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Maritime Theatre at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli

Video transcript

this is a place no one would have been unless you are really close to the Emperor we're in the so-called maritime theater but this is really Hadrian's inner sanctum inside is enormous villa complex it's a circular version of the Roman house so you have an atrium even with an improving you have bedrooms off one side you have a to blind them at the end of the main axis it's a classic Roman house but as a circle instead of as a square or rectangle so I'm gonna unpack that a little bit okay we have the axiality of a Roman house we have a view from the outside into the interior toward the atrium which would have been open to the sky and would have collected water into a impluvium below through explanted roof or comp luteum and then behind there to blenheim a kind of office or meeting space yes but in the form of a circle so it takes something which was a rectangle and encircles it by a moat and as we look toward the end through the axis that Hadrian aligned for us our eye moves past a shape that we don't expect in ancient Roman architecture and oval space surrounded by columns Hadrian had the idea of having this circle and on breaking the space up into smaller parts he inevitably generated ovals and we can see ovals are fragments of ovals all throughout and we know that this was seen by Liguria in the 16th century we surveyed the site Cardinal Barberini had Contini published the notes and plan of Liguria so this was known just at the beginnings of the Baroque movement in Roman architecture in the city of Rome with people like Bora meanie no circular buildings for something that Hadrian loved I mean this is the same size as the Pantheon and he's building this the same time that he's building the Pantheon this idea of the totality of the Empire the totality of the world in the figure of the Emperor and the circle according to the ancient philosophers was the perfect form there was nothing more perfect in a circle or a sphere so I think that appealed to him and then just the challenge of taking that rectangular form of a house and making it circular must have appealed to him on an aesthetic grounds if we look at the floor of the Pantheon or the walls of the Pantheon it the marble revetment Sui C circles and squares these basic geometric shapes yes in a creative sort of conflict giving rise to new forms Hadrian seats a really wanted his privacy yes looking back at the Imperial history he knew that there were a lot of attempts on lives of emperors but just in general Emperor's are always being pestered wherever they went there's an anecdote about Hadrian while he was travelling a woman stopped to petition him and he said I'm sorry I don't have time I'm too busy and then she said well then stop being Emperor Emperor's were expected to be available and here he could get away and he could invite just the people that he wanted to be with whether for business purposes or social so we have bedrooms here toilets there are rooms for bathing that you would step down into so they'd be at the level of the moat so as you sat in the bath water you could look out at the water around to push your duck over into the mud it's hard to imagine how luxurious this was now but as we look up we can see where this place got the name that it has now because we see relief sculpture with marine figures and mythological figures having to do with the water and there are some pieces preserved here on the entablature and even better pieces in the antiquarium on the site and it's a modest scale this isn't enormous it really feels like a retreat and I think that everything Hadrian did is on the human level I always say to people when they get to the Pantheon stop on the threshold hold your head straight ahead and you can just see in your peripheral vision the oculus the floor the sides of the Rotunda it's at the limits of the human here this is a more intimate comfortable space Hadrian was always dealing spaces with a lot of pomp and circumstance and very formal and stiff and and so on in here it was on a scale of a smallish house in Pompeii a middle-class kind of house so he could really feel I think more relaxed so an informal place for the emperor of Rome informal but we shouldn't say not luxurious because it's all marble it's all carved expensive materials and the workmanship and craftsmanship is of the highest level so the fact that it's small doesn't mean there's any sacrificing quality who knows what sculpture was here and what the fittings were what the furniture was he could have trumped the smallness of the space with the lavishness of materials and he and the craftsmanship of those materials something tells me that was the case you