The Treasures of Tivoli, Italy. Part One: Explorations of the Archaeological Complex at Villa Adriana

Nan, accompanied by the God of the River Tiber, at the northwest end of the Canopus, a giant pool (measuring 59 feet by 390 feet) which is just one of the many features built upon the vast grounds of the country villa and official residence of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (aka: Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus. Born 76 AD, Died 138 AD; ruled as Roman Emperor from
117 AD until his death.). Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites which are located in Tivoli. The other UNESCO Site there is Villa d’Este, which will be the subject of my Tivoli, Part Two.

Early 2018

Finally, Part One of a long-delayed but essential addendum to my article titled “My Recipe For a Stress-Free Week in Rome,” which I published several years ago [see link below].

https://nanquick.com/2014/12/21/my-recipe-for-a-stress-free-week-in-rome/

One of the keys for a happy week’s stay in Rome is to decompress by fleeing the city, every several days. Rome is one of the few places
on Earth to which I’m drawn, over and again. But the often fraught atmosphere of that city — its demented traffic, air pollution, badly-behaved tourists, and jam-packed historical sites — sometimes requires a Retreat, and there are no better — or closer —
escapes from All That than two UNESCO Heritage Sites in the town of Tivoli, which is 22 miles away , to the northeast of the Rome.

The 22-mile-long drive from Rome to Tivoli will take 50 minutes, once you’ve extricated yourself from Rome’s gridlock. For each of my 3 visits to Tivoli, I’ve hired a taxi for the day….a considerable expense, but one
which has allowed me to savor and photograph sites at my own pace. Inexpensive, day-long tours of Tivoli (via bus, originating from Rome) ARE available, but, organized/group travel never serves my purposes, and also makes me VERY crabby.

These incessant travels of mine, made to seek out the most interesting gardens and man-made landscapes, are not undertaken simply so that I can gaze upon all that is beautiful and marvelous. My curiosity about how such places were conceived and constructed is what propels my journeys. I visit each garden, be it vast or tiny, and always get to wondering: had I been this specific designer, living in this particular era, with this raw piece of land at my disposal … had I been cognizant of prevailing tastes and also familiar with the best local artisans, and aware of current construction techniques … had I been in possession of a bank account which equaled that of my predecessor’s … what would I have created here, on this site? With these speculations, I temporarily slip into the times, into the design-minds, and into the boots of these people, who all tried to build their very own versions of paradise.

The Central Ruins of Hadrian’s Villa. Image courtesy of Archeolibri

Main Map of the Excavated Areas at Hadrian’s Villa. Note: The clusters of ruins at the northernmost and southernmost ends of the site are not open to Regular Visitors. This map is shown, courtesy of Prof.Bernard Frischer, Virtual World Heritage Library, Charlottesville, VA, & the Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project.
Note: NORTH is at top of Map.

Aerial View of Villa Adriana, in the 21st century

Our visit to Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) must begin with a super-compressed biography of the Emperor Hadrian, who, we will discover, was the Villa’s principal designer. Born near modern-day Seville, Spain, Hadrian was adopted by the Emperor Trajan, and upon Trajan’s death, became his successor.

The Emperor Hadrian. Unusual for his time (in myriad ways), he sported a full beard.

Hadrian’s contemporaries described him as “prodigious and avaricious, tolerant and irascible, very approachable to common people, yet often touchy and fickle with his friends.” A true polymath, Hadrian was multi-lingual, a voracious reader, a seasoned military commander and an incessant and curious traveler. Being well-versed in mathematics, geometry, and art also made Hadrian a superbly-qualified architect. Hadrian is known as one of the “Five Good Emperors,” all of whom were adopted by their Predecessors (…yet another strong argument against
blood-relative-nepotism). In 100 AD Hadrian made a politically-expedient marriage with a daughter of Trajan’s niece: thereafter both Hadrian and his long-suffering wife Vibia Sabina, equally miserable in their union, did as much as possible to avoid each other. Hadrian actually proclaimed that, had he been a common citizen, he would have sought a divorce (and I’m sure his wife would have agreed).

In 118 AD, the Emperor Hadrian, then 42 years old, literally controlled most his Known World, and could thus have chosen any site for his country retreat and imperial palace. Thanks to the methodical Roman brick-makers, who imprinted their bricks with dates of manufacture, archaeologists are certain that construction of Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli commenced in 118 AD.

The Roman Empire in 125AD Under the Rule of Hadrian.
Per historian Christopher Kelly: “Then the empire stretched from
Hadrian’s Wall in drizzle-soaked northern England to the sun-baked banks of the Euphrates in Syria; from the great Rhine-Danube river system, which snaked across the fertile flat lands of
Europe from the Low Countries to the Black Sea; to the rich plains of the North African coast and the luxuriant gash of the Nile Valley
in Egypt. The empire completely circled the Mediterranean…referred to by its conquerors as MARE NOSTRUM—Our Sea.”

Tivoli — its most densely-built section clinging to the steep western slopes of the southernmost range of the Sabine Hills — is separated from Rome by the Campagna, an expanse of low-lying agricultural land which stretches over more than 800 square miles.

The View of Campagna from Tivoli. Painted by
Claude Lorrain in 1644.

[Note: Inevitably, the Campagna’s beauty was, in the mid- 20th century, largely obliterated by urban sprawl. Today, after leaving the main highway and heading uphill towards Tivoli, one drives past used car lots, stone yards and quarries, poorly-built apartment complexes, and convenience stores: near-absolute ugliness, which causes the first-time Visitor to wonder what she’s doing there.]

The higher reaches of Tivoli are thought to have been settled as early as the 13th century BC. From Etruscan times the town was the seat of pagan sibyls … women who functioned as oracles, by divine will.

Landscape of Waterfall and Temple of the Sibyl, by the Dutch painter Nicolaes Berchem. Mid 1600s.

In 338 BC, the Romans, having conquered Tivoli’s Etruscan rulers (who had previously been independent allies of Rome, but who’d impractically switched their allegiance to the Gauls), absorbed the region into their Republic, and in the 2nd century BC built temples above Tivoli’s dramatic waterfalls to honor their Tiburtine Sibyl (who is said to have prophesized the birth of Christ). The area’s fresh air and abundant waters immediately beguiled wealthy Romans, who gravitated to the higher slopes of the Hills, where they built lavish villas. In these aeries, their occupants could escape Rome’s humid, stiflingly hot summers and periodic malarial outbreaks while, no less importantly, they temporarily absented themselves from the incessant political maneuvering which was part and parcel of maintaining one’s standing as a member of Rome’s ruling class.

Had Hadrian wanted to erect his Tivoli retreat amid, or above these villas of Rome’s wealthiest citizens (a group for whom he had no great affection), he could have done so. Instead, the Emperor chose an unprepossessing expanse of rolling land which lay between the foot of Monti Tiburtini and the Campagna’s eastern-most edge. A small Republican-era villa already occupied this spot, but the presence of this villa (which was an elegant but conventionally-built retreat … belonging to an unknown noble) could not have made this site any more desirable than the infinite number of other locations which Hadrian might have claimed. I imagine that, by building his Villa (and to call the small city that Hadrian built a “Villa” is hilariously demure) under their noses, it must have amused Hadrian that, as Rome’s elite gazed out from their own balconies, the spectacle of his Villa below would be there to constantly remind them of the Great Works of their highly-effective but not-terribly-well-loved Emperor.

For Hadrian, building on a massive scale was a routine occurrence.

In 122 AD, he ordered construction to begin on Hadrian’s Wall, a militarized barrier which spanned the entire 73 miles of the narrowest portion of northern England: west to east, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea.

Hadrian’s Wall. England.

In 130 AD, in hysterical mourning over the death in Egypt of his 20-year-old inamorato, Antinous …

Antinous: Beloved of the Emperor Hadrian.
In 122 AD, during a tour of northwestern Asia Minor, Hadrian became captivated by a beautiful boy, who was only 12 years old.
For the next 8 years, Antinous was Hadrian’s companion. Antionus’ actual age is approximate, but all agree that he was still a child, when Hadrian –claimed/acquired?– him.

… Hadrian erected what is likely the largest ancient city ever to built from scratch: in no time, Antinoopolis (named to honor his lost love … who he also deified) appeared on the banks of the Nile, close to the place where Antinous had drowned (under mysterious circumstances).

Antinoopolis:Ruins as drawn in the 1800s. Little, apart from marks of its typically-Roman layout of streets which were built on a grid-plan, remains of Antinoopolis. This city is thought to have been about 1 ½ miles long by a half mile wide.

And so, by situating his Villa by a vast plain, the scope of Hadrian’s built creation at Tivoli was able to range far and wide. On this site without geographic boundaries, the Emperor’s ego, imagination, and capacity for architectural invention ( luxuriantly-funded by his well-stuffed Treasury ) continually expanded, for the remaining 20 years of his life. Construction at the Villa rarely ceased as Hadrian came and went: he dominated his Empire by traveling to its farthest reaches. In every different culture encountered during his journeys, Hadrian absorbed fresh ideas about how to form buildings, while he also broadened his tastes in art. At the Villa we see an amalgamation of the Emperor’s travel impressions, but those impressions are not literal.

Hadrian’s Villa was eventually composed of at least 900 rooms and corridors (and these are only those spaces which archaeologists have identified, to date), where fragmentary evidence shows that most surfaces were vividly decorated with the best marbles and most precious stones (the bulk tonnage of which in later times, was scavenged, and reused to build other Roman pleasure-palaces);

Decorative Fragments, still in-situ,
at Hadrian’s Villa. Image courtesy of Soprintendenza per i Beni
Archeologici del Lazio

….of courtyards and gardens that were decorated with Hadrian’s eclectic collection of statuary accumulated during his years of travel throughout the Empire (many of those pieces now housed in museums across the World, or at the High-Renaissance mountainside water gardens of nearby Villa d’Este—which I’ll write about in Tivoli: Part Two);

Tivoli’s Villa d’Este, as of the 21st century. Image courtesy of Archeolibri & Amedeo Gigli

…and nearly every corner of the Villa was animated by hundreds of water features (given movement by at least 100 hydraulic installations). All those who lived and worked in the labyrinth of Hadrian’s Villa must have been serenaded at every turn by a liquid soundtrack of the varied sounds of Water in Motion.

But the Villa that we encounter in the 21st century is only a whisper of Itself. We find a drab and dusty maze of rock: 98 acres of partially excavated ruins which have been baked dry by nearly 2000 scorching summers; a landscape where a monochromatic assemblage of brick and architectural fragments litters the ground; a stage set where the silhouettes of collapsed vaults frame views of turquoise skies; a surreal setting where we can walk inside a Piranesi-etching.

Hadrian’s Villa: The Large Baths. Etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, mid 1700s. Of all of the artists who studied the ruins at Hadrian’s Villa, Piranesi made the most accurate records of what he saw.

For the untutored Visitor, only the shattered skeleton of Hadrian’s imperial residence in Tivoli is apparent. What we encounter today is that which was never meant to be seen: the dun-colored, muscular underpinnings of Roman walls, with portions of their brick and mortar still surprisingly intact. Only if we’ve done a bit of homework can we know the surfaces of Hadrian’s Villa had been finished with veneers of the rarest marble or decorated with finely-detailed mosaics. The Villa was a riot of color and texture and SHEEN, even in its subterranean service corridors.

Hadrian’s Villa Mosaic, now at the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

If we look more closely at the footings (and plans) of the Villa’s walls, we begin to see endless iterations of circles and squares. Hadrian (who had final say on what, and how, things got built) celebrated the geometries of Classical Greek Form, but also turned those conventions inside out. And, like a True Roman, he gave special attention to his domed ceilings. But he also went further afield: with complexity and audacity, he modeled and connected structures in never-before-seen ways. And contrary to the Roman way of orchestrating large spaces with grids, Hadrian’s Villa – in essence his imperial City — has no primary focal point, no central gathering place, and no organizing streets. The Villa’s chains of structures sprawl every which way across Tivoli’s rolling lowlands; the buildings all positioned in deference to the lay of the land, and subservient to the angles of the sun, and to the paths of prevailing winds.

Visitors to Hadrian’s Villa, especially those who are there for the first time, must grip their site-maps and optimistically begin their long trudge uphill from the Visitors’ Center toward the archaeological site.

This is the map on the Visitors’Brochure, which shows what the central area of the site
may have looked like, during Hadrian’s time.

And, also on the Visitors’ Brochure is a map of the ruins, many of which are off-limits, on any given day.

But after prolonged meandering, especially within the central portions of the ruins, the day-tripper inevitably becomes less certain of where he is. Hadrian, who laid the whole place out to suit his needs and whims, has, by confounding and disorienting us, authoritatively maintained his upper hand, while keeping the Mystery of his Motives intact. In the mountain of research I’ve done about Hadrian, I’ve often seen him described as a “frustrated architect.” It takes but a single visit to his creation in Tivoli to call this label ridiculous: here was a man who designed and built as much as he damn well pleased, for most of his adult life.

To truly understand the Villa, we must be aware that the network of waterways — the most critical piece of Hadrian’s design and the Villa’s primary, unifying element and circulatory system — is, apart from two large basins (at the Pecile, and the Canopus) long gone. As has often been said, the Romans loved anything that splashed, and at Tivoli Hadrian expressed this love in fountains, nymphaea, grottoes, waterfalls and pools; in overhead channels, underground tunnels and cisterns ; in bath complexes, lavatories and steam-heated rooms; in systems for the irrigation of his orchards, gardens and outlying fields.

For the Ignorant and Passive Visitor, a day at Hadrian’s Villa will be hot, perplexing, and ultimately exhausting. For the Prepared and Engaged Visitor, a day at the Villa will be hot, stimulating, and ultimately creative. [“Hot” being a constant, if you
visit from May through October.]

Thus, for a visit to Hadrian’s Villa to be even partially rewarding, one MUST have done some preparatory reading about the History of the Place. And after having done some research, one must next rev up one’s imagination, and try to visualize an omnipresence of water, in this landscape which is now mostly dry.

And so, if we consider that the Villa’s essential feature was Every-Where-Flowing-Water, we discover that, after all, there’d been perfect method in Hadrian’s madness… in his choice of this not-exquisite stretch of land as the setting for the jigsaw puzzle of buildings and waterways which would become his Masterwork.

The canny Emperor had chosen a gently-sloping stretch of land where the natural supply of water was gloriously abundant.
While you study the site maps which follow, please remember that the highest ground is at the Southern end of the site, with the lowest ground at the Northern end.

As William L.MacDonald and John A.Pinto have described in HADRIAN’S VILLA AND ITS LEGACY (published in 1995, by Yale University Press):

“Hadrian’s Villa occupies a low plain composed of tufa stone, at the foot of Monti Tiburtini; bordered by two streams (Acqua Ferrata to the east, Risicoli to the west) which unite into a single channel that feeds into the Aniene river…where the via Tiburtina crosses the river as it climbs toward Tivoli. In order to supervise the construction of this grandiose complex, Hadrian decided to move his official residence
[away from the capital in Rome]. The Villa, well connected
[by roadways] and very close to Rome, could also be approached by means of the Aniene river [which was] navigable at the time. The area hosted numerous quarries from which the Romans extracted prime building material: travertine (used in the lower portions of the Villa’s structures), lime from limestone pozzolana (a type of sand), and tufa…and was also the passageway for the four principal aqueducts that led to Rome.”

“Indications of a hundred-odd hydraulic installations survive, but although their technology is mostly well understood, Roman artistic and atmospheric uses of water are not.”

[NQ’s Note: nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the publication of MacDonald & Pinto’s extremely useful book, and continuing archaeological explorations have clarified many of these questions about the Roman uses of water, for various effects.]

Now, still more per MacDonald & Pinto:

“One thing, however, is certain: artfully shaped earth, bearing waterworks and planting and punctuated with garden pavilions and stone ornament, provided from viewpoints both indoors and out, are statements of the Villa’s cultural context.”

“The hydraulic regime was complex and sophisticated. Water entered from the southeast [the highest point] and was divided repeatedly to form a tapestry of fresh water across the entire Villa.The flow was regulated by cisterns and efficient plumbing. Fountains and grottoes of various sizes and types, bath buildings, ornamental pools, irrigation systems, and human and animal requirements were all accommodated; the used water discharged continually through underground channels leading to the Aniene [river].”

“The [water] pressure required by jets and other dramatic effects was ensured both by the superior elevation of the incoming water supply and by the strategically located cisterns, as well as by efficient piping. The generally descending nature of the terrain suggests that water-lifting devices were probably unnecessary.”

So, Reader: be awed at what these Ancient Romans began to build, in 118 AD. At Hadrian’s Villa we everywhere see evidence of an architectural designer who mastered traditionally-styled building methods, but who then also moved beyond these norms of fashion. We gain inklings of how the Emperor and his clever engineers transformed their watery fantasies into reality. And never forget that all of these marvels were constructed by legions of slaves, who, equipped with nothing more than hand-tools, and with only oxen and carts to move dirt and transport heavy materials, toiled for the next twenty years to make Hadrian’s Villa a true wonder of the Ancient World.

Satellite view of just a portion of Hadrian’s Villa

After assembling a respectable library about Hadrian’s Villa, and making multiple trips to Tivoli, I realized that despite all of my books and monographs, and those site visits and my hundreds of photographs, my brain still ACHED as I tried to weave all of that information (often contradictory information … ) into a coherent whole, and then into a sensible and enjoyable Diary for Armchair Travelers … and hopefully also a Diary which wouldn’t feel like there’d be a Pop Quiz To Follow. Happily, a recent web-search about the Villa led me to the Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project , which is overseen by Professor Bernard Frischer, of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory, in Charlottesville, VA.

Bernard Frischer

The Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project website is tour-de-force of mapmaking, and best suited for use by hardcore scholars who know what nuggets they’re digging for. I found their maps and 3D renderings to be especially well-designed and helpful, and Prof. Frischer has generously allowed me to reproduce here those portions of his website which I think will add clarity to my survey to Hadrian’s Villa.

