was an amateur architect, and I just kept building and building. I was a bit of a maniac when it came to building. My predecessor and relative's chief architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, said some very unkind things about a building I designed in Rome, so I forced him to commit suicide. But that just shows how much I loved architecture. BETH HARRIS: There are libraries here. There are temples. There are living quarters. There are baths. BERNARD FRISCHER: There are sculpture gardens, ponds, and fountains. There are dining halls, indoor winter dining halls, and outdoor summer dining halls. So you really can have a good time here all year round. And it's kind of a city in miniature, Rome in miniature. BETH HARRIS: This was fabulously decorated. BERNARD FRISCHER: None of that lower class painted fresco for me. We used only cut marble on the walls and on the floors. And we brought in marbles from all over the empire to use here. Even we're now looking at this obelisk right in front of me, granite from Egypt. This is somehow expressive of the power of Rome in all of its wealth and resources. BETH HARRIS: Could you take us on a tour, some of the highlights of your villa? BERNARD FRISCHER: I would be happy to do that. So just follow me, and we'll go out to a road that's in front. We can see at the end of the road is a big structure, called the vestibule by you moderns that was the receiving area for all important guests coming from Rome. And you know, when you arrive, you tend to be a bit grimy and tired, so right next to the vestibule, we put a beautiful bath building. And then when you finished bathing, you could have a meal. And then if I did receive you, it would have been in one of the many audience halls in the villa. This is a hall that could actually have held hundreds of people. And the villa, in its heyday, for example, when the Senate visited me out here, could've had hundreds of guests. This is the very first reception hall. BETH HARRIS: I notice these lovely views when I look through the doorways and the windows. BERNARD FRISCHER: I'm very interested in views and I'm very interested in directing the gaze of the viewer to what I want him or her to see. Right now we're looking straight ahead at a very famous part of the villa which, I think, occurs in many textbooks of your young students. It's called the Canopus. And I put one of my most creative pieces of architecture there. It's actually a curved colonnade, and the part of the colonnade above the columns, we call the architrave. It's actually arched. Underneath the arches, I put some of my favorite statues. I wanted to make sure that even at the moment of arrival, my important visitors would be able to see and admire my design. BETH HARRIS: And the sculpture that decorated the villa, this is all inspired by ancient Greek sculpture, but also some ancient Egyptian sculpture. BERNARD FRISCHER: I had copies made of my favorite types of Egyptian, and Greek, and even Roman sculpture. But I also commissioned some new pieces. I had two highly talented sculptors who worked for me I brought from Aphrodisias-- in the middle of modern day Turkey-- Papus and Aristeas. And they made some beautiful pieces I am told are still well preserved today and can be seen in the Capitoline Museum. BETH HARRIS: Could you take us to see the so-called Canopus? BERNARD FRISCHER: I'd be happy to. We're down in the Canopus at the end looking toward one of my very favorite parts of the villa, the so-called Serapeum, the temple of Serapis. This is not a temple at all, really, but an outdoor dining area where we love to eat in the summer. So I mentioned that after you arrive in the vestibule and bathe, you might be invited to an audience with me, but you also might be invited directly to dine with me. You can see how I cleverly designed this place to be very refreshing, because it's filled with cascades of water from my own private aqueduct. The semi-circular structure right in front of us is a so-called stibadium. It's a big couch. And we could have 20 or 30 diners banqueting with us on that couch. Of course, we would put down our cushions. Right now, you're looking at a colonnade with Corinthian capitals. One thing you don't see is something I loved and that I revived in other parts of the villa, the Doric order. Not so frequently used in Roman imperial architecture where everything before me tended to be Corinthian, but I love the Doric order, as well. Again, it reminds me of Athens and Greece. BETH HARRIS: I also heard you were a religious man. BERNARD FRISCHER: I am. There's no one more religious than me. After all, I am a future god, and therefore have to maintain respect for the gods. I built temples all over the place, including right here at the villa. BETH HARRIS: Should we go visit one? BERNARD FRISCHER: So we've just teleported from the Serapeum to the so-called Roccabruna. That's just a modern name. On top is a temple in the Doric order. But even more interesting is the sanctuary of the goddess Isis that I put in a rotunda below. If you look around the sanctuary, there we can see the priest. We have a rotunda here that's actually 2/3 the size of the Pantheon. The candelabra that we see in front of us are decorated with bases that have images pertaining to the cult of Isis. We can see in front of us the statue of Isis, which is now in a museum in Rome. Isis was the queen of heaven. As such, she rules over not only the earth, but the sky. And her festival in Rome was on the summer solstice. We turn our clock back to the summer solstice at sunset. And now we look at the statue. We can see how I have aligned the statue in the niche exactly so that at sunset it would be all lit up on the summer solstice. BETH HARRIS: That's fabulous. And there's a frescoed ceiling in the dome? BERNARD FRISCHER: There is. The ceiling had a dome of heaven motif that I put in with the sun god on his chariot at the peak of the dome, the zodiac at the lower register of the dome. And look what we find right over Isis. We find the twins, Gemini. I put them there because the last day of Gemini is the summer solstice. So this is all oriented very much towards the summer solstice, sunset on the summer solstice, because that is a day very important to Isis. BETH HARRIS: I'm honored that you gave us this tour. Thank you. BERNARD FRISCHER: You're welcome.