As often this year, I spent a weekend in Rome last September. Instead of exploring one of the unlimited landmarks inside the Italian capital, I decided to drive 50 minutes outside of Rome. It was more than worth it. Today’s post is about this day trip from Rome, in the footsteps of Roman rulers: to the Emperors’s resort town Tivoli.
There are some attractions in and around Tivoli, but the two UNIESCO World Heritage Sites are especially worth visiting: Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este.
This imperial garden city was built on behalf of Emperor Hadrian around 120 AD. He excessively used it during his reign, which explain’s Villa Adriana’s second name: Hadrian’s Villa.
Villa Adriana flourished during the 2nd and 3rd century AD before it gradually fell into disuse, was partially ruined by Constantine the Great and later, used as warehouse during the destructive Gotic War (535-554) between the Ostrogoths and Byzantines.
Although the historian Biondo Flavio found interest in the villa in the late 15th century, scientists only really started excavations after the city of Rome purchased villa Adriana at the end of the 19th century.
Nowadays, you can admire a mix of architectural elements from Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt there. I vividly imaged loud crows in the baths and libraries, court employees roaming in the sculpture gardens, visitors enjoying the theatres, alfresco dining halls, pavilions, and private suites. There was even a fire brigade to ensure everyone’s safety.
In the end, I spent twice as much time as expected (almost 3 hours) walking around Villa Adriana. You definitely need comfortable shoes because you’ll probably cover between 2-5 km. If you go there in summer, don’t forget sunscreen and head covers because you’ll be exposed to the sun most of your walk.
Villa d’Este is a masterpiece of the typical “Italian garden” in a terrace layout. It offers a splendid number of fountains, water lilies, caves and water games. With no doubt, you’ll immeditaly understand why Franz Liszt got inspired and composed „Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este“ there.
Every little fountain has its own story to tell. I suggest you plan your itinerary through the garden a little before entering. While you cannot really get lost, you may need to return to the same alleys again and again in order not to miss important sights. Unfortunately, that’s why I must have looked a little lost during my visit.
I especially admired the Goddess Nature Fountain, or Fountain of the Abundance (La Fontana dell’Abbondanza). It represents Diana of Ephesus, the goddess of Fertility.
The spectacular Fountain of Neptune (Fontana di Nettuno) especially catches the visitors’ eye. It was originally built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1568.
I recommend you take a calm break at the top of this large fountain, in front of the water organ. At 10.30 AM onwards, every two hours, you’ll be able to witness the organ play.
Similarly to Villa Adriana, I had also underestimated the size of Villa d’Este. You could easily spend an hour or more inside the buildings. Outside, I climbed what felt like hundreds of stairs and walked around several sub-gardens. But the wonderful cascades and symbolic figurines are more than worth the time and effort.
I reached Tivoli from Rome by car
While Villa d’Este is located in Tivoli, Villa Adriana is in a more remote place. Theoretically, you can reach both destinations by public transport, with stopovers. However, I strongly recommend you spend some extra money and rent a car. You’ll be more flexible, save lots of time and nerves.
If you have more than a day to discover Rome’s surroundings, there are lots of other options beyond Tivoli. My blog post How to escape Rome’s hustle: Lago di Bracciano guides you for example to a nearby lake where you may for example even cool down during a swim or hike through protected areas.
In November I’ll be in Rome for a two-week workation. That’s the perfect duration to explore more of the eternal city. If you’ve got any recommendations for more off-the-beaten path destination in or outside of Rome, please let me know in the comments below .