All illustrations which are shared by the
Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project will be credited with the notation: “Courtesy of DHVP”

And also, in my eleventh hour of fact-checking, I happened upon another hugely-helpful website about Hadrian’s Villa; this one
orchestrated by the scholar Marina De Franceschini, who has spent a lifetime studying the Villa.Marina’s site
( http://www.villa-adriana.net )
offers a treasure-trove of historical, architectural, and artistic detail.
After you’ve digested my Diary — which is meant to serve as an introduction to Villa Adriana — if you then wish to dive deeper into every historical and artistic aspect of the Villa, I recommend that you visit Marina’s site.

Marina De Franceschini

In my Diary, with Marina’s kind permission, I’ll reproduce some essential maps, and I’ll also include photos of the Villa’s network of tunnels (which are not open to the hoi polloi).

All illustrations which are shared by Marina De Franceschini will be credited with the notation:
“Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini”

Please join me now, for a tour of Hadrian’s Villa.

In the Visitors’ Center: Model of the presumed appearance of the central site, in Hadrian’s time.

Regarding place-names of the parts of the Villa that we’ll soon visit, only one, The Canopus, is certain as being from Hadrian’s time. The other ruins on site have over the past four and half centuries been assigned their names: some of them credible and descriptive of the structures’ original purposes…but other labels fanciful or downright misleading. In 1550, after Hadrian’s Villa had suffered from 1400 years of being scavenged and then forgotten, the architect Pirro Ligorio began to explore, and to NAME areas: and many of his labels have stuck. Ligorio also made the first measured drawings of the central ruins, and his methodical excavations, along with his maps and notes, are considered the “first large-scale modern archaeological dig.”

Pirro Ligorio

Ligorio, who was beginning to design fantastical water gardens for Cardinal Ippolito d’Este ( which would be sited uphill and several miles away from the ruins of Hadrian’s Villa ) , went to the ruins intending to acquire as many pieces of statuary, and as much tonnage of marble, as his workers could excavate. Cardinal d’Este, who as Governor of Tivoli could lay claim to the Villa’s ruins, had hit the Jackpot, in sculpture and in building material. With treasures taken from Hadrian’s Villa, the Cardinal’s own remodeled villa, and new gardens (which I’ll show you in Part Two), would soon be so lavishly decorated as to make kings and queens covetous.

PECILE

Location of the Pecile.
Courtesy of DHVP

Today’s visitors to the archaeological site enter through an opening in a massive wall, which I’ll identify as the North Wall.

Having made our way uphill, away from the crowds at the Visitors’ Center, we arrive at the North Wall of the Pecile.

These days, the Villa is entered through this doorway in the 29-foot-high North Wall of the Pecile.

This wall, aligned from west to east, is over 29 feet tall, and is all that survives of the Pecile’s once-totally-enclosed space. The Pecile, with outer dimensions of 318 feet wide by 762 feet long, sits upon a raised terrace, which is supported by a massive understructure ( this called The Hundred Chambers & next on our itinerary ). The Pecile is centered upon a pool which is 82 feet wide by 328 feet long (called the Piscina). Interior loggias ran along the interior of all four walls, and a single exterior loggia was also built alongside the north-facing wall.

Detailed Plan of the Pecile.
Courtesy of DHVP

Per the historian Benedetta Adembri, in the Villa’s Guidebook:

The north wall “of the portico, constructed prior to the remainder of the complex, was intended for the after-lunch stroll, as an inscription in this area discovered during the 18th century recalls, which states that the length of the portico itself was 1450 feet…equivalent to the distance of an entire circuit around the [North] wall. The inscription continues, stating that by following the course seven times, one would have walked about two Roman miles. Therefore the length of the double portico was calculated according to the rules of a healthy walk (ambulatio) determined by doctors.”

3D Rendering of the
Pecile’s North Wall Walkway. Porticos on both sides of this North Wall provided a protected route for that health-promoting, 7-times-around-the-wall walk which Roman physicians recommended. Courtesy of DHVP

“During the second phase of the Villa’s construction the short ends were added to the portico. These slightly curved porticos closed off the garden area. Unlike the current situation, where our vision is often misguided toward the inner region of the Villa and beyond the perimeter of the Pecile [toward] magnificent views of the countryside, this garden was not considered with the surrounding panorama in mind. The tall walls that enclosed the columned portico would have impeded views of the landscape and served to isolate the park around a mirror of water, providing a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.”

3D Rendering of the Pecile’s Inner Court, with Piscina (large pool–shown here in Gray) at the center. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the free-standing Pavilion at the east end of the Pecile’s Inner Court. Courtesy of DHVP

Ms. Adembri’s final sentence describing the original appearance of the Pecile is what today’s Visitors to the Villa should keep in mind, as they explore all of the ruins, because in Massive Walls and Endless Porticos and Hidden Gardens and Omnipresent Waterworks we find the oft-repeated parts of the gargantuan whole.

The Emperor was designing ENCLOSURES: hundreds — perhaps thousands — of them. Hadrian’s architecture was about Control. Within the confines of his vast Villa — which effectively functioned as his fortress home — he could live and deal with his subordinates in a secure environment. And the Emperor’s desire for control also extended to his interactions with nature. Here at the edge of the Campagna, he was not going to frolic in Nature-in-the-Raw. [Note: During the years of his nearly-incessant travels across the Empire, I imagine he’d done enough camping.] Instead, the views he wished to have of the wider landscape were to be framed by acres upon acres of masonry, which his army of workmen would shape to suit his insatiable appetite for the infinite possibilities of FORM. One’s exposure to sunlight—or shadow—was to be dictated by intricate combinations of roofscapes and courtyard openings.

Locations of the Gardens at the Villa.
[Note: continuing exploration of the site has since revealed that two long gardens, which were not known of when this map was charted,
also ran along both sides of the artificially-made valley of the Canopus. ]
Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

In gardens, be they big or little, collections of trees and beds of flowers were to be girdled by arcades. And Water, omnipresent, was always controlled and manipulated by Hadrian’s brilliant hydraulic engineers. Although during his occupancies of the Villa Hadrian was still engaged in the business of Empire-running, it’s clear that he was in Tivoli…as opposed to being in Rome….for the very purpose of removing himself from as many of the realities of his vast World as he could. At his Villa, what remains today is proof that, over the course of the last twenty years of his life, Hadrian was compulsively — obsessively — creating HIS dream of what his World SHOULD be. Nothing else can explain the exuberance, or the excess, of what he’s left behind.

Recreation of PECILE, during Hadrian’s time. Image courtesy of Archeolibri

PECILE now. Image courtesy of Archeolibri

Aerial view of PECILE.
Courtesy of DHVP

My view, from the center of the north side of the Pecile. Diagonally across the body of water is the Triple Exedra Complex.

My view from the western end of the Pecile, toward the Sabine Hills, to the east.

Another of my views, from the Pecile toward the Sabine Hills.

This is Piranesi’s view of the great, North Wall in 1770, when he occupied the same spot as I did, when I looked eastward, toward the Sabine Hills. Image courtesy of Yale University Press.

And in 1911, the young architect
Le Corbusier sketched the same view. Image courtesy of Yale University Press.

THE HUNDRED CHAMBERS

Location of the Hundred Chambers.
Courtesy of DHVP

To create a flat surface for his Pecile, Hadrian’s engineers began by constructing a 50 foot high retaining wall along the western-most edge of the sloping site. The wall was pierced at regular intervals with large openings, which provided access to, along with light for, the interiors. The retaining wall was then continued below the southern edge of the Pecile, and then extended even further westward, to support the terraces adjacent to the Three Exedra Complex. Honeycombed behind the retaining walls (which, at their highest point were the outward faces of a 4-level, subterranean warren of rooms) were built at least 100 small, identically-dimensioned chambers, which had single doors onto the wooden walkways which ran directly behind the wall openings. Because of the humble nature and large number of these rooms, archaeologists have theorized that the upper 3 stories of the 100 Chambers were slave quarters. The ground-level rooms of the 100 Chambers were most likely used to store the tons of goods and produce which were needed for the care and feeding of the thousands of people who lived onsite.

Detailed Plan of the Hundred Chambers.
Courtesy of DHVP

Aerial view of the western elevation of the HUNDRED CHAMBERS, which are tucked beneath
the Pecile (to the left), and which are also built below the long
Promenade (extending to the right) which runs past the
Three Exedra Complex, the Small Baths, and the Large Baths.
Courtesy of DHVP

In the Visitors’ Center: Detail of Model of Hundred Chambers, and the Pecile.

My view of the south elevation of the Hundred Chambers
(as I was standing to the west of the Three Exedras)

ANTINOEION

Location of Antinoeion. Courtesy of DHVP

…which explains WHY, whenever you
see yet another marble statue of a beautiful young Roman, you’re
probably looking at Antinous. Image and text, courtesy of the
GUARDIAN.

Antinoeion Plan. Courtesy of DHVP

Antinoeion.
Courtesy of DHVP

TRIPLE EXEDRA COMPLEX ( THREE EXEDRAS )

Location of the Three Exedras (Triple Exedra Complex). Courtesy of DHVP

How Hadrian used this unusual complex of buildings is unknown, but its central location and obvious connection to the nearby Stadium Garden and Winter Palace indicates that this eccentric construction was of particular importance to Hadrian.

Scholars have called this section of the Villa the Three Exedras, or Triple Exedra Complex, or the Casino With Semi-Circular Arches. Exedras were halls –often partially open to the outdoors—where meetings and enlightened (it was hoped) discussion took place. Although now worn down to a mere suggestion of the original clover-shape, it’s clear that the Three Exedras—whatever they were meant for—presented a surprising and exquisite series of indoor/outdoor spaces. Seen in Plan, the obvious entrance would have been located at the north side, which abutted the Pecile. But oddly, this large rectangular atrium, which, if designed by a conventional Roman architect, would normally have been a marble-floored entry hall, was instead almost entirely filled by a pool in which fountains sprayed. Anyone tiptoeing around the perimeter of this room would certainly have gotten soaked. The Romans were great practical jokers, when it came to waterworks and their gardens (a hidden squirting-mechanism that drenched an unsuspecting passer-by was a favorite joke) and I theorize that, by making his entire atrium here into a place where dry-passage was impossible, Hadrian was having some Serious Fun. For those not delighting in the Wet Look, access to the centrally-placed Hall could be gotten through one of the three columned gardens which occupied half-circle plots, on the west, south, and east sides of the central Hall.

Detailed Plan of the Three Exedra Complex. Courtesy of DHVP

Aerial view of the Pecile
(to the left), the Hundred Chambers (which are built below the Pecile), with the half-moon outline of the site of the Antinoeion below the Hundred Chambers. The Exedra Complex is to the east, and above the Antinoeion (seen here on the right). Courtesy of DHVP

I ‘m walking across the space which was once the location of the large Hall, which was at the center of Triple Exedra Complex
At the left of this photo is the south side
of the fountain-filled atrium.

Another view of the southern-most side of the Triple Exedra Complex. Image courtesy of Archeolibri

Detail of Column, on the west-side Columned Garden of the Three Exedras.

The west side of the Three Exedras. In the foreground: one of the Exedra’s 3 garden terraces. Each of these gardens was formed in a half-circle, and centered on a square pool. These gardens were all enclosed by columned loggias.

3D Rendering of the Triple Exedra Complex. Courtesy of DHVP

Another view of the Three Exedras’ western elevation.

Detail: Passageway from the east garden of the Exedras. Beyond this is a complex of smaller rooms, which connected with the Stadium Garden, and then to the Winter Palace.

This empty space was the location of the Central Hall of the Exedras. I’m facing west.

Detail: Column Base in a Three Exedras garden.

I’m inside of the western-facing, half-circle garden at the Three Exedras.

My view from the west terrace by the Three Exedras, looking north, toward the Pecile.

Now I’m in the south-side, half-circle garden of the Three Exedras. To the far rear, you see the great North Wall of the Pecile.

SMALL BATHS

Location of the Small Baths. Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Small Baths.
Courtesy of DHVP

Small Baths, Cutaway Drawing. Image courtesy of Yale University Press.

3D Rendering of the Small Baths.
Courtesy of DHVP

I approach the western side of the Small Baths.

The western side of the Small Baths. On that very hot day in mid-May, as I enjoyed the dappled light in this grove of olive trees,
Hadrian’s Villa, although in ruins, felt like a Living Place.

Fragment of a Very-Solidly-Constructed–Wall, near the Small Baths. All of this masonry would have been concealed by layers
of precious marble.

The tilework which remains at the Villa identifies the level of refinement of the people who used various buildings. The Small Baths, frequented by high-ranking personnel, were lavishly decorated with Opus Sectile Marble Floor Inlays. The red porphyry — the rare, red-purple stone that you see here — was only used in buildings which were used by
those of elevated status.
Image courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

Within the Small Baths. I’m at the southeast corner of this complex, about to enter the small outdoor courtyard (palestra), which ran along the east side of the Small Baths.

Within the Small Baths

Terrace to the west of the Small Baths

Locations of the Latrines at the Villa.
Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini.

Sometimes, the most mundane details Tell the Tale. Remains of toilet facilities at Hadrian’s Villa reveal the nature of the buildings which they served. A Single Hole? Definitely the Emperor’s “Throne,” or perhaps a Pot for a Favored Friend! A Multi-Seater … but not with TOO
many holes? These were for guests and presumably the praetorian guard. And then there were those odious, hundred-foot-long latrines, which were used by slaves and soldiers.

VESTIBULE

Location of the Vestibule.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Vestibule. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the Vestibule.
Courtesy of DHVP

My view towards the site of the Vestibule. I’m standing on the Promenade which is to the west of the Small Baths. Below me, an entry driveway once ran along the length of this grassy-trough. That driveway led to the Vestibule’s grand portico.

Aerial View: Vestibule: to the center-left (long grass entry drive is
at the upper-left). Dead-center: The Large Baths.
Top-center: The Small Baths.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detail: Roman Masonry–made to last.

Detail: Well-laid bricks.

In the Visitors’ Center: The central portion of this model
shows the Vestibule Complex, which juts out from the
West-facing Promenade. The long approach drive is below
the Promenade. Under that Promenade, a portion of the
Hundred Chambers can be seen. Behind the Vestibule,
the Small Baths are to the left, and the Large Baths are to the right.
To the left of the Small Baths are the Three Exedras.

CANOPUS

Location of the Canopus.
Courtesy of DHVP

In her guide to Hadrian’s Villa, the historian Benedetta Adembri introduces the Canopus, which is today the most famous and easily-understood part of the site:

“This complex is one of the only features of the entire villa that can be identified with great confidence as one of the celebrated areas described by Helius Spartianus in the VITA HADRIANA. Constructed in a narrow artificial valley…its principal feature is a large body of water, that terminates with a highly decorated pavilion. This is the Canopus, whose name was borrowed from the canal that linked Alexandria to the city on the Nile delta bearing the same name.” Hadrian’s Canopus “was renowned for the nighttime parties that occurred here. The large pool of water [Note: 390 feet long by 59 feet wide] , situated at the center of the valley, with the short, curved northern end enhanced by a mixed architectural scheme, was bordered to the east by a double colonnade that supported an arbor.
A strip of garden was aligned with the colonnade. To the west, the sequence of columns along the pool was substituted by caryatids.”

Detailed Plan of the Canopus. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the Canopus. Courtesy of DHVP

Aerial View of the Canopus, with the
Serapeum at the far end of the pool. Image courtesy of Archeolibri.

Recreation of the Nymphaeum at the Canopus, in Hadrian’s time. Image courtesy of Archeolibri

View from the northern end of the
Nymphaeum at the Canopus, today. Image courtesy of
Archeolibri

Rendering of the statue of Scylla (the sea monster of Homer’s ODYSSEY), as she devours mariners. This complex marble assemblage of figures was mounted in the southern end of the Canopus pool. Courtesy of DHVP

Join me as I stroll along the long, western side of the Canopus pool. I’m heading in the direction of the Serapeum, which is the complex of buildings at the southern end of the pool.

All of the statues which are arranged around the perimeter of the Canopus are concrete castings of the original marbles, which are now stored indoors, on the Villa’s grounds.
This reclining statue is the personification of the river Tiber.

Although most of the original statues were, over the centuries, moved to other villas or museums, the number of statues which remained in-situ indicate that, around the Canopus, Hadrian had assembled his largest collection of sculptural pieces.

A closer look at a concrete casting. Most of the site’s original marble statues were in fact copies of earlier, Greek masterpieces, commissioned by Hadrian.

The northern end of the Canopus. To the far-left, the partially-visible statue has usually been called “Ares,” but markings on the statue’s arm indicate him to be Hermes.

Many of the larger pools at the Villa were once stocked with fish.

One of two Wounded Amazons, at the Canopus.

Directly across the water stands another Wounded Amazon, with her arm upraised.

Across the Canopus, we now have a better view of
“Ares”/Hermes, with his shield.

Six caryatids are arranged along the western side of the Canopus.

Rendering of the Caryatids, at the Canopus. Courtesy of DHVP

The closest statue is called the Canephor Silenus caryatid.
[Note: Canephor figures always carry baskets on their heads. Silenus represents a tutor to the god Dionysus. The concrete cast of this particular statue’s head-basket is missing. ]
Across from the six caryatids, you see a steep, grassy-incline, which runs along the length of the eastern side of the Canopus.

In Benedetta Adembri’s Guide to the Villa, she explains about this steep, eastern slope which is adjacent to the Canopus :

“Recent archaeological campaigns aimed specifically at the organization of the gardens at the Villa have shed considerable light on the location of shrubs and flower beds as well as their relationship with the fountains and pools that complemented the gardens and peristyles. Furthermore, at the foot of the slope along the eastern side….archaeologists have uncovered a long flower bed that ran parallel to the edge of the pool and contained rows of terracotta flower pots; the pots were of various dimensions, but each vessel bore characteristic holes on [their sides and bottoms]. The intentional placing of holes in the pots served to allow the roots to enter the surrounding earth. As the roots of the various species of plants reached their maximum dimensions and there was no need for the arrangement of pots in a decorative manner…the plants were either placed into larger pots or directly into the soil. Archaeologists have been able to date the organization of this garden to the era of Hadrian, on the basis of the types of amphorae [aka “pots”] recovered through the excavations. In addition to the ceramic evidence, maker’s marks [Oh, these Romans! Who were compelled to document Every Little Thing!] preserved on some bricks [in the area] point toward Hadrian’s time.”

We’ve almost reached the Serapeum. This is our view back down along the Canopus.

SERAPEUM

Location of Serapeum. Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Serapeum. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the front of the Serapeum. Courtesy of DHVP

At the Serapeum there’s abundant evidence of the many and ingenious ways in which Hadrian’s hydraulic engineers used water. As mentioned, the land upon which the Emperor chose to build his enormous Villa complex formed a continuous slope, with the highest elevation being at the southern end (uphill from the Serapeum). The site’s primary water source was tapped into at the top of the slope, and gravity was largely sufficient to direct water down to concrete channels which were built atop the Serapeum’s roof.

3D Rendering of the water channels on the rear roof of the Serapeum. Courtesy of DHVP

Some of those roof-level channels directed water toward the recessed dining area. At this spot, the water then cascaded down into the room; creating a virtual curtain of droplets and mist…all to keep the interior of the banqueting area cool, even during high summer.

Interior waterfall, in the Serapeum’s recessed dining alcove. Courtesy of DHVP

A rectangular pool, which is separate from the long expanse of the Canopus pool, is set directly in front of the Serapeum.

That enormous CHUNK of masonry in the foreground is a long-ago collapsed fragment of the front portion of this open-air pavilion. Happily, two people strolled by, just as I took this photo; remembering human-scale is necessary at Hadrian’s Villa, where everything is
Super-Sized.

A closer look at the Rubble

Behind the front “porch” of the Serapeum, this series of interior rooms, formed in telescope Plan, extends back into the hillside. The niches contained sculptures or fountains.

Looking straight up, toward the remains of the great, half-domed ceiling.

The view, from the front of the open-air dining platform.

The lower front, of the Serapeum.

Masonry detail

Everywhere: Shadows & Textures

Fresco decorations from the vaults in the western substructures of the Serapeum. Courtesy of Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Lazio.

Behind the Serapeum: we see some of the roof-level water channels…which are little aqueducts.

Another look at the water channels, on the rear roof of the Serapeum.

Behind the Serapeum

Now, climbing the stairs in the southeast corner of the Serapeum, we get some higher views:

The view northward, along the Canopus.

Another view of the Serapeum

From the top of the southeast stairway at the Serapeum, we get a good, central view back down into the domed, open-air pavilion.

The presence of a STIBADIUM, or TRICLINIUM COUCH, inside the Serapeum’s central pavilion confirms that this was a large space for
open-air banqueting. The Stibadium, consisting of a semi-circular brick base with an inclined surface, was during Hadrian’s time, covered with carpets and cushions: guests reclined here during banquets, as they were surrounded by cooling waters, which cascaded in waterfalls, trickled down walls, splashed in fountains, and lapped at the pool’s edge.

My guest, Donn Brous, is on the high path that’s above the eastern edge of the Canopus.

The high path which runs along the eastern side of the Canopus will eventually lead us toward the Large Baths, which are located to the north-east of the rounded end of this long pool.

Another view of the Serapeum

The six caryatids, along the western side of the Canopus.

Footings of former columns, marching along the eastern side of the Canopus.

I keep casting longing glances back at the Serapeum, a place which seems far too beautiful to leave ….

On the eastern side of the Canopus: A crocodile. In the original marble croc, the remains of a lead pipe were found in the mouth, indicating that the crocodile had served as a fountainhead.

A closer look at the Canopus Croc

LARGE BATHS

Location of Large Baths.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Large Baths. Courtesy of DHVP

Aerial View of Large Baths (to the left) and
also of the Praetorium (upper right).
Courtesy of DHVP

Given the presence of at least three large bath complexes (the Small Baths, the Large Baths, & the Heliocaminus Baths) at
Hadrian’s Villa, a little refresher-course in Roman bathing rituals is called for. We continue now with another excerpt from
Benedetta Adembri’s essential guide to Hadrian’s Villa:

“Most Romans of every social class frequented baths on a more or less daily basis. Since Hadrian’s Villa was the official residence of the emperor, there must have been a great number of courtesans, guests, guards and servants who stayed on the premises of the villa at any given time. This number does not include the craftsmen involved in the ongoing construction of the various buildings and the installation of decorative and sculptural features in interior spaces and in gardens. The use of baths was a response to the norms of hygiene, dictated by medical treatises which prescribed the heating of the body in order to dilate pores through physical exercise and hot water.
This was to be followed by immersions in warm water and, finally, a plunge into a basin of cold water. All bath complexes consisted of
an apodyterium (dressing room), laconicum (sauna), caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath) and frigidarium (cold bath), in addition to the gymnasium and other minor spaces.”

“There were also a series of minor spaces for massages, hair removal…and other activities dedicated to the maintenance of the body. The public baths generally contained latrines, as well as shops where a variety of services were offered: barbers, small restaurants, wine dealers and other vendors where goods could be purchased.”

“Within the public baths, there were often separate quarters for men and women, or else the two genders entered the baths at different hours of the day. Hadrian himself passed a law…that men and women must not bathe simultaneously.”

In the large baths, “the embellishments are not as sumptuous as the other baths of the villa…a characteristic that has led researchers to hypothesize that this edifice was frequented by the servants residing in the villa.”

“One needs only consider the costs involved in providing water for all the pools and the supply of wood needed to heat the numerous spaces; there was also the problem of maintenance, that included the frequent changing of water in the pools, which was rigorously controlled.”

Locations of Heating Plants, at the Villa. Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

And underpinning all of these watery services were what I consider among the most marvelous of all the Villa’s features: the basement heating systems. Steam from enormous boilers—whose waters were kept constantly a-burble over wood-fires—provided in-floor, radiant heat where needed; and dry heat from wood-burning ovens was directed up into the complex through air columns.

Recreation of the Large Baths, during
Hadrian’s time. Image courtesy of Archeolibri

The Large Baths, today.
Image courtesy of Archeolibri

First, we’ll take a look at the outside elevations of the Large Baths:

View of the northern end of the Large Baths,
as seen from the Small Baths

The western elevation of the Large Baths

The Large Baths

The Large Baths

Donn Brous walks along the western side of the Large Baths

Now we’ll venture inside of the Large Baths:

We enter the Large Baths after having exited from
the Canopus at its northeastern corner. Directly ahead is a cavernous opening into the Large Baths. To our immediate right we see a bit of the corner of the Praetorium.

Masonry detail

Inside the Large Baths

One of the smallest roof vaults in the Large Baths remains, intact.

The Palestra, the large rectangular court to the east of the Large Baths, was an open-air gymnasium, where one’s visit to the
Large Baths would typically begin with a work-out.

Exterior of the east side of the Large Baths

We’re back inside of the Large Baths. Consider this: by walking under these nearly-2000-year-old domes, we’re placing ALOT of faith in the structural integrity of the work done by these Roman builders.

Inside the Large Baths

Inside the Large Baths

Inside the Large Baths

We’re inside the Large Baths, looking out toward the Palestra (exercise court)

Another view from the Large Baths, toward the Palestra

And again: back inside the Large Baths. The most thrilling aspects of this place are the infinite ways in which the ruins frame the skies.

Another view of the north exterior of the Large Baths

Now we’re going to backtrack: around the eastern side of the Large Baths, as we head toward the nearby Praetorium.

PRAETORIUM

Location of the Praetorium.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of Praetorium. Courtesy of DHVP

In what is assumed to have been a multi-purpose cluster of buildings, the small, identically-formed chambers which ran the length of the northern boundary are thought to have been dormitories for Hadrian’s praetorian guard. These dormitories were directly across from the Large Baths, where the Villa’s service personnel performed their ablutions. On the southern side of this complex, large, opulently-decorated rooms overlooked an extensive garden.

The dormitory wing of the Praetorium is directly opposite the south side of the Large Baths

Aerial View of the Praetorium (on the left) and of the
Large Baths (center of photo). Courtesy of DHVP

STADIUM GARDEN

Location of the Stadium Garden. Courtesy of DHVP

If any area within Hadrian’s enormous maze of buildings could be considered the central crossroads for most of the Villa’s above-ground foot-traffic, the Stadium Garden would have to be that place. [Note: I’ll eventually outline the entirely separate Netherworld of servants’ tunnels at the Villa.] The Stadium Garden, aligned on the land almost exactly from north to south, consists of an elongated series of gardens and plazas that are decorated with water features and two large pavilions.

Plan of the Imperial Residence.
Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

The Small and Large Baths are sited directly to the south of the Stadium Garden, and the Heliocaminus Baths are directly to the north. Due west of the Stadium Gardens is the Triple Exedra complex, which is connected to the Pecile. And due east is the Building With Fish Pond; long assumed to have been Hadrian’s Winter Palace. And in the Stadium Garden archaeologists have found what McDonald & Pinto have called “nearly the full repertory” of ways in which “the splash and sparkle of water” was displayed. “A canal, pools, numerous spouts and jets, channels, cisterns, a grotto, and a theatre of water cascades and planting, thirty-odd features in all,” lay in this long enclosure, which was attached to the Emperor’s own residence.

Detailed Plan of the Stadium Garden. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the Stadium Garden. Courtesy of DHVP

Inside the Stadium Garden

Masonry detail

Rendering of the South Nymphaeum of the Stadium Garden. Courtesy of DHVP

BUILDING WITH FISH POND ( Presumed to be Hadrian’s WINTER PALACE )

Location of Building With Fish Pond.
Courtesy of DHVP

The best guess of Villa Scholars is that this 3 storey complex served as Hadrian’s residence during the winter months.
Per Benedetta Adembri:

“Considering the dominant position of the edifice, compared to the surrounding buildings, its centrality within the estate and the rich decoration of the walls and floors which were faced in marble (today only reconstructable based upon the impressions left in the wall plaster and the holes in the wall where pegs were inserted) , it would appear that this truly was the Emperor’s residence, which could be used even during the winter, given the provision of a heating system.
This structure contains all the features required of an Imperial residence: monumental public spaces, a peristyle and covered corridors, and a large garden with dining areas for the summertime, recognized in the adjacent Nympheum-Stadium. “ From the top-most floor of this complex one could gaze westward, over the Pecile, and then further, across the Campagna. To the east of the Palace was a 92 foot long Fish Pond, where waterside seating was provided for those of the Emperor’s guests who enjoyed a bit of angling. The room interpreted as Hadrian’s bedroom faced south west: which provided this most private of spaces with the warmest exposure during Wintertime.

Detailed Plan of Building With Fish Pond. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of Building with Fish Pond. Courtesy of DHVP

The Fish Pond (now dry).
Courtesy of DHVP

Building With Fish Pond.
Courtesy of DHVP

GUARD BARRACKS ( Sometimes called FIREMANS HEADQUARTERS )

Location of Guard Barracks.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of Guard Barracks. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of Guard Barracks.
Courtesy of DHVP

Situated to the northeast of the Guard Barracks, and Hadrian’s winter residence, was a sprawling and interconnected complex of four buildings which are now called:

#1– The Building With Doric Pillars (perhaps the site for tribunals, or for audiences with the Emperor);

#2– The Piazza O’Oro (lavish structures—and a huge courtyard garden— which were used for God Knows What…but which must certainly have been built to Impress and Generally Knock the Socks Off Of All Those Who Entered);

#3– The Imperial Palace (a large, highly-utilitarian, Republican-era villa, which was absorbed into Hadrian’s building programme, and where Hadrian is thought to have slept, during the summer months);

#4–The Hospitalia (where lodging was most likely provided for visiting officials, in small, dormitory-like rooms).

It is assumed that, within this compound of magnificently decorated structures, Hadrian went about the daily business of meeting with his minions and subjects, as he managed his Empire.

Map of the Structures which were on this site, before Hadrian began building his Villa. Some of these buildings were incorporated into the new construction.
Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

BUILDING WITH DORIC PILLARS

Location of the Building With Doric Pillars. Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of Building With Doric Pillars. Courtesy of DHVP

Recreation of the Building With Doric Pillars, in Hadrian’s time. Image courtesy of Archeolibri.

The remains of the Building With Doric Pillars, today. Image courtesy of Archeolibri

PIAZZA D’ORO ( THE GOLDEN SQUARE )

Location of the Piazza D’Oro
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Piazza D’Oro
Courtesy of DHVP

Recreation of the Piazzo D’Oro in Hadrian’s time. Image courtesy of Archeolibri.

The remains of the Piazza D’Oro, today.
Image courtesy of Archeolibri

Aerial view of the Piazza D’Oro.
Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the Piazza D’Oro.
Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the South End of the Interior Court, at the Piazza D’Oro. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the Colonnade at the Piazza D’Oro. Courtesy of DHVP

IMPERIAL PALACE ( Presumed to be Hadrian’s SUMMER RESIDENCE )

Location of the Imperial Palace.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Imperial Palace. Courtesy of DHVP

Imperial Palace.
Courtesy of DHVP

Imperial Palace.
Courtesy of DHVP

HOSPITALIA

Location of the Hospitalia.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Hospitalia.
Courtesy of DHVP

Exquisite black and white floor mosaics are still intact in the Hospitalia area.
This style of tiling was “modern,” and appeared in the Hadrianic Age. Image courtesy of Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Lazio.

The Hospitalia.
Courtesy of DHVP

HELIOCAMINUS BATHS

Location of the Heliocaminus Baths.
Courtesy of DHVP

The great Roman architect Vitruvius ( born c. 80—70 BC; died after c. 15 BC ) devised explicit specifications for constructing,
and then heating, buildings. Hadrian, who was smart enough to follow Vitruvius’ good examples, thus built all of the Bathing Complexes at his Villa so that the heated rooms of those Baths faced south-west, as Vitruvius prescribed. Benedetta Adembri reports, “the south-west exposition exploited the hottest rays of the afternoon sun, when the Romans generally bathed.”

The Roman architect Vitruvius

Detailed Plan of the Heliocaminus Baths. Courtesy of DHVP

The Heliocaminus Baths. The great, circular, south-west facing Hot Room, of the Baths.

The Aphrodite of Doidalsas: formerly mounted in the Heliocaminus Baths. Now on display at the Museo Nazionale Romano–Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, in Rome.

Tunnel under the Heliocaminus Baths

The Heliocaminus Baths

The Heliocaminus Baths

Another view of the
south-west facing Hot Room

From the garden by the Heliocaminus Baths: a view west,
toward the Pecile.

Masonry detail

The Heliocaminus Baths are directly to right, in this photo.
In center: Donn Brous walks toward the dome of the Philosophers Hall. Behind the grove of trees to the right of the Philosphers Hall is
the site of the Maritime Theater (which, sadly, wasn’t open to visitors).

PHILOSOPHERS HALL

Location of the Philosophers Hall.
Courtesy of DHVP

The confusingly-named Philosophers Hall has seven large niches in its north wall. These long-empty spaces most likely
held a cycle of statuary (probably representing the Imperial family), but clearly, once the Villa’s ruins had been rediscovered, some Head-in-the-Classics-Visitor gazed at those empty niches and had the dreamy thought that — of course! — Hadrian must have displayed likenesses of the most famous philosophers of his time. It’s best to accept that this room with its great apse and marble walls was simply a grand setting for the Emperor’s nuts-and-bolts business of giving audiences and holding councils.

Detailed Plan of the Philosphers Hall. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Recreation of the Philosophers Hall. [NQ’s Note: The extraordinary, concave portico with double stairways transforms what could have been a forgettable pile of masonry into a sophisticated and surprising building.] Courtesy of DHVP

Aerial view of (to the left) of the half-dome and two side walls of the Philosophers Hall, and (in the center) of the circle of the completely-enclosed Maritime Theater.
Courtesy of DHVP

MARITIME THEATER ( Also called the ISLAND ENCLOSURE, or the NATATORIUM )

These days, only birds and archaeologists are permitted to occupy the interior of the Maritime Theater. Perhaps on my next visit to the Villa, the Powers That Be will allow me to explore this self-contained island, which is the Most-Peculiar, as well as the Most-Glamorous, of all of Hadrian’s creations.

But, before I illustrate the Maritime Theater, which will be our final extended stop on this tour of the Villa’s central area, a digression:

As mentioned, the outer reaches of the Villa complex are largely closed to Visitors. And many of the inner areas can also become inaccessible, due to ongoing excavations, or structural hazards.
Following, however, are notes about some critically-important parts of the Villa (places which I hope will eventually be opened to Visitors, at least on a limited basis ).

ACCADEMIA ( The ACADEMY )

At the highest, southern end of Hadrian’s estate, the land upon which the compound known as the Accademia stands is privately owned, by the Bulgarini family. Since 2005, Marina De Franceschini has been allowed by the Bulgarini to study the site, which is one of the largest, and least-understood areas of Hadrian’s Villa. Her project, which she calls “Accademia: Hadrian’s Secret Garden,” is ongoing.

Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

The Accademia Project is ongoing. Courtesy of
Marina De Franceschini

One of the most famous art treasures ever found on any ancient Roman site came from the floor of a room adjacent to the Accademia’s Rotunda. In 1737, the mosaic, now called the “Dove Basin” was discovered.

The Dove Basin: Accademia Floor Mosaic.
Image, courtesy of the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

The Dove Basin is attributed to Sosos of Pergamon, a Greek mosaic artist who lived in the second century BC. Sosos worked exclusively with cubes of colored marble. We don’t know if the mosaic unearthed at the Accademia is an original, or if Hadrian had an exact copy of the Dove Basin made for himself (as was his wont). Whichever the case, this exquisite mosaic is now displayed at the Capitoline Museum, in Rome.

The Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project has also been mapping the Accademia.
Courtesy of DHVP

UNDERGROUND FEATURES OF THE SITE

Not only did Hadrian build far and wide across his land; he constructed networks of corridors, as well as tunnels, below ground. Identifying those underground circulation paths and roadways, without which the Villa could not have functioned, is essential to understanding the true scale of the small city that Hadrian created.

Although regular Visitors aren’t allowed to peer into Hadrian’s Underworld, it’s important in this Diary to mention what’s out of sight at the Villa.

Two types of below-grade structures were built:

#1 — The Cryptoportico: a normal feature in large Roman buildings.

Covered, semi-subterranean corridors whose vaulting supported above-ground structures, Cryptoporticos had natural lighting, which filtered in through openings at the top of the arches. Archaeologists at the Villa have long known of these sunken corridors, but the full extent of the Villa’s web of sub terrestrial hallways will probably never be known.
This network of long, hidden galleries ( which connected the basement of one building to the next, and to the next… ) at Hadrian’s Villa served many purposes. Some passages were secret, and allowed the Emperor privacy of movement. Other passages were lavishly decorated: reserved for the pleasure-walks of nobles who wanted exercise, during foul weather. Many more cryptoporticos were used for access to buildings, by the hundreds of servants who staffed the Villa (as well as could be arranged, Hadrian’s Help was Out-of-Sight-Out-of-Mind). Supplies of firewood to the various Bath Houses could be delivered invisibly, via oxcart, through the largest of these hidden corridors. Wherever above-ground serenity and efficiency were desired at Hadrian’s Villa, cryptoporticos were sure to be built.

Underground Corridor at the Winter Palace. Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

Cryptoporticus Under the Great Baths.
Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

Cryptoporticus Under the Piazza D’Oro.
This connected the Piazza D’Oro with the Great Trapezium underground road system.
Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

The Cryptoporticus With Mosaic Vault was inherited from the ancient Republican villa, and preserved and incorporated into Hadrian’s design-scheme for his Winter Palace.
XIX Century engraving, by Penna.
Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

#2 – Underground Roadways and Tunnels: Hadrian’s Villa has an enormous subterranean road system, which is unlike anything else
(that we know of) from his time.

Investigation of the far-reaching system of large, and deeply-dug tunnels that honeycomb the ground below Hadrian’s Villa has only recently begun, but the scope of that which has been discovered since 2001 is already mind-boggling.

In 2001, a group of amateur Italian cavers began to look for the networks of roads that had been long-suspected to lie beneath 296 acres of fields of Hadrian’s estate (all told, Hadrian’s entire estate might once have covered 600 acres). The members of Underground Rome, led by Marco Placidi, are all experienced cavers; their explorations are directed by archaeologists, who have schooled the cavers in all necessary scientific protocols.

Underground Rome’s cavers have explored nine miles of the Villa’s water pipes and sewers. They’ve charted many small, dirt-filled tunnels in the vicinity of the Accademia and the Canopus. They’ve burrowed into cavernous passageways which lead from the Villa’s most densely-built sections out to the countryside. They’ve mapped the huge trapezoidal circuit that’s called the Great Trapezium (where donkey carts making deliveries of supplies for the Villa would enter, pause to dump their cargo at a connector tunnel which led to the Villa Proper, and then proceed back toward the exit to the Above-World).

The Cavers of Underground Rome, and Marina De Franceschini. Courtesy of Marina De Franceschini

Another breakthrough came in 2013, when—as cavers do—Placidi and his crew dropped into a yet another small hole in the ground. They discovered a light shaft leading to a previously-unknown tunnel. Although filled nearly to its ceiling with soil, at 17 feet wide, they’d found a roadway which could accommodate two-way cart-traffic. Underground Rome’s adventures are continuing: by digging, wriggling, and—where spaces are too tight for even a wriggle—by mounting cameras on remote-controlled vehicles, they’re methodically redefining the dimensions of Hadrian’s Villa.

Locations of the Tunnels which have been discovered, since 2001, at Hadrian’s Villa.
Image courtesy of Marco Placidi/
Sotterraneidiroma.it

This newly-discovered tunnel begins at the center of the complex and runs for half a mile to the 700 meter circular spur, which is called the Great Trapezium, or Grande Trapezio. [Note: 700 meters equals 2300 feet, equals .44 miles]
Image courtesy of Marco Placidi/
Sotterraneidiroma.it

A double-wide tunnel in the Great Trapezium. Photo courtesy of Francesco Lerteri and
Marina De Franceschini.

Photos taken in August of 2013 of the ongoing explorations of the Underground World of Hadrian’s Villa
Image courtesy of Marco Placidi/
Sotterraneidiroma.it

We Return to THE MARITIME THEATER (or ISLAND ENCLOSURE, or NATATORIUM )

Maddeningly, this structure — which Benedetta Adembri calls “the symbol of the singularity and the innovation in the architectural design of the entire Villa complex” – isn’t open to normal Visitors.We can probably blame Pirro Ligorio for assigning the overwrought “Maritime Theater” label. I prefer “Island Enclosure:” it better describes this place … which is effectively an isolation chamber.

Location of the Maritime Theater.
Courtesy of DHVP

Detailed Plan of the Maritime Theater. Courtesy of DHVP

3D Rendering of the Maritime Theater.
Courtesy of DHVP

With a diameter of 150 feet, the Island Enclosure’s outer footprint nearly matches that of the Pantheon. A tall ring wall encircled the Enclosure and provided perfect privacy for the occupants of this jewel-box hideaway. Running inside the entirety of the perimeter wall was a colonnade, with forty evenly-spaced Ionic columns mounted along the outer edge of a doughnut-shaped moat. The moat, completely lined in white marble, had crossings at two points, via wooden bridges which could be raised, so as to block access to the inner Island. On the circular, artificial Island Hadrian used dizzying combinations of interlocking, geometrical shapes to cram together many small, interconnected rooms: which included various lounges, a library, a dining area, two little bedrooms, a full complement of bathing spaces (hot, warm, and cold), and a private latrine. Dead-center on the Island, a garden atrium was defined by four inner walls, which were arranged in an eccentric, convex configuration. In this inward-looking, Play-House-Fit-For-An-Emperor, all of the creature comforts were provided…but in miniature.

During 18th century excavations of the Island Enclosure, this red marble fawn was discovered. It is now displayed at the Capitoline Museums, in Rome. Image courtesy of the Capitoline Museums, Rome

Hadrian, who built so compulsively in the 2nd century, was, in many instances, expressing himself in an architectural style which wasn’t given a name until the 17th century. Consider the great variety of spaces on the following, un-annotated floor plan of the Island Enclosure…and then imagine the ways in which the Emperor could have decorated his walls, and modeled his vaulted ceilings. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “Baroque” as:

“Marked generally by use of complex forms, bold ornamentation, and the juxtaposition of contrasting elements often conveying a sense of drama, movement, and tension.” “Baroque” is as good a description as any, for Hadrian’s design-work, here on his Island Enclosure.

This un-annotated Plan of the Island Enclosure reveals the intricacy of Hadrian’s geometry. But remember: above the marks of foundation walls and footings that you see here, Hadrian built many different kinds of vaults and ceilings. We can only guess about the profiles of those rooflines.

Recreation of the Maritime Theater, AFTER Hadrian’s time. (you’ll note that the artist hasn’t drawn the central structures). Image courtesy of Archeolibri.

The Maritime Theater, today.
Image courtesy of Archeolibri.

The central island, of the Maritime Theater. Courtesy of DHVP

Aerial View of the Maritime Theater.
Directly below the Theater are the remains of the Greek Library.
To the right of the Theater is the Philosphers Hall.
Above the Theater are the Heliocaminus Baths.
The grass covered area at the upper right hand corner of this photo is just a small bit of the Pecile’s garden court.
Image courtesy of Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Lazio.

As weary and overheated as we become, during our hours of wandering there, it’s always difficult to tear ourselves away from Hadrian’s magnificent and dilapidated estate. Even if we’re not sure about exactly WHAT we’ve been seeing there in the ruins, a combination of elation and melancholy will overtake any alert and sensitive souls who enter the archaeological site. Elation comes as we’re embraced by the remnants of the Emperor’s extraordinary buildings and courtyards. It comes when we brush our fingers across the Romans’ ancient stonework. It comes while we’re gazing across the vast stretches of the Villa’s water gardens. But then melancholy edges in, as we remind ourselves that, in the moment he died, Hadrian’s estate at Tivoli — this singular creation, the likes of which the Roman Empire had never before built — would became irrelevant and burdensome to his successor.
The Villa was itself a personification of its Emperor, and, as things turned out, the estate was to be the final, magnificent display of the Roman Empire’s wealth and reach. “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.”

Glories of the World Pass.
Visits End. We prepare to exit the Site:

We’ve returned to the Portal in the Great North Wall of the Pecile, and are looking toward the long cypress-lined avenue, which will lead us downhill, past the Visitors’ Center, and finally to the Parking Lot, where we’ll have to deal with the Realities of Tour Bus Mobs, Ice Cream Vendors (those…. I like), and Traffic.

This grand allee of cypress trees was planted in the mid-1700s by Count Giuseppe Fede, an amateur archaeologist who in 1724
began to buy up as many parcels of land at the site of Hadrian’s Villa as he could. Were it not for Count Fede’s efforts to secure the ruins of the Villa, the site would very likely be in much worse shape than it is. At the end of the 19th century, most of the remains of the Villa then became the property of the Italian kingdom.

Excavations at Hadrian’s Villa have been proceeding, in fits and starts, since the mid-1500s … and time is not on the side of those who seek to completely unravel the mysteries of Hadrian’s grand and continually-crumbling creation. Since Pirro Ligorio began to look seriously at the ruins, opinions about the Villa’s original forms and functions have constantly changed.

A rigorous archaeological approach to excavating and interpreting the ruins must form the bedrock for our quest to better understand what Hadrian built in Tivoli. The research and explorations that are being done by scholars such as Marina De Franceschini, and Bernard Frischer, and by the intrepid cavers of Underground Rome, are of critical importance.

But beyond these scientific and historical approaches, speculations about the psychology of Hadrian (aka: The Man Who Caused It All To Be Built ) are also necessary, and inevitable.

American architect Charles Moore, in his 1960 essay for PERSPECTA, presented this entertaining and always spot-on commentary about Villa Adriana, just a smidgen of which I’ll include here (with permission granted by the MIT Press).

“Hadrian’s entry in the megalomania division, though, since it bears so heavily the stamp of one man, seems to come much closer to the edge of madness. It is the product, as Eleanor Clark pointed out, of a craze to build, very like those nineteenth-century follies in the United States whose owners, obeying only the dictates of some irresistible inner urge, added crazily, continually to them, and were generally only stopped by death. But this is not crazy in quite the same way, because this is often beautiful. It is perhaps much more parallel with Thomas Jefferson’s efforts at Monticello, the work of a man moved to establish himself firmly on a piece of land, and to reaffirm the establishment constantly by building there, while his duties and his interests kept him far abroad. “

“For Hadrian’s conduct of his office…was based on travel. He strengthened the Roman Empire by traveling through it, and formed his own character along the way. He had been born in Spain, but Athens was said to be his favorite place, and the art of Greece, some of it already over five centuries old, his ideal, though he collected art from Egypt and the east, and many other places too, and seems to have found the vaguely oriental charms of a Bithynian more to his taste than whatever Greek talent was available. Indeed, the most striking point of rapport between Hadrian and ourselves is this eclecticism.”

[NQ’s Note: Eleanor Clark’s 1950 essay HADRIAN’S VILLA, which is included in her book ROME AND A VILLA, is a highly impressionistic…and refreshing…riff on Hadrian.]

Detail of exquisite masonry, at the Heliocaminus Baths

It is this very eclecticism which has gripped the imaginations of all those who, across the centuries, have clambered over what’s left of Hadrian’s Villa. Even if we’re not consciously analyzing the ruins as we follow circuitous routes around crumbled walls and under fragmentary arches, we’re sensing that, in this place, Hadrian’s ever-changing styles and manipulations of geometric volume seem almost to be experimental.

Hadrian’s Villa, unlike most small cities, was not a place that evolved over time. Its labyrinth of spaces did not grow with sequential generations; its layers of form and richness of meaning were not added onto by consecutive occupants. Instead, Hadrian’s massive estate appeared over the course of two decades…which is nearly in the blink of an eye, at least in the terms of the Ancient World, when buildings were hand-made.

Somehow, with brick and stone, Hadrian has left us a veritable mind map: a physical record of the restless progressions of his artistic tastes and architectural philosophies. Such restlessness resonates powerfully, with our Modern minds.

Aerial View of the Central Portion of
Hadrian’s Villa. Courtesy of DHVP

Copyright 2018. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express & written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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Two Modern Mannerist Homes & Gardens in Italy: Tomaso Buzzi’s LA SCARZUOLA, & Niki de Saint Phalle’s TAROT GARDEN

Fasten your seatbelts: you’ve arrived at Niki de Saint Phalle’s TAROT GARDEN ! How does one make a Mannerist Garden? Hmmm. Emphasize Feeling over Formality, but practice Fine Craftsmanship. Be aware of History, but give equal credence to your Personal Mythology. Accept that Life is Precarious and Mysterious Event. Toss in a fistful of Exaggeration, and a dash of Fear. Add plenty of Unions of Opposites, along with a pinch of Eroticism. Find ways to express all of the above ideas in physical form, and now you’ve got the makings of your own, Mannerist Garden! Not so simple as you first thought, is it?

Fasten your seatbelts! You’ve arrived at Niki de Saint Phalle’s TAROT GARDEN, which she constructed from 1979 through 1998, and where she lived from the beginnings of the Garden until 1994. How does one make a Mannerist Home & Garden? Hmmm. Emphasize Feeling over Formality, but practice Fine Craftsmanship. Be aware of History, but give equal credence to your Personal Mythology. Accept that Life is a Precarious and Mysterious Event. Toss in a fistful of Exaggeration, and a dash of Fear. Add plenty of Unions of Opposites, along with a pinch of Eroticism. Find ways to express all of the above ideas in physical form, and you’re in the Mannerist Realm.

December 2016

Among all the avenues of self-expression available to humans, one of the most enticing has always been the building of a home and garden. For the mature visual artist in particular, modeling timber and stone and plant material into environments which give three-dimensional form to the artist’s peculiarities of imagination and character becomes a Great and Inevitable Challenge: a building project where the Psyche manifests itself as the Physical. And when the artist-builder is one who with his smaller-scaled works has ignored artistic convention, the results of his equally irreverent approach to home-making can, at least at the outset, infuriate his immediate neighbors. In a little while, I’ll guide you through the Italian homes and gardens of two fearless, but very different, 20th century artists: Tomaso Buzzi, and Niki de Saint Phalle.

TomasoBuzzi Architect Tomaso Buzzi, based in Milan, was one of the most influential practitioners of avant-garde design in Italy. Born at Ticino, in 1900. Died at Rapallo, in 1981. In 1956 he purchased an ancient convent in Umbria, and for the next quarter century he built on the convent’s grounds a sprawling home and gardens, which he called his “Citta Ideale” or “Ideal City.”

Architect Tomaso Buzzi, based in Milan, was one of the most influential practitioners of avant-garde design in Italy. Born at Ticino, in 1900. Died at Rapallo, in 1981. In 1956 he purchased an ancient convent in Umbria, and for the next quarter century he built on the convent’s grounds a sprawling home and gardens, which he called his “Citta Ideale” or “Ideal City.”

Artist Niki de Saint Phalle, Born at Neuilly-Sur Siene, France in 1930. Died at La Jolla, California in 2002. Her “art happenings,” when she fired a rifle at her paintings and sculptures, made her a notorious figure on the international art scene in the early 1960s. By the mid 60s, her enormous, colorful sculptures of women, known as her “Nanas,” had brought her even greater fame. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi

Artist Niki de Saint Phalle, Born at Neuilly-Sur Siene, France in 1930. Died at La Jolla, California in 2002.
Her “art happenings,” when she fired a rifle at her paintings and sculptures, made her a notorious figure on the international art scene in the early 1960s. By the mid 60s, her enormous, colorful sculptures of women, known as her “Nanas,” had brought her even greater fame.
Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi

But first: a sizable detour, as I explain the evolution of my own house-and-garden-making, which I present to illustrate to my Readers who aren’t of the house-building persuasion that, no matter how expansive or modest the design programme, when the aim is to devise a home and garden which will offer something beyond comfortable shelter and conventional resale appeal — when the homebuilder’s hope is that her refuge will also become a piece of livable art — the design process becomes interesting and perilous.

Most custom-made homes begin as dream fragments, decades before blueprints are made or ground is broken. I began drawing house plans when I was five. My first memorable effort included an unsettling glass-floored living room, suspended over an active stream (and no, I hadn’t at that early stage heard of Fallingwater).

For nearly five decades I was a typically rootless American. Never feeling that I’d found HOME, I lived in an assortment of places. A Levittown original; a Tudor revival; a Victorian pile; a Sixties split; a Bay Area studio; a crumbling railroad apartment; a “luxury” condo; a 200-year-old cider mill. I’d formed definite opinions about each: had kept a list of their good parts, and of their parts to forget.

I was born in Northern California, raised on the East Coast, majored in architecture at Massachusetts College of Art, prepared for a publishing career at the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course, founded my own publishing management business when I was 27, and foolishly endured a long and ill-founded marriage. When I was 49, I wised up, left the marriage, and also shuttered my business. Distraught and unmoored, I then worried to my father about all the NEW ways in which I might yet fail. But his reply to my litany of anticipated failures was always the same: “Life is short! What haven’t you done that you’d still like to try? Well then: DO it!”

Certain that such self-indulgence would be insane, as well as being the opposite of my Yankee’s-approach to finance, I nevertheless began to follow my father’s advice, and rather than gradually work my way up the Bucket List, I began with top-most task: that
of designing and building my own home.

I knew that to live the way I wanted, I’d need a tranquil, beautiful landscape around me. I imagined sleeping inside of a lantern that was suspended from great wooden beams. I calculated that I needed only four rooms (along—of course—with two full baths), all organized to follow the sun’s daily path. I wanted glowing shoji screens, and generous light to counteract my Norwegian melancholy. I wanted a huge, warm hearth. I wanted halls that teased and rooms that satisfied. I wanted a house of glass that revealed no secrets. And since, in middle years, I’d found that gardening meant HAPPINESS, I wanted my home to function as the gazebo at the center of the lovely, low-maintenance gardens I’d finally figured out how to grow.

Old-fashioned Hollyhocks, grown from seed

Old-fashioned Hollyhocks, grown from seed

I filled sketch pads, each page confidently crammed with these separate dreams. But while I drew tall windows and bookshelves, and high rafters and secret inside-peeking-places, the
graceful Palladian proportions that I could FEEL were not transferred to paper. I became discouraged: my hopes for a small but grand home would never be achieved.

One weekend I fled to my sister, who nursed my heart, which had been broken by things far worse than architectural failure. Pamela,
grasping for something to distract me, said “I think you’ll like seeing Frank’s,” and called to ask the architect who’d designed the renovations for her house if he’d give me a tour of his own home.

As I entered Frank Warner Riepe’s place—huge, airy, complex, cerebral … and oddly situated in a conventional suburbia— I saw a replica of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s striking but utterly unsittable tea-room chair and felt comfortable nonetheless. Here was someone for whom architectural history, and light-games, and DELIGHT were living things. He GOT it!

Architect Frank Warner Riepe www.fwrba.com

Architect Frank Warner Riepe
http://www.fwrba.com

The next week Frank sent a postcard: “It was nice to meet you…let’s talk again.” I remembered the wrongness of the watery living room of my childhood design, pawed through my piles
of magazine clippings and unsuccessful sketches, and finally bowed: to properly build my home, I’d have to surrender my draughting chair.

Over the next several months, I bombarded Frank with house plans, collages, and essays. He asked to see the books I read, the art I planned to hang. I told him that I love geometry and serene Renaissance squares, Japanese varnished wood, reflections, my grandfather’s ink rendering of the Petit Trianon, rosy colors, white boxes, and raw stone. I regaled him with tales of New Hampshire’s brutal chills and powerful winds. I told him that, somehow, I manage to shatter everything, and so this new home of mine had to be unbreakable.

Having dumped this tangle of information upon Frank, I went to Italy for a month; the job of deciding the form of my house was now his! Designing the next stage of my life was still a problem, however. But one afternoon as I wandered through Lorenzo de Medici’s palazzo in Florence, my problem was solved. As I studied the cornice of that building, the arches and angles and rhythms of its classical architecture transformed themselves into mental doodles of chairs and benches and tables. By the time I’d traveled to see my artist friend Jill Carlson De Carli in Venice, I’d drawn an entire portfolio of wrought iron garden furniture, which I named the “Lorenzo Line.”

My Lorenzo Arm Chair was the first piece that I designed. Hand-hammered depressions are in the seat; they cradle almost ALL sizes of buttocks.

My Lorenzo Arm Chair was the first piece that I designed. Hand-hammered depressions are in the seat; they cradle almost ALL sizes of buttocks.

I returned to America, eager to find a blacksmith who’d make my furniture, and also prepared to begin what I expected would be the endless process of revising house plans with Frank. Instead, Frank presented me with a few, powerful drawings. I’d once told him that everything I love is deceptively simple…like Fred and Ginger dancing.

Fred & Ginger, TOP HAT: 1925. They're dancing to Irving Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain)." Sublime.

Fred & Ginger, TOP HAT: 1935. They’re dancing to Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain).” Sublime.

And with functionality and artistry already fully joined, Frank gave me Astaire and Rogers with his very first design proposal. My seemingly-austere refuge was to be compact—with a footprint 20 feet wide by 56 feet long; and its roof peaking at 25 feet—jutting out of its south-facing slope, like a ship slicing through a wave. The crisp white clapboard exterior would give a nod to the rectitude of New England’s meetinghouses, while the house’s over-scaled windows — facing East, South, and West — would flood the wood-accented interiors with natural light.

Ginger-the-Cat (named after Ms.Rogers) stakes her claim to the window-seat.

Ginger-the-Cat (named after Ms.Rogers) stakes her claim to the window-seat.

A simple metal roof to repel ice and snow. Foot-thick walls to keep me warm. Study and exposed trusses of Douglas Fir. A massive, Earth-Mother fireplace. Huge double-hung windows, topped with smaller windows, marching down each long side.

This is where I work as write these Diaries.

This is where I work as write these Diaries.

Seen from different vantage points, a house of indeterminate scale: “How BIG, or small, is that house, anyway?”

East Elevation

East Elevation

Sliding shoji screens, surrounding a sleeping loft. A main living space with a route for circular-pacing around the chimney: kitchen to Great Room to library hall, to kitchen again.

The refinements would continue: Frank’s favorite verb became “agonize” as he described how he worked to mold all of my design preferences into a coherent whole, one which was both practical and elegant. And when any portion of his working drawings began to feel a bit too predictable (Frank would become exasperated with what he called my weakness for the “Relentless Square”), he’d throw me a literal curve or two, by designing circles of dark slate to counteract the linearity of the blonde oak floors…

Bookshelves, shoehorned into every available nook and cranny.

Bookshelves, shoehorned into every available nook and cranny.

…or by drawing an absurdly-sensuous but somehow perfectly correct bank of windows to overlook the front porch (my UPS man thinks these windows resemble a grand piano, and so must signify that a musician lives within…) .

My front porch. Image courtesy of DESIGN NEW ENGLAND.

My front porch. Image courtesy of DESIGN NEW ENGLAND.

A division of labor evolved. Frank did form, structure and specs: all the beefy and serious stuff. I chose colors, appliances, cabinetry, hardware and surface finishes; planned how I’d furnish each room, designed objects (an armoire, a hefty fireplace screen, a 7 ½ foot tall pyramidal vitrine), and later was responsible for making daily site visits during the 2-year-long construction phase.

My Pyramidal Vitrine was built by Neil Ritter. I chose silk curtain tassels to use for the door-pulls.

My Pyramidal Vitrine was built by Neil Ritter. I chose silk curtain tassels to use for the door-pulls.

Once Frank’s authoritative working drawings had been completed, I thought things must well underway. But as I then began to interview local contractors, I was met with intractability. Although New Hampshire’s cadre of builders agreed that Frank’s working drawings were the most thorough they’d ever seen, I witnessed much head-shaking. My basic premise—that of a big-feeling-but-small-square-footage-house was, to them, incomprehensible. E.F.Schumacher’s 1973 treatise, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL, was never-read or long-forgotten, and the tiny-and-small-house movement which is now fashionable hadn’t yet gained momentum.

“Why don’t you build a 3-bedroom Cape?” “Don’t build this as a one-bedroom house: it’ll never sell.” “I don’t understand this design…why does it have foot thick walls?” “ Those big retaining walls on both sides of the house are ugly.” “Why does the living room have such a high ceiling?” “What are shoji screens?”

But finally, I found the Cutter Brothers—Dave and Kevin: second-generation contractors who, upon seeing Frank’s working drawings, rubbed their hands with glee at the “FUN” they’d have, hand-crafting such an unusual little house. Over the construction phase, my first job was to oversee the clearing and reshaping of the land. My second task was to make the daily site visits. Apart from Debbie Desmarais ( the mason who built my massive granite fireplace ) at every step along the way, I was the only woman on site. Once the Cutter brothers and their crew saw that I actually could read the working drawings, and they also understood how greatly I admired their technical skills, the build-out became a joyful process.

I’ve lived in my home for many years now, and each of my visitors remarks that time spent here is good for the soul. Outside, my gardens have expanded and matured…

My house and gardens cover 2 acres. The remaining 3 acres of my property --- hilly woodland, wetlands, and a babbling brook --- have been left wild, as habitats for mammals, birds & reptiles.

My house and gardens cover 2 acres. The remaining 3 acres of my property — hilly woodland, wetlands, and a babbling brook — have been left wild, as habitats for mammals, birds & reptiles.

…and are domesticated by groupings of my furniture.

My Chalice Dining Table & Lorenzo Side Chairs, set for lunch, in late Springtime.

My Chalice Dining Table & Lorenzo Side Chairs, set for lunch, in late Springtime.

Perhaps the most satisfying result is that these rooms which were so carefully planned to reflect my personality and to serve my needs have nevertheless also developed interesting qualities of their own. I inhabit a light-box, whose exterior and interior windows over the course of every day filter, diffract and capture Nature’s light in never-repeating patterns.

This house imposes a welcome ship-shapeness and a serenity upon me and all those who visit. And happily, contrary to the usual occurrence of an architect and his client becoming estranged after the lengthy process of Design/Build, Frank Riepe and his splendid wife Marilyn have become part of my extended family.

Over time, I’ve begun to feel that, just as a custom-tailored suit of the finest fabric becomes more and more supple with years of wear, these walls and I have fitted ourselves to each other in the most graceful and comforting manner.

South side of House, with Meadow-Pond, in early Spring

South side of House, with Meadow-Pond, in early Spring

After this long digression — a detour which I hope has now given those Readers who’ve never built themselves a home and garden just a taste of how complex a process this is — we’ll look at two surprising Italian properties, each of which took over 20 years to create. And as you learn about these extraordinary homes, bear in mind my saga of small-house building, and then multiply my efforts a thousand-fold: you’ll get a better notion
of how truly Herculean were the creative labors of Tomaso Buzzi, and Niki de Saint Phalle.

Onward….to Italy.

italianflagnaval

In early May of 2014, as I explored Bomarzo and Villa Lante, two eccentric Italian gardens in Northern Lazio ( both created in the mid 1500s in the Mannerist Style) , I was told about the existence of some modern counterparts, created during the late 20th century: gardens whose iconoclastic natures echoed those of their late-Renaissance predecessors.

Onwards from 2014, a growing sense of Unfinished Business plagued me: it became clear that I had to return to Italy to learn about a particular pair of Modern Mannerist gardens: Tomaso Buzzi’s La Scarzuola, and Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden. I needed to see for myself how these two artists who possessed very different sensibilities had each reshaped small parcels of the Italian countryside into places where fantasy was given solid and permanent form.

As I later began to research these new gardens, I mused that they’d been influenced by the same invisible and anarchic Italian Design-Sprites who for centuries seem to have been busy cross-pollinating and provoking the imaginations of many of those garden-makers who’ve toiled to make the convention-defying landscapes which are especially prevalent in West-Central Italy.

My garden-travels during July of 2016 were to Northern Lazio, Southernmost Tuscany, and Eastern Umbria

My garden-travels during July of 2016 were to Northern Lazio, Southernmost Tuscany, and Western Umbria

When I composed my Armchair Traveler’s Diary about the gardens I’d visited in 2014 — titled “Two Mannerist Gardens in Northern Lazio, Italy” — I began by attempting to define the nebulous meaning of Mannerism, and so, with today’s Diary, I won’t repeat that lengthy art-history lesson. For my extra-studious Readers who need memories refreshed, here’s the link to that article:

https://nanquick.com/2015/01/11/two-mannerist-gardens-in-northern-lazio-italy/

I used this photo of myself in the mouth of the Ogre at Bomarzo, as the lead for that article on Mannerist Gardens. You can be certain that Niki de Saint Phalle's HIGH PRIESTESS in her Tarot Garden is a direct descendant of Bomarzo's Ogre.

I used this photo of myself in the mouth of the Ogre at Bomarzo, as the lead for that article on Mannerist Gardens. You can be certain that Niki de Saint Phalle’s HIGH PRIESTESS in her Tarot Garden is a direct descendant of Bomarzo’s Ogre.

As always, when getting to rural Italian locales threatens to become especially gnarly for this solo-traveler, I turn to Valentina Grossi Orzalesi, co-owner of the custom-crafted-tours company, One Step Closer ( headquartered near Florence: http://www.onestepcloser.net ) . Prior to my July 2016 visit to Rome, I requested that Valentina once again book for me her best — and my favorite — Rome-based guide, Dr.Vannella della Chiesa, along with her driver Anacleto…both of whom had so ably led me to Bomarzo and Villa Lante, in May of 2014.

And, having during my 2014 trip to Italy discovered my Perfect Roman Hotel, there was no reason to think for more than a split-second about once again reserving myself a room at the Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli ( http://www.hoteldonnacamillasavelli.com )
in Trastevere. Note: You can find a complete report on that Hotel in my Diary titled “My Recipe for a Stress-Free Week in Rome.”

https://nanquick.com/2014/12/21/my-recipe-for-a-stress-free-week-in-rome/

For nine days this past July, the Donna Camilla Savelli was my comfy home-base: a quiet refuge, run by gracious professionals, in a setting of confidently understated luxury.

In future Diaries I’ll report on the other Italian gardens I visited (Villa Farnese at Caprarola; Castello Ruspoli at Vignanello; Vatican Gardens; Gardens at Villa Medici; Michelangelo’s Cloister at the Diocletian Baths; The Papal Gardens at Castel Gandolfo). And NO, for those who are heat-sensitive, July is clearly NOT the best month for your Italian adventures. With age, however, I am finding myself immune to the discomforts of hot weather…see, one’s dotage does has its advantages.

Roman Dawn, at 6:26AM on July 6, 2016, as I threw open the window shutters of my Hotel room.

Roman Dawn, at 6:26AM on July 6, 2016, as I threw open the window shutters of my Hotel room.

The VIEW over the Hotel Courtyard, and the rooftops of Trastevere, from my room at the Donna Camilla Savelli, on late afternoon of July 7, 2016.

The VIEW over the Hotel Courtyard, and the rooftops of Trastevere, from my room at the Donna Camilla Savelli, on late afternoon of July 7, 2016.

After having spent most of June in England ( where it had rained nearly every day ), on the 5th of July I arrived in Rome … just as Italy began to be clobbered with waves of humidity and high 90s temperatures. But no matter; being able to ditch my too-frequently-worn Hunter Wellies for a pair of sexy, amazingly-supportive Munro gladiator sandals felt like Liberation…

Munro Sandals. What's not to like about these shoes?

Munro Sandals. What’s not to like about these shoes?

….and so, while the Romans around me groaned about the stifling warmth, I rejoiced at the novel sensation of feeling hot breezes upon my bare toes. Every morning, after a restorative night’s sleep in my air conditioned hotel room, I donned my comfortable footwear, pulled on a simple sleeveless shift, plopped a hat on my head, grabbed my cameras, and prepared to walk for many miles…either along the City’s cobbled streets, or over acres and acres of countryside gardens. My habits of wearing simple attire and of getting constant exercise — adapted to whichever country and whatever climate greet me — allow me to dwell upon the wonders around me while I eliminate most of the travel discomforts which come from being slave to one’s luggage, and from spending too many days in couch-potato mode. Ultimately, the KEY to remaining presentable while wandering for 40 days and 40 nights (the total duration of my summertime 2016 trip) is to pack only as much clothing as can be squeezed into a single, compact suitcase, and then to be conscientious about doing hand-laundry in one’s hotel bathroom, each and every evening! To go clubbing, or to go scrubbing? I always opt for soap and sink.

But first, before we begin our visits to this Diary’s Modern Mannerist Gardens, please reacquaint yourselves with my Italian travel guides, Vannella and Anacleto.

Steady Driver Anacleto, and Esteemed Guide Vannella, at the entrance to the splendid gardens of Villa Farnese at Caprarola ( built in the mid 1500s, and which we’ll explore at length in a future Diary) .

Steady Driver Anacleto, and Esteemed Guide Vannella, at the entrance to the splendid gardens of Villa Farnese at Caprarola
( built in the mid 1500s, and which we’ll explore at length in a future Diary) .

The two gardens we’ll soon discover could be visited by a Rome-based visitor over the course of one, VERY long day, but such an itinerary would end up being more work than fun. Besides, such an arduous schedule would leave no time for enjoyment of a leisurely lunch… and sampling the specialties of small restaurants in the Italian countryside is an essential pleasure.

The Tarot Garden is outside of Capalbio, which is near the seacoast, and the island village of Porto Ercole. La Scarzuola is further inland, to the north, outside the hamlet of Montegabbione (too small a place to register on this map): in the mountains above the town of Orvieto. Driving from Rome to Capalbio takes 2 hours (assuming that Rome’s traffic isn’t gridlocked; sometimes extricating one’s self from Rome takes far longer than planned). Driving from Rome to Montegabbione takes about 2 ¾ hours.

The Tarot Garden is outside of Capalbio,
which is near the seacoast, and the island village of Porto Ercole.
La Scarzuola is further inland, to the north, outside the hamlet
of Montegabbione (too small a place to register on this map):
in the mountains above the town of Orvieto.
Driving from Rome to Capalbio takes 2 hours (assuming that Rome’s traffic isn’t gridlocked; sometimes extricating one’s self from Rome takes far longer than planned). Driving from Rome to Montegabbione takes about 2 ¾ hours.

A more detailed map of our destinations. This map does indicate the location of Montegabbione: which is north of Orvieto, and then Fabro… on Strada Statale (state highway)# SS71…not much more than a serpentine, mountain road (if you’re prone to motion-sickness, remember your Dramamine). The Tarot Garden is much easier to find, at the exit for Capalbio, just off European Route # E80.

A more detailed map of our destinations. This map does indicate the location of Montegabbione: which is north of Orvieto, and then Fabro… on Strada Statale (state highway)# SS71…not much more than a serpentine, mountain road (if you’re prone to motion-sickness, remember your Dramamine). The Tarot Garden is much easier to find, at the exit for Capalbio, just off European Route # E80.

I visited La Scarzuola on July 13th, and the Tarot Garden on July 11th. We’ll begin now in reverse chronology, with La Scarzuola.

Aerial view of La Scarzuola

Aerial view of La Scarzuola

Wednesday, 13 July 2016
A visit to: La Scarzuola
05010 Montegabbione, in the Terni Region of Southern Umbria

phone & fax: 011-39-0763-837463
website: http://www.lascarzuola.com
email: info@lascarzuloa.com

Open throughout the year, by appointment only.

tofindus
Arranging a visit to La Scarzuola demands persistence.
Guided tours are available throughout the year, for groups of no fewer than 8 visitors. Tours are given either in Italian, or in English, and you must specify your desired language. When you email La Scarzuola to request a tour, you’ll receive their reply in Italian, but the gist of the message will be you’ll
have to wait until enough other people have signed up to reach that 8 person minimum. And once you’ve finally set foot on terra firma, don’t expect to wander freely over the grounds; full access to the complex of buildings and gardens is not allowed, and a firm time limit of 90 minutes is enforced.

The formidable front gates swing open at exactly 11 AM.

The formidable front gates swing open at exactly 11 AM.

This plaque outside the Gate gives early-birds something to study.

This plaque outside the Gate gives early-birds something to study.

Gilded Hands, outside the Gate

Gilded Hands, outside the Gate

More to look at, as wait to enter...

More to look at, as we wait to enter…

La Scarzuola’s quadruple-language Visitor’s Guide offers the following history:

“This Franciscan convent, founded in 1218 by St. Francis of Assisi, who planted here a bush of bay and roses and caused a spring to gush forth, owes its name to a marsh plant, the SCARZA, which the Saint used to build himself a shelter. The apse of the church still bears an early 13th century fresco depicting the Saint in levitation.”

Finally through the Front Gate, we approach the Church.

Finally through the Front Gate, we approach the Church.

 Saint Francis of Assisi -- although not shown aloft here --- was known as a holy man who could hover 1.3 meters above the ground.

Saint Francis of Assisi — although not shown aloft here — was known as a holy man who could hover 1.3 meters above the ground.

Turning our backs to the Church, we look toward the entry gate, and see the other English-speaking folks who will be joining the tour group.

Turning our backs to the Church, we look toward the entry gate, and see some of the other English-speaking folks who will be joining the tour group.

“In 1956, the convent complex was acquired by Milanese architect Tomaso Buzzi (1900 – 1981 ). Between 1958 and 1978, he planned and erected his own IDEAL CITY beside the convent, envisaged as a “theatrical machine.” Buzzi’s city, including as many as 7 theaters, culminates in the Acropolis, a piled-up wealth of buildings comprising numerous archetypes, empty inside and provided with as many compartments as a termites’ nest, which provide many surprising vistas.”

Tomaso Buzzi's Acropolis (and architectural companions). Image courtesy of La Scarzuola.

Tomaso Buzzi’s Acropolis
(and architectural companions). Image courtesy of La Scarzuola.

“A relationship is thus established between the convent (the sacred city) and the theatre buildings (the profane city), both laden with symbols and secrets, references and quotations. Inspired by Francesco Colonna’s HYPNERTOMACHIA POLYPHILI [ translated: “Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream.” This was a romance, illustrated with 168 exquisite woodcuts, and first published in Venice in 1499. ] , the style that best interprets the licence of this design is neo-mannerism: stairs used in all directions, the deliberate disproportion of some parts, a few monsters, the heaping together of buildings and monuments, amounting to surrealism, something of the labyrinth, something evocative, geometric, astronomic, magic.”

Phew! While we’re still chewing all the syllables in
“Hypnertomachia Polyphili,” let’s get up to speed about the book which so greatly influenced Tomaso Buzzi’s design for La Scarzuola. In short, the tale describes Poliphilo’s dream within a dream. He first dreams that after Polia, his beloved, has rejected him he wanders into a forest, where he encounters the requisite number of monsters and fair maidens, and also enters many buildings, which are (of course) built in a dizzying variety of styles. Poliphilo then dreams he’s awakened, but he has actually descended into a second dream, which is populated with nymphs, deities, and more bizarre buildings. The outcome of Poliphilo’s dream within a dream is familiar: like Orpheus, he finally finds Polia (his Eurydice), revives her from near death with his kiss, but, just as he’s about to take firm hold of his beloved, she evaporates. The vivid woodcuts of the “Hypnertomachia” clearly made an impression upon Tomaso Buzzi…

hypnerone
hypnertwo
hypnerthree

…and Colonna’s narrative provided Buzzi with the framework for a bricks-and-mortar encyclopedia, in which small-scale models of the architectural forms that Buzzi most favored were juxtaposed with images which sprang from ancient myth, and from Buzzi’s own preoccupations and fears. He called La Scarzuola his “Petrified Dream.”

Perhaps the final irony of La Scarzuola is that Tomaso Buzzi meant for his fanciful buildings to be eroded by weather, and for his densely-planted gardens to be neglected by humans. From the outset, Buzzi had planned a Future Ruin. All was to be defeated by the passage of time: smothered by brambles and vegetation and ultimately forgotten. Speaking of “the wondrous power of NON FINITO,” Buzzi fashioned his Ideal City using sub-par building materials and methods which had no prospect of enduring, and by the time of Buzzi’s passing, many of the structures on the property had already gone into deep decline.

However, upon Buzzi’s death in 1981, La Scarzuola went to his nephew and only heir, Marco Solari.For the past 36 years, Solari has made it his life’s work to repair
(or to build anew: at the time of his death, Buzzi still had not constructed some of his designs for La Scarzuola) most of the structures with higher quality materials: materials which replicate in every detail Tomaso Buzzi’s original drawings.

Unlike his uncle, Signore Solari has NO intention of allowing Time and Nature to destroy La Scarzuola … such is the prerogative of the Survivor!

I recently emailed Marco Solari to inquire if he has any vintage photos of his uncle’s living quarters at La Scarzuola. Unfortunately, no pictures of those rooms in their original state have survived (which would please Tomaso very well, I think). And, over the course of Marco’s several decades of making improvements at La Scarzuola, all residential spaces have been thoroughly remodeled.

Before we begin our tour of the public spaces at La Scarzuola, I’d like to give you a little peek at some of the refined interiors and furnishings for which Buzzi was also known. From the 1920s until the late 1950s—when Buzzi then turned most of his attentions to the creation of his “retirement” home at La Scarzuola — Buzzi was one of Italy’s most in-demand taste-makers: as an architect, he was known for collaborating well with his fellow architects (an unusual attribute among that tribe). He was also a designer of furniture, glassware, and interiors. His clients included society’s highest-flyers: in Italy (the Agnellis, the Cinis, the Borlettis), and in America (where Hollywood royalty such as George Cukor sought his services). He also taught drawing at Milan’s Polytechnic University, from 1938 until 1954.

Tomaso Buzzi: Chairs

Tomaso Buzzi: Chairs

Tomaso Buzzi for Vetreria Venini

Tomaso Buzzi for Vetreria Venini

Tomaso Buzzi Table and Mirror

Tomaso Buzzi Table and Mirror

Tomaso Buzzi Sofa, circa 1931

Tomaso Buzzi Sofa, circa 1931

Tomaso Buzzi: Staircase at Palazzo Cini, in Venice

Tomaso Buzzi: Staircase at Palazzo Cini, in Venice

Milan’s Villa Nechi, which served as the setting for the film I AM LOVE (made in 2010), was built by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi in the 1930s, and decorated by Tomaso Buzzi in the 1950s. Image courtesy of CINEMA STYLE blog.

Milan’s Villa Nechi, which served as the setting for the film I AM LOVE (made in 2010), was built by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi in the 1930s, and decorated by Tomaso Buzzi in the 1950s. Image courtesy of CINEMA STYLE blog.

Guided tours at La Scarzuola begin with a peek inside the ancient convent’s church, which was constructed in 1282 by local noblemen, on the site where Saint Francis (who died in 1226) had in 1218 used the local marsh plants to build his hut. As our group ( an uncomfortably large assemblage of at least two dozen visitors ) began to walk in single-file through the church’s warren of small rooms our guide reminded us to keep our elbows lowered and to move carefully past the jumble of precious artifacts. Throughout the entire 90-minute-long tour that day, I kept thinking how much more rewarding the experience would be if groups consisted of no more than ten visitors. With so much to see, and so little time allotted, most of my hour and a half at La Scarzuola became about trying to detach myself from the mob for just long enough to quietly observe my surroundings, and then to very quickly take photos to record my progress through the property. The following photos, in which I struggled to have as few people as possible appear, suggest a far more tranquil experience than the one I actually had. Given my druthers, I’d love to return to La Scarzuola for a solitary, day-long amble through this “Ideal City.” And even then, for this aficionado of architecture and gardens, my first day spent exploring and trying to understand the place Buzzi called his “autobiography in stone” would then demand a second day, and then a third. However, as a mere tourist, I had to settle for seeing as much as I could, despite the constraints.

So…our brisk Dog-Trot began: first through the gardens (which Buzzi created to cradle the Convent, which he called the “ Sacred City “ ) , and then father afield, to the literally theatrical “Citta Ideale” (which the architect built to represent the Profane).

Yes, in addition to our gregarious Guide, two friendly Dogs — to whom these Cities truly belong — showed us the way.

One and one-half Dog Houses, for our Two Dog-Guides

One and one-half
Dog Houses, for our Two Dog-Guides

The younger of the two pooches knew EXACTLY where (and when) to lead our group.

The younger of the two pooches knew EXACTLY where (and when) to lead our group.

This older fella seemed very tired, but he was still game, and, with several long rest-stops, he finished the tour with us.

This older fella seemed very tired, but he was still game, and, with several long rest-stops, he finished the tour with us.

A plaque of the Annunciation, on Convent's wall

A plaque of the Annunciation, on Convent’s wall

A Heraldic Symbol, as we approach the Garden

A Heraldic Symbol, as we approach the Garden

Our Lead Dog turns away from the Convent, and leads us toward a long Arbor, and into the Garden.

Our Lead Dog turns away from the Convent, and leads us toward a long Arbor, and into the Garden.

Our Panama-Hatted Guide gives us the Scoop, as we leave the Convent, and begin our Garden tour.

Our Panama-Hatted Guide gives us the Scoop, as we leave the Convent, and begin our Garden tour.

And this passage through yet another leafy tunnel makes us feel as if we've fallen down the Rabbit Hole, and into a Separate World.

And this passage through yet another leafy tunnel makes us feel as if we’ve fallen down the Rabbit Hole, and into a Separate World.

At the end of yet another tunnel, we spy a courtyard.

At the end of yet another tunnel, we spy a courtyard.

We arrive at a small Lily Pond and terrace, which are enclosed by high stone walls.

We arrive at a small Lily Pond and terrace, which are enclosed by high stone walls.

Stone Orbs, at the Lily Pond

Stone Orbs, at the Lily Pond

A hybrid ornament --ancient statue with new brass filigrees -- decorates the Lily Pond.

A hybrid ornament –ancient statue with new brass filigrees — decorates the Lily Pond.

Detail of Lily Pond's statue

Detail of Lily Pond’s statue

A sense of near-claustrophobia, as Italian Cypresses tower over the walls of the Lily Pond's Courtyard.

A sense of near-claustrophobia, as Italian Cypresses tower over the walls of the Lily Pond’s Courtyard.

Brass Starbursts, mounted atop the high walls.

Brass Starbursts, mounted atop the high walls.

Entrance to a Shadowy Garden Pavilion, next to the Lily Pond.

Entrance to a Shadowy Garden Pavilion, next to the Lily Pond.

A woodland path leads to another pool

A woodland path leads to another pool

A secluded pool

A secluded pool

Our Lead Dog pauses to sniff some very interesting pond scum.

Our Lead Dog pauses to sniff some very interesting pond scum.

Another corner of the Garden

Another corner of the Garden

We pass through an opening in the garden wall, which is constructed of a patchwork of field stone, blocks, and concrete. Leaving the shady Garden, we follow a narrow dirt path which winds through a high hedge, and —WHAM — we’re confronted with the Main Ampitheatre of Buzzi’s Ideal/Profane City. This space was fashioned on the slopes of a natural ampitheatre, in the hillside below the Convent. Of the seven theatres in the Ideal City, the Ampitheatre, which seats an audience of 600, is the largest (the tiniest theatre accommodates only 10 people).

My first view of the Ideal/Profane City, with the Umbrian countryside as its Perfect Backdrop.

My first view of the Ideal/Profane City, with the Umbrian countryside as its Perfect Backdrop.

To the right of the Ampitheatre is Buzzi's man-made mountain of reduced-scale depictions of famous pieces of architecture, with an Acropolis at the center.

To the right of the Ampitheatre is Buzzi’s man-made mountain of reduced-scale depictions of famous pieces of architecture, with an Acropolis at the center.

Our Guide told me that La Scarzuola’s insurance policy forbids Tour groups from clambering through this intriguing warren of buildings at the Acropolis. The site is too fragile to survive daily poundings from hundreds of tourist-feet. And all of those stairways — some which lead to Dead Ends, or to Aeries — would be prime sites for tumbles and broken necks. But remember that Tomaso Buzzi built this Little World for himself and his guests: just imagine what FUN climbing over these architectural playgrounds would have been! Perhaps some day if I’m fortunate, I’ll be invited back for a private ramble, as the photographer who took the next three pictures was.

A rare view, inside of Acropolis hill. Image courtesy of Curious Places Blog.

A rare view, inside of Acropolis hill. Image courtesy of Curious Places Blog.

Atop the Ideal City: the Colosseum and a Roman Triumphal Arch. Image courtesy of Curious Places Blog.

Atop the Ideal City: the Colosseum and a Roman Triumphal Arch. Image courtesy of Curious Places Blog.

Another view from within the No-Visitors-Allowed zone. Image courtesy of Curious Places Blog.

Another view from within the No-Visitors-Allowed zone. Image courtesy of Curious Places Blog.

To resume the chronicle of my July 13th visit:

To the left of the Ampitheatre: another Theatre Temple

To the left of the Ampitheatre: another Theatre Temple

Note the patterned paving on the slightly-sloping stage on the raised terrace above the Great Eye.

Note the patterned paving on the slightly-sloping stage on the raised terrace
above the Great Eye.

Tomaso Buzzi didn’t just do cover versions of the architecture of Antiquity. In the Ampitheatre, his Great Eye stage pays homage to
Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (born 1736, died 1806), a French visionary who also called his mostly-unbuildable designs “Ideal Cities.”

In 1785, Ledoux designed this unbuildable Theatre.

In 1785, Ledoux designed this unbuildable Theatre.

Detail of Tomaso Buzzi's Great Eye Theatre.

Detail of Tomaso Buzzi’s Great Eye Theatre.

In the Ampitheatre, directly opposite the Great Eye, we see the gaping maw of Buzzi’s Ogre, which is a direct descendant of the 16th century Ogres, in the nearby Monster Garden of Bomarzo. [Note: Vicino Orsini’s Garden of Bomarzo, which he made with Pirro Ligorio and Simone Moschino in the mid-1500s, still haunts me, and ranks as one of the most magical, man-made, places on Earth. For a day at Bomarzo, the length of one’s visit there is limited only by the hour at which the sun sets.]

Tomaso Buzzi fashioned an Ogre, for his Profane City.

Tomaso Buzzi fashioned an Ogre, for his Profane City.

Our guide, in the Ampitheatre.

Our guide, in the Ampitheatre.

Golden Symbols adorn the bases of the two Ampitheatre terraces, which flank the Ogre.

Golden Symbols adorn the bases of the two Ampitheatre terraces, which flank the Ogre.

Our Guide and his Dogs next herd us out of the Ampitheatre, and down the hill, where we gather below and outside of the massive walls of the Ideal City.

At a corner of the City Walls, we pass a Clock Tower, and then turn left, and proceed downhill.

At a corner of the City Walls, we pass a Clock Tower, and then turn left, and proceed downhill.

Another view of the Clock Tower. We also see the rear of the City's Acropolis Hill.

Another view of the Clock Tower. We also see the rear of the City’s Acropolis Hill.

A closer look at eh Clock Tower, which I now realize was keeping accurate time. Our tour began at 11AM, and at this point only 35 minutes remained for the Tour...

A closer look at the Clock Tower, which I now realize was keeping accurate time. Our tour began at 11AM, and at this point only 35 minutes remained for the Tour…

Gorgeous ornamentation on the Clock Tower

Gorgeous ornamentation on the Clock Tower

Continuing downhill, we have another excellent view of the rear portions of the Ideal City.

Continuing downhill, we have another excellent view of the rear portions of the Ideal City.

The City's Walls

The City’s Walls

Walls usually have Ears. Buzzi’s walls have EYES. This City Wall detail shows how humble building materials—roughly-fashioned blocks and bricks---have been ingeniously assembled to form intricate, shadow-casting patterns.

Walls usually have Ears. Buzzi’s walls have EYES.
This City Wall detail shows how humble building materials—roughly-fashioned blocks and bricks—have been ingeniously assembled to form intricate, shadow-casting patterns.

While I’m studying brick-laying methods, I look up and am confronted by what seems to be a Monumental Goddess. We can safely assume that Tomaso Buzzi wasn’t a Leg Man.

We approach the Monumental Concrete Goddess.

We approach the Monumental Concrete Goddess.

Our Guide, waiting for the many stragglers in the Group to catch up, provides necessary Human Scale, by the Goddess.

Our Guide, waiting for the many stragglers in the Group to catch up, provides necessary Human Scale, by the Goddess.

Finally, stragglers arrived, our Guide greets the Goddess.

Finally, stragglers arrived, our Guide greets the Goddess.

Such attention to detail: to the left, see how blocks are stacked to suggest books. And what a beautifully-formed navel.

Such attention to detail: to the left, see how blocks are stacked to suggest books. And what a beautifully-formed navel.

Such a Powerful Female Deity needs only the suggestion of flames, for her head.

Such a Powerful Female Deity needs only the suggestion of flames, for her head.

The real marvel is how well the Goddess is incorporated into the mass of the City's walls.

The real marvel is how well the Goddess is incorporated into the mass of the City’s walls.

Behind the City walls, and adjacent to the Goddess, we spy an intriguing form: a Glass Cone, topped by a starburst. More about this Cone, in a bit...

Behind the City walls, and adjacent to the Goddess, we spy an intriguing form: a Glass Cone, topped by a starburst. More about this Cone, in a bit…

I cast a final, admiring glance at this scene, which combines cobalt skies, green cypresses, crisp shadows, and the smooth concrete skin of our Goddess.

I cast a final, admiring glance at this scene, which combines cobalt skies, green cypresses, crisp shadows, and the smooth concrete skin of our Goddess.

We continue our stroll, downhill.

The Massive City Walls are differently articulated, all along the way. Within this portion of the Wall is the circular Court of Apollo, which is centered upon a giant, dead (and intentionally-dead, from the Start) tree, whose top-most branches you can see.

The Massive City Walls are differently articulated,
all along the way. Within this portion of the Wall is the circular Court of Apollo, which is centered upon a giant, dead (and intentionally-dead, from the Start) tree, whose top-most branches you can see.

We follow the curve of the City Walls, which, at this point, encircle the Court of Apollo.

We follow the curve of the City Walls, which, at this point, encircle the Court of Apollo.

A free-standing Tower, downhill from the City Walls.

A free-standing Tower, downhill from the City Walls.

Detail of Tower Door

Detail of Tower Door

Between the City Walls and the freestanding Tower, we pass a massive retaining wall, and then head toward the lowest spot on the property.

Downhill from the Ideal City: a placid landscape.

Downhill from the Ideal City: a placid landscape.

But just as things at the Ideal City have finally begun to seem Rather Normal, we’re forced into the Mouth of a Sea Monster.

Abandon Hope?

Abandon Hope?

Nah! Just One More Monster....on another day in the Italian countryside.

Nah! Just One More Monster….on another day in the Italian countryside.

Once through the Sea Monster’s mouth, we find ourselves in a long, walled trench, which leads to yet another of Tomaso Buzzi’s homages to the flights-of-fancy of the French.

At the end of this trench is Buzzi’s interpretation of the famous Ruined Column which is part of Desert de Retz, an exotic landscape garden, in Chambourcy, France.

At the end of this trench is Buzzi’s interpretation of the famous Ruined Column which is part of Desert de Retz,
an exotic landscape garden, in Chambourcy, France.

The Ruined Column at Desert de Retz was designed by visionary architect Francois Racine de Monville, and built in 1782.

The Ruined Column at Desert de Retz
was designed by visionary architect Francois Racine de Monville, and built in 1782.

Another view of the Ruined Column, at La Scarzuola.

Another view of the Ruined Column, at La Scarzuola.

Decorative Flourishes abound.

Decorative Flourishes abound.

We approach the Ruined Column.

We approach the Ruined Column.

A beautifully-formed passage through the base of the Ruined Column. The stairs lead uphill, to a portion of the Ideal City which we must still visit.

A beautifully-formed passage through the base of the Ruined Column. The stairs lead uphill, to a portion of the Ideal City which we must still visit.

Within the Ruined Column

Within the Ruined Column

A young fellow (wearing a fabulous T-Shirt) and I both have the same idea: to get FAR AHEAD of the slow-moving cluster of Visitors that's behind us.

A young fellow (wearing a fabulous T-Shirt) and I both have the same idea: to get FAR AHEAD of the slow-moving cluster of Visitors that’s behind us.

Unfazed by the heat (the day was HOT, but nevertheless intoxicating because Umbria's mountain air is so pure) my Trailblazer-companion ran up the columned pathway.

Unfazed by the heat (the day was HOT, but nevertheless intoxicating because Umbria’s mountain air is so pure) my Trailblazer-companion ran up the columned pathway.

Halfway up the columned path, I paused to admire the outlying regions of the Ideal City, which we would soon explore.

Halfway up the columned path, I paused to admire the outlying regions of the Ideal City, which we would soon explore.

At that same half-way spot, I turned to savor my views of the Ruined Column and the beautiful countryside.

At that same half-way spot, I turned to savor my views of the Ruined Column and the beautiful countryside.

Noonday Sun casts intense shadows

Noonday Sun casts intense shadows

Having reached the top of the columned path, my Tiger-Shirted Companion disappeared into the lower reaches of the Ideal City.

Having reached the top of the columned path, my Tiger-Shirted Companion disappeared into the lower reaches of the Ideal City.

My solitude isn't to last. Behind me, I see our Guide, with the fastest-walking members of the Group, and the Golden Dog.

My solitude isn’t to last.
Behind me, I see our Guide, with the fastest-walking members of the Group, and the Golden Dog.

Placed at the top of the grassy slope is a crescent-shaped pool, which most commentators call Buzzi’s own smaller, and curvier, version of the Canopus Pool ( Emperor Hadrian’s enormous pool at his villa in Tivoli) .

La Scarzuola's Great Pool, which is adjacent to the outermost, and lowest section of the Ideal City's complex of 7 theatres.

La Scarzuola’s Great Pool, which is adjacent to the outermost, and lowest section of the Ideal City’s complex of 7 theatres.

Following is a single shot from a portfolio of pictures I took at Hadrian’s Villa, on May 17, of 2014. [ Note: My Diary-making is woefully back-logged. But I do plan to eventually publish a Diary for Armchair Travelers about the two Wonders of Tivoil: the 2000-year-old-remains of Hadrian’s Villa, and the almost-hanging-gardens of the nearby Villa d’Este, which were begun in the mid 1500s. ]

Emperor Hadrian's Canopus Pool, in Tivoli, as I visited it on yet another of Italy's scorchingly-hot days: on May 17, 2014.

Emperor Hadrian’s Canopus Pool, in Tivoli, as I visited it on yet another of Italy’s scorchingly-hot days: on May 17, 2014.

Back now, to La Scarzuola:

Tiers of stone seating cascade down to the edge of the Great Pool.

Tiers of stone seating cascade down to the edge of the Great Pool.

Although I’ve read nothing to suggest this, I like to imagine that Buzzi envisioned this Pool in his City of Theatres as the venue for a future Naumachia
[ Note: a mock naval battle, enacted with model ships] , or as the setting for a waterborne incarnation of a theatrical production . The first known such reenactment of a naval battle, for entertainment purposes, was given by none other than Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, Rome. What could be more in keeping with the fantastical, archaeological and theatrical spirit of La Scarzuola than to produce a bit of Drama in the Drink? Whether or not Buzzi actually contemplated such extravagant displays isn’t important.
What matters is this: when the appearance of a physical object — or atmosphere of a place — provokes free-association or creative thought in those who are viewing the object or place for the first time, then the Designer has doubly fulfilled his original mission. This is a point I was trying to make, at the outset of this Diary.

Another view of the Great Pool

Another view of the Great Pool

Seen from the Great Pool: the upper reaches of the Acropolis Hill.

Seen from the Great Pool:
the upper reaches of the Acropolis Hill.

Detail of Double Stairs, which sweep down from an elevated stage. And behind these stairs is yet another of the Ideal City's smaller theaters, this one a place of mirrors and reflections...which we'll soon enter.

Detail of Double Stairs, which sweep down from an elevated stage. And behind these stairs is yet another of the Ideal City’s smaller theaters, this one a place of mirrors and reflections…which we’ll soon enter.

I mean REALLY: Don’t La Scarzuola's Double Stairs just BEG to support a bevy of Busby Berkeley’s Ladies? Here's a still from the 1933 film FOOTLIGHT PARADE. Jimmy Cagney. Joan Blondell. Ruby Keeler. When you’re feeling glum, watch this movie….you’ll be chipper in no time.

I mean REALLY: Don’t La Scarzuola’s Double Stairs just BEG to support a bevy of Busby Berkeley’s Ladies? Here’s a still from the 1933 film FOOTLIGHT PARADE. Jimmy Cagney.
Joan Blondell. Ruby Keeler. When you’re feeling glum, watch this movie….you’ll be chipper in no time.

Another look at the Great Pool

Another look at the Great Pool

Portrait of the Unknown Tourist, with Giant Protractor (?)

Portrait of the Unknown Tourist, with Giant Protractor (?)

Above the Great Pool: a collision of architectural eras and styles.

Above the Great Pool: a collision of architectural eras and styles.

Doggie Guide #1 pauses, turns and waits for his Group to catch up.

Doggie Guide #1 pauses, turns and waits for his Group to catch up.

Our group begins to file into the narrow corridor which leads to the small, poolside theatre which hides behind the Great Pool's curvy, double stairways.

Our group begins to file into the narrow corridor which leads to the small, poolside theatre which hides behind the Great Pool’s curvy, double stairways.

In groups of six, we're allowed to briefly inhabit the theatre, while our Guide explains how mirrors are placed to reflect each member of the audience. So, with clock ticking, I sit, take a couple of photos, and Reflect.

In groups of six, we’re allowed to briefly inhabit the theatre, while our Guide explains how mirrors are placed to reflect each member of the audience. So, with clock ticking, I sit,
take a couple of photos, and Reflect.

In the Mirrored Theatre

In the Mirrored Theatre

Then, taking advantage of a rare, unsupervised moment, I explore a warren of passageways that are behind the Mirrored Theatre.

Then, taking advantage of a rare, unsupervised moment, I explore a warren of passageways that are behind the Mirrored Theatre.

One of the passageways takes me directly below the great, open-air stage of the Ampitheatre. I head toward light at the end of a dark tunnel, and looking outside, am rewarded with this view of the Ideal City.

One of the passageways takes me directly below the great, open-air stage of the Ampitheatre. I head toward light at the end of a dark tunnel, and looking outside, am rewarded with this view of the Ideal City.

In another basement passage, I find a locked gate, and peer out into the Ampitheatre and see the Ogre's Mouth.

In another basement passage, I find a locked gate, and peer out into the Ampitheatre and see the Ogre’s Mouth.

A zoom-lens view of the Ogre.

A zoom-lens view of the Ogre.

My Free-Ranging-Tourist-Moment over, I'm folded back into the Group, directed away from the Great Pool, and propelled into this claustrophic space: the circular Court of Apollo.

My Free-Ranging-Tourist-Moment over, I’m folded back into the Group, directed away from the Great Pool, and propelled into this claustrophic space: the circular Court of Apollo.

Our Guide, in the Court of Apollo. The shadow of the dead tree ( that's rooted in center-Court ) serves as a menacing clock hand.

Our Guide, in the Court of Apollo. The shadow of the dead tree ( that’s rooted in
center-Court ) serves as a menacing clock hand.

A Gate to Nowhere, in the Court of Apollo.

A Gate to Nowhere, in the Court of Apollo.

Also in the Court of Apollo, a gate that DOES lead somewhere...

Also in the Court of Apollo, a gate that DOES lead somewhere…

This compact, columned space is adjacent to the Court of Apollo. At the far end, encased by an upward-swirling masonry lattice, is a glass-sided cone, which contains a golden, spiral stairway.

This compact, columned space is adjacent to the Court of Apollo. At the far end, encased by an upward-swirling masonry lattice, is a glass-sided cone, which contains a golden, spiral stairway.

And inside of the glass-sided code are the Pythagorean Stairs, with steps that issue musical notes as people walk up them. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed on the Stairs (but think of the tunes our feet could have played... )

And inside of the glass-sided code are the Pythagorean Stairs, with steps that issue musical notes as people walk up them. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed on the Stairs (but think of the tunes our feet could have played… )

Detail of the roof-scape, above the Pythagorean Stairs.

Detail of the roof-scape, above the Pythagorean Stairs.

I turn away from the Stairs, and head back to the Court of Apollo.

I turn away from the Stairs, and head back to the Court of Apollo.

With my 90 minutes at La Scarzuola nearly expired, I enjoy this vista, at the Great Pool.

With my 90 minutes at La Scarzuola nearly expired, I enjoy this vista, at the Great Pool.

Reaching the far end of the Great Pool, I look back at Tomaso Buzzi's Ideal City.

Reaching the far end of the Great Pool, I look back at Tomaso Buzzi’s Ideal City.

Detail of Window, near the Exit Gate.

Detail of Window, near the Exit Gate.

At Tour's End.

At Tour’s End.

Writing this now, five months after seeing La Scarzuola, I find that after having taken more time to reflect and do research, my attitude about my July 13th interlude at Tomaso Buzzi’s Ideal-and-Profane-City has undergone a significant change.

Upon first seeing La Scarzuola, delight is unavoidable. But, on July 13th, my delight was quickly replaced by frustration, as our too-large group of visitors was then hustled through only a portion of the property. Much of the closely-supervised 90-minute-long tour was thus unsatisfying: either I was wishing I could sit for longer than two minutes in the largest ampitheatre, or waiting for stragglers, or lining up to take a fast peek at another point along the circuit. Our Guide did his best to keep things cheerful —while moving us inexorably toward the Exit — but I became quietly discouraged: clearly, this limited look at La Scarzuola would make it impossible for me to understand the Essence of such a labyrinthian place.

But, through many years of travel, I’ve learned that it can be short-sighted to overemphasize my disappointments about the manner in which owners of an exceptional property choose to present it to the public. If, despite such disappointment, after my visit a Place still haunts me, I’ll review my photo archive, analyze my emotions,
and strive to better understand that property’s inherent character.

When I choose to travel with companions, once we’re arrived at our destination, my friends or guides have all learned not to be offended by my need for solitude as I explore. I don’t want to immediately be told facts and figures about a garden, or a building. After I’ve traveled a far distance to reach yet another of the World’s Wonders all that matters at first is having some tranquility and time…the better to deeply observe my surroundings. Under ideal touring conditions, I follow this procedure: I stand on one spot, and then slowly pivot a full 360 degrees, because often the grandest views — or the most telling details — are behind me. And then, because good architecture and good gardens must be experienced without haste, I inch my way deeper into the site. But I sympathize with La Scarzuola’s Guide, for whom the practicalities of moving his clusters of visitors from one point to another require steady, forward motion.

In circumstances like these — where the fragility of a site severely limits the ways in which non-VIP visitors may explore it — it becomes my Diary-Maker’s mission to describe the site as it might be experienced, under optimal conditions.

Apart from the necessary words of caution from its current owner, in the most concrete terms, Tomaso Buzzi’s Ideal City itself also warns: “Do NOT Touch!” Rough masonry, articulated blocks, and sharp stones have been mortared together to create a tapestry of form and texture, but La Scarzuola’s sensuality is visual and intellectual, as opposed to tactile. There are no walls of velvety marble; no expanses of glazed tile to invite touching: running one’s hands across the rustic surfaces of the Ideal City’s buildings would cause abrasions, at the very least.

La Scarzuola is a feverish dream, made solid: an architectural mashup where Buzzi joined archetypes from his professional life, symbols borrowed from myth, and images dredged from his subconscious. Buzzi’s autobiography-and-dream in stone — culminating in the Ideal City’s Theatrical Hive — sets the stage, figuratively and literally, for the ultimate form of self expression: that of giving free play to one’s imagination. La Scarzuola’s curious structures all invite Movement (both physical, and spiritual): up stairways, along passages, through temples. And all routes lead, inevitably, onto those stages. And what’s an empty stage but just a pause? It’s a space which is asking to once again become animated, through the power of human imagination. The now-quiet stages of Buzzi’s “Theatrical Machine” offer settings which suggest to each Visitor that he too can embark upon his own journey of creative thought and action.

At La Scarzuola, we see an artist’s brave and extravagantly radical feat: somehow, Tomaso managed to construct a multi-dimensional map of his own mind. I’m glad I’ve finally been able to come to an understanding about Buzzi’s purpose, which has made my visit to his improbable, “Ideal City” in the Umbrian hills completely worthwhile.
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Monday, 11 July 2016
A visit to: Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden
Pescia Fiorentina
Garavicchio, 58011 Capalbio
Province of Grossetto (on the border of Southern Tuscany,
and Northern Lazio )

phone: 011-39-0564-895122
website: http://www.nikidesaintphalle.com
email: tarotg@tin.it

Open: April through Mid-October, Daily
Hours: 2:30 PM — 7:30PM

Niki de Saint Phalle's Tarot Garden

Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden

Aerial View of the Tarot Garden

Aerial View of the Tarot Garden

A Closer Aerial View of the Tarot Garden

A Closer Aerial View of the Tarot Garden

Tarot Garden Brochure

Tarot Garden Brochure

Unlike La Scarzuola’s designer Tomaso Buzzi, (who longed to be evanescent, and thus left behind no written accounts of his life) Niki de Saint Phalle, the designer of the Tarot Garden, spent most of her 72 years making a record — with words, paintings, sculptures and structures — of her passage through life.

The circumstances of her birth ought to have ensured Niki smooth sailing. Catherine Marie-Agnes de Saint Phalle (no wonder she soon called herself “Niki”) was born near Paris, to an aristocratic French father, and a rich American mother. But, from the get-go, things went haywire. In one of her several memoirs, Niki wrote:

“When do you start to rebel? In the womb? At five? At ten? I was born in 1930: a Depression Baby. While my mother was expecting me, my father lost all their money. At the same time, she discovered that my father was having affairs. She cried everything into her pregnancy. Later, she told me everything was my fault. I’d brought trouble.”

Finding that life would be less expensive in America, the family (Niki had 4 siblings) soon resettled in New York, where her father was eventually able to mend his finances. As soon as Niki graduated from high school, she escaped, and for the next several years she would earn a living as a model.

Niki on the cover of LIFE, September 1949

Niki on the cover of LIFE, September 1949

Niki on the cover of FRENCH VOGUE, November 1952

Niki on the cover of FRENCH VOGUE, November 1952

And at 18 Niki secretly married Harry Mathews, a childhood friend. In short order she became the mother of two children, Laura and Philip. By 1953, the Mathews family had moved to France. But much as she adored her husband and kids, the strains of marriage and motherhood —which Niki taken on without any
sound emotional underpinnings — had broken her. After a spell at a psychiatric clinic in Nice, Niki declared that,
to regain her sanity, she must devote all of her energies to being an artist. By 1955, Niki had become deeply involved with Europe’s circle of New Realist artists (which included the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, who, in 1971, would become her second husband). In 1960, she finally left her young family: her guilt at abandoning her children gnawed at her for the rest of her days.

Niki, about to pepper her art with bullets. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Niki, about to pepper her art with bullets. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

In 1961, at age 31, Niki de Saint Phalle began work on her “Shots” series. Always attracted to the sculptural, she built large backdrops—which often resembled altars—
to support reliefs that included sacred and profane images. She then tucked containers filled with paint between the sculpted elements. And finally, a thin layer of white plaster was applied to all surfaces. Then, summoning photographers to record the event, Niki (and friends) fired guns at the murals: bullets, hitting hidden pockets of paint, then caused her paintings to “bleed.”

By 1963, after all of that gunfire, Niki had gotten a good measure of rage — rage which she eventually explained was due to her father having sexually abused her when she was 11 years old — out of her system. She wrote: “Suddenly the pain was past. I stood there and did figures of joy. Perhaps they came from everything I’d really had enough of.” She became obsessed with a new and positive image; that of the life-giving power of the Feminine. Using wire, and fabric, she began to make large dolls.

Small Cloth Doll. Niki de Saint Phalle.

Large Cloth Doll. Niki de Saint Phalle.

In 1964, Niki needed to make her Goddess statues larger, and, seeking a material suitable for open-air display, she began using polyester resin, which she painted in gay colors. These voluptuous statues, which seemed always about to pirouette, or to take flight, became the “Nanas” which gave her worldwide fame. But Niki’s new medium of polyester would eventually be her undoing: the fumes which polyester gives off during processing severely damaged her health. For the remainder of her life, she suffered from constant and nearly crippling illnesses.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s L’ANGE PROTECTEUR. This enormous sculpture of painted polyester, which weighs 1.2 tons and is more than 36 feet high, hangs in the rafters of Zurich’s main railway station, and was made in 1997 by Niki to guard travelers. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s L’ANGE PROTECTEUR.
This enormous sculpture of painted polyester, which weighs 1.2 tons and is more than 36 feet high, hangs in the rafters of Zurich’s main railway station, and was made in 1997 by Niki to guard travelers. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

While she worked non-stop to make her Nana sculptures, Niki continued to be haunted by an old dream. In her introduction to the Tarot Garden she writes:

“In 1955 I went to Barcelona. There I saw the beautiful Park Guell of Gaudi. I met both my master and my destiny. I trembled all over. I knew that I was meant one day to build my own Garden of Joy. A little corner of Paradise. A meeting place between man and nature.”

Gaudi's Towers in Barcelona

Gaudi’s Towers in Barcelona

In 1978, while Niki was in Switzerland recovering from a pulmonary abscess, she crossed paths with Marella Agnelli…

Marella Agnelli (in 1969)

Marella Agnelli (in 1969)

…who she’d met many years before, when both young women had been working in New York City. Niki described to her old friend her unfulfilled dream of building a garden, one in which the Cards of the Tarot were transformed into giant sculptures. Marella, thinking of a neglected 14 acre parcel of land in southernmost Tuscany which was owned by her brothers, arranged an introduction. At their meeting, Niki unleashed all her charm and enthusiasm: the “brothers just kept on saying YES!” Before the brothers
quite knew what had occurred, they had given her the land. Niki found herself in possession of the ultimate canvas: an arid hillside, where groves of olive trees grew atop Etruscan ruins…and with views over farmland, all the way to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Continuing her account of the Tarot Garden’s beginnings, Niki wrote: “Twenty four years later I would embark on the biggest adventure of my life: the Tarot Garden. It was built in Tuscany on the property of my friends Marella Agnelli and [Marella’s brothers] Carlo and Nicola Caracciolo. They had approved the original model which I kept changing. The Tarot Garden became much bigger than I had originally intended. There was no deadline and I worked in complete freedom. To finance the garden I made a perfume and multiples [ of the Nana sculptures ] .”

“As soon as I started the Tarot I realized it would be a perilous journey, fraught with great difficulties. I was struck by Rheumatoid Arthritis and could barely walk or use my hands. Yet I went on. Nothing could stop me. I was bewitched.”

“I also felt it was destiny to make this Garden no matter how great the difficulties. I made the card of the Empress my home and she became the center of the Garden. It was where I met the crew, ate my meals, and made the models for the remaining cards.”

“I lived alone in the ‘Sphinx’ which was what we nicknamed the Empress. Total immersion was the only way to realize this Garden.”

“The Tarot Garden is not just my garden. It is also the garden of all those who helped me to make it. I am the architect of the Garden.
I imposed my vision because I could not do otherwise.”

“This Garden was made with difficulties, love, wild enthusiasm, obsession and most of all faith. Nothing could have stopped me.”

 Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, in 1985, as the Tarot Garden was being constructed. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, in 1985, as the Tarot Garden was being constructed. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Jean Tinguely was Niki’s long-time artistic colleague (from 1955, until Tinguely’s death, in 1991) , as well as her second husband. Their marriage was unconventional, loving, and often fraught with drama and pain. Although they’d cohabited for many years previously, by the day of their wedding, Jean had already been living for some time with another woman, who soon after his marriage to Niki became pregnant with his child. But, regardless of their volatile emotional relationship, Tinguely was always the most ardent supporter of Niki’s artistic endeavors. A sculptor and master welder, Tinguely constructed half of the metal forms which supported the Garden’s larger structures.

Jean Tinguely, Swiss painter and sculptor. Born 1925, Died 1991. Niki, as his widow, oversaw the creation of the Jean Tinguely Museum in Basel.

Jean Tinguely, Swiss painter and sculptor.
Born 1925, Died 1991. Niki, as his widow, oversaw the creation of the Jean Tinguely Museum in Basel.

The Ticket Office and Entrance Gate to the Tarot Garden is austere to the point of being forbidding. In her Visitors’ Guide Niki writes: “I asked my friend Mario Botta to make the entrance to the Garden in contrast to what was inside. Mario made a masculine fortress-like wall of local stones which marks clearly the separation of the world without and the world within. The wall symbolizes for me a protection like the dragon who protects the treasure in fairy tales.”

Entrance Gate, designed by Mario Botta.

Entrance Gate, designed by Mario Botta.

In 1979, Niki began to oversee clearing the land, pouring foundations for the largest structures, and the laying of stone for pathways. In 1981 Niki rented a nearby cottage, and hired many local residents, who became her full-time assistants. By 1983, the shell of the Empress had been completed, and Niki moved in. For the next seven years, the Empress became her full-time home and studio. By the early 1990s, Niki’s always-precarious health had worsened. In 1994, her illnesses having become severe, Niki left Italy and
moved to San Diego, CA, where she remained for the rest of her life. But even though far-removed from her beloved Tarot Garden, Niki made certain that the work which continued there was dictated solely by her decisions and designs. And per the terms of her Will, the portions of the Tarot Garden which were incomplete at the time her passing will now remain unfinished, in perpetuity.

Let us begin our tour of the Garden, which you’ll discover in the same sequence as that of my visit, on July 11th, 2016.

Key to Tarot Garden structures and sculptures. Note: locations are listed here, in the same order that Nan visited them. I—The Magician. II—The High Priestess. X—Wheel of Fortune. XI—Strength. XVIII—The Moon. XIV—Temperance III—The Empress. VII—The Chariot (inside the Empress) . XX—Judgement (inside the Empress) . IV—The Emperor. XVI—The Tower (part of the Emperor). VI—The Lovers. O—Oracle. P—Prophet. XVII—The Star. VIII---Justice. IX—The Hermit. XII—The Hanged Man (inside the Tree of Life). V—The Hierophant. XIX—The Sun. XIII—Death. XV—The Devil. XXI—The World. Note: The Fool (not marked on this map, is located near The World).

Key to Tarot Garden structures and sculptures. Note: locations are listed here, in the same order that Nan visited them.
I—The Magician.
II—The High Priestess.
X—Wheel of Fortune.
XI—Strength.
XVIII—The Moon.
XIV—Temperance
III—The Empress.
VII—The Chariot (inside the Empress) .
XX—Judgement (inside the Empress) .
IV—The Emperor.
XVI—The Tower (part of the Emperor).
VI—The Lovers.
O—Oracle. P—Prophet. XVII—The Star.
VIII—Justice.
IX—The Hermit.
XII—The Hanged Man (inside the Tree of Life).
V—The Hierophant.
XIX—The Sun. XIII—Death.
XV—The Devil.
XXI—The World. Note: The Fool (not marked on this map, is
located near The World).

A page from Niki’s guide to the Garden. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

A page from Niki’s guide to the Garden.
Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Niki de Saint Phalle wrote of the Tarot: “I am convinced that the cards contain an important message. The origins of the tarot are shrouded in mystery. It seems that the high priests of ancient Egypt transmitted their secret knowledge by means of pictorial symbols and that these symbols were the twenty-two Major Arcana of the tarot pack. The tarot has given me a greater understanding of the spiritual world and of life’s problems, and also the awareness that each difficulty must be overcome, so that one can go on to the next hurdle and finally reach inner peace and the garden of paradise.”

The Magician, Card I of the Tarot Deck. Note: All card images in this Diary are from Rider-Waite Deck (circa 1910) , and are the same cards which Niki de Saint Phalle referred to as she designed her Garden.

The Magician, Card I of the Tarot Deck. Note: All card images in this Diary are from Rider-Waite Deck (circa 1910) , and are the same cards to which Niki de Saint Phalle referred as she designed her Garden.

The Magician. Per Niki: The Magician is “the great trickster. For me, the Magician is the card of God, the creator of the universe. It is he that crated the marvelous joke of our paradoxical world. It is the card of active intelligence. Pure light, pure energy, mischief, and Creation.”

The Magician. Per Niki: The Magician is “the great trickster. For me, the Magician is the card of God, the creator of the universe. It is he that crated the marvelous joke of our paradoxical world. It is the card of active intelligence. Pure light, pure energy, mischief, and Creation.”

The silver head and hand of The Magician are balanced on top of the blue head of the High Priestess.

The silver head and hand of The Magician are balanced on top of the blue head of the High Priestess.

The Hand of the Magician, rear view. The open palm of the hand faces the sea. This photo was taken when the decoration of the Hand was nearly complete. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

The Hand of the Magician, rear view. The open palm of the hand faces the sea. This photo was taken when the decoration of the Hand was nearly complete. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

The High Priestess, Card II of the Tarot. Per Niki: “The High Priestess of Intuitive Feminine Power. This feminine intuition is one of the keys of wisdom. She represents the irrational unconscious with all its potential.”

The High Priestess, Card II of the Tarot.
Per Niki: “The High Priestess of Intuitive Feminine Power. This feminine intuition is one of the keys of wisdom. She represents the irrational unconscious with all its potential.”

The High Priestess (in Blue), with Magician (in Silver), and the Wheel of Fortune (metal fountain in foreground)

The High Priestess (in Blue), with Magician (in Silver),
and the Wheel of Fortune (metal fountain in foreground)

The High Priestess, in 1979, in her earliest stages of construction, as rebar begins to be welded. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi .

The High Priestess, in 1979, in her earliest stages of construction, as rebar begins to be welded.
Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi .

All of the large structures at the Tarot Garden were built upon frames of welded rebar… shaped by hand, in-situ. Once the metal forms were finished, they were covered with wire mesh. After that, gunite cement was sprayed over them. Later, the rough cement was smoothed with another layer of cement, this second layer hand-applied. The surface finishes of each piece varied: some were hand-painted by Niki. Others were entirely covered with hand-made tiles, or with mosaics. For each of the Tarot Garden’s sculptures Niki de Saint Phalle first made many scale models. Once a maquette satisfied her, on-site craftsmen would build a full-size metal frame which in every detail duplicated Niki’s small model. These transformations of Niki’s art into their full-and-finished-sizes were done entirely by eye…amazing! We’re not talking computer aided design…or even blueprints! As mentioned, Jean Tinguely was responsible for welding half of the structures; eventually he trained many local men to become welders.

In Niki’s guide to her garden, she gives details about materials, techniques and collaborators:

“The enlargement of my models was made perfectly with a medieval eye, by Jean Tinguely and Doc Winsen. All of the monumental sculptures’ armatures were made from welded steel bars, formed by brute strength on the knees of the crew. The first crew who welded in the garden were: Jean Tinguely, Rico Weber, and Seppi Imhof. They built The Sphinx [Empress], The High Priestess and The Magician. The Pope [Hierophant] was started by Doc Winsen and finished by Jean Tinguely; it was Jean’s favorite sculpture of all the garden.”

“The second half of the Tarot Garden — The Emperor’s Castle, The Sun, The Dragon [Strength], and the Tree of Life [Hanged Man] were welded by Doc Winsen, a Dutch artist. Doc was assisted by Tonino Urtis.”

The High Priestess, with The Magician atop her, under construction, in 1982. All rebar has now been placed, and cement will soon cover the entire structure. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

The High Priestess, with The Magician atop her, under construction, in 1982. All rebar has now been placed, and cement will soon cover the entire structure. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Niki on site, as High Priestess, and Tree of Life are being built. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Niki on site, as High Priestess, and Tree of Life
are being built. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Another view of the High Priestess, under construction in 1984. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Another view of the High Priestess, under construction in 1984. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Detail of Serpent by the waterfall of the High Priestess, under construction. The first tiles have been affixed. Each tile was individually crafted and fired on site. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Detail of Serpent by the waterfall of the High Priestess, under construction. The first tiles have been affixed. Each tile was individually crafted and fired on site. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Water pours out of the mouth of the High Priestess…]

Water pours out of the mouth of the High Priestess…

...and cascades down a flight of tiled steps, into the pool of the Wheel of Fortune.

…and cascades down a flight of tiled steps, into the pool of the Wheel of Fortune.

Detail of hand-made tiles, on the High Priestess water-cascade.

Detail of hand-made tiles, on the High Priestess water-cascade.

Another view of the High Priestess, and The Magician.

Another view of the High Priestess, and The Magician.

We're looking at the back of the High Priestess. Her pigtail of blue-tiled hair supports a stairway which leads up to the Magician.

We’re looking at the back of the High Priestess. Her pigtail of blue-tiled hair supports a stairway which leads up to the Magician.

Detail of the stairway at the rear of the High Priestess.

Detail of the stairway at the rear of the High Priestess.

Detail of the blue-tiled hair of the High Priestess.

Detail of the blue-tiled hair of the High Priestess.

I nearly missed seeing this, but Anacleto beckoned and pointed me toward this starry grotto, inside of the High Priestess. The pool feeds the waterfall that issues from the mouth of the High Priestess.

I nearly missed seeing this, but Anacleto beckoned and pointed me toward this starry grotto, inside of the High Priestess. The pool feeds the waterfall that issues
from the mouth of the High Priestess.

The Wheel of Fortune, Card X of the Tarot. Per Niki: “An age old symbol for the wheel of life. What goes up must come down. One day walking in the garden: Eureka! I had the idea of asking Jean Tinguely to make the wheel…into a fountain [with] the water flowing from the High Priestess.”

The Wheel of Fortune, Card X of the Tarot.
Per Niki: “An age old symbol for the wheel of life. What goes up must come down. One day walking in the garden: Eureka! I had the idea of asking Jean Tinguely to make the wheel…into a fountain [with] the water flowing from the High Priestess.”

 Jean Tinguely’s sketch, dated 1986, for his Wheel of Fortune fountain. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Jean Tinguely’s sketch, dated 1986, for his Wheel of Fortune fountain. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

The Wheel of Fortune fountain. To the left of the pool, Vannella and Anacleto (neither of whom has visited the Tarot Garden before that day....see, I like to keep the lives of my Guides EXCITING) are conferring. Behind them is the long, dusty path that leads downhill, back to the Entrance Gate. In the far distance: farmland, and then the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Wheel of Fortune fountain. To the left of the pool, Vannella and Anacleto (neither of whom had visited the Tarot Garden before that day….see, I like to keep the lives of my Guides EXCITING) are conferring. Behind them is the long, dusty path that leads downhill, back to the Entrance Gate. In the far distance: farmland, and then the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Wheel of Fortune, by Jean Tinguely.

The Wheel of Fortune, by Jean Tinguely.

Strength, Card XI in Niki’s Garden (although, in the Tarot, this card is # eight). Per Niki: “A frail maiden leads a ferocious dragon by an invisible thread. The monster the maiden must tame is herself. It is her own inner demons she must conquer. Through this difficult task she will discover her own strength.”

Strength, Card XI in Niki’s Garden (although, in the Tarot, this card is # eight). Per Niki: “A frail maiden leads a ferocious dragon by an invisible thread. The monster the maiden must tame is herself. It is her own inner demons she must conquer. Through this difficult task she will discover her own strength.”

Strength. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Strength. Image courtesy of Il Fondazione Giardino Dei Tarocchi.

Strength--The Maiden.

Strength–The Maiden.

Strength--The Dragon.

Strength–The Dragon.

Strength -- detail of Dragon's Tail. See how perfectly the sculpture rests upon the natural rock of the site.

Strength — detail of Dragon’s Tail. See how perfectly the sculpture rests upon the natural rock of the site.

The Moon, Card XVIII of the Tarot. Per Niki: “The Moon is the card of creative imagination and negative illusion. The Moon is an interior card—mysterious, enigmatic. The Moon affects the tides, the menstruation of women, childbirth, and all things connected to the flow of water. The card of the Moon can be perilous or offer great imaginative power.”

The Moon, Card XVIII of the Tarot. Per Niki: “The Moon is the card of creative imagination and negative illusion. The Moon is an interior card—mysterious, enigmatic. The Moon affects the tides, the menstruation of women, childbirth, and all things connected to the flow of water. The card of the Moon can be perilous or offer great imaginative power.”