Author Archives: Nan Quick

About Nan Quick

Nan is a writer, photographer and itchy-footed traveler. She trained as an architect, and worked for many years as a book publisher. These days, she wanders through England and Italy, and up and down America's East Coast, in search of stories about architecture, gardens, and history. At home in New Hampshire, Nan also designs heirloom-quality garden furniture, which she's exhibited at London's Chelsea Flower Show.

Exploring Cornwall’s Seacoast, in Summertime. Part One

The Sheltered Harbor at Mousehole
(pronounced “MOW-zul.”) opens onto Mount’s Bay, and is just three miles south of Penzance. Mousehole, which Dylan Thomas described as “the loveliest village in England,” has existed since at least 1266 (when it was listed as a major fishing port). Two granite quays—the North Quay, dating from the 17th century, and the South Quay, from the 19th—protect the working harbor, where boats unload their catches of fish and shellfish. In this photo, the
opening in the Harbor Wall reveals St. Michael’s Mount, in the distance.

Autumn 2018

Journeys towards Cornwall are not usually entertaining.
When traveling by car from almost anywhere else in England, the drive will likely be tedious, and delay-prone: Britain’s motorways are becoming overwhelmed by ever-increasing volumes of passenger cars, white van men, lorries, coaches, and caravans. Or, assuming that England’s various rail operators aren’t indulging in yet another of their service slowdowns or stoppages, when setting out from London via train, one must expect the ride to be slow, and apt to run behind schedule. The remoteness of Cornwall demands patience of the traveler; but Cornwall then rewards such patience with experiences and sights so varied and so beautiful that even the most optimistic traveler’s expectations will be exceeded.

Cornwall — outlined in Red — in relation to Europe.

The County of Cornwall is outlined in Red. The River Tamar separates Cornwall from Devon, which is directly to the east. The English Channel is south of Cornwall, and the Celtic Sea is west and north of Cornwall.

Satellite View of Cornwall. Penzance, Cornwall’s western-most town, is 250 miles from central London.

I globe-trot: nimbly, and alertly. In crowded places, I fasten my purse strap across my body, and keep my single piece of luggage close … and I never fixate upon a computer screen or an iPhone when surrounded by humanity. Instead, if I must cool my heels as I endure long hours en route, I clear my brain, and settle into quiet observation of my surroundings. Time after time, when I’ve created this serene-eye-of-hurricane-space for myself, interesting people then cross my path.

Saint Piran’s Flag is the flag of Cornwall. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

My most recent visit to England’s southwestern peninsula began in the most propitious way. On a Friday, in late-morning, in mid-June, I’d arrived at London’s Paddington Station ( early, of course, as is my habit ) where I planned to board the Great Western Railway’s Noontime train, bound for Cornwall’s end-of-the-line town of Penzance ( on a good day, this journey, without glitches, will consume more than 5 hours).

Coat-of-arms of the Great Western Railway

As seems always to be the case at the start of a summer weekend, much of London—residents and tourists alike—had felt compelled to flee the city, and Paddington was a madhouse. I found myself a seat, and settled in for an hour-long wait. A bench-spot next to mine opened up, and a handsome, silver-haired man — who was wearing a rumpled-linen suit of an improbable turquoise hue, and a crisply-starched blue and white striped shirt — plopped down next to me.

On a leash: his gorgeous golden retriever.

Without preamble, the man turned to me and asked: “Do you mind if my dog sits her bum on your feet? It makes her feel more secure to do that.” Since the dog was very well-behaved, I hesitated for only a split second: “OK.” Understanding me, Fido immediately settled her warm hindquarters down onto my boots (which actually made ME feel more secure, too), as she gazed up into her master’s eyes. The man explained further: “If she can see my face, everything will be fine.” Turned out the gentleman’s an architect, and so we had plenty of design-world-fads-and-follies to discuss as we killed time, before we boarded the same train, to Penzance. But the architect and his retriever were only the first of my several travel-entertainments, that day.

The Friday-train to Penzance was overflowing: standing room only.
Happily, I’d made a seat reservation, months beforehand (always secure your seat in advance, if you’re planning long-distance rail travel, in England). Because I like to avoid being held hostage
by a chatty seat-mate, I’d booked a free-standing seat, in the First Class carriage. From this private perch I could tune out—or eavesdrop upon—the conversations of those around me. The murmurings of overlapping voices, combined with the clacking of train wheels over metal rails became white-noise, and soothing, and I relaxed into something close to sleep.

A couple of hours into the journey, fatigue had been repaired, and my awareness of my fellow travelers sharpened. Opposite me, a couple from London were quietly reviewing their agenda for the next week, their sentences morphing seamlessly from English into German and back again into English: they were on their way to the Isles of Scilly, where they’d scuba dive and do underwater photography. Behind me, a young man with the refined erudition of an Oxfordian was expounding at length to an elegant lady about his thankless job as a tutor to the “brat son” of a Russian oligarch. Ahead of me, a gentleman farmer began to lecture everyone within earshot about the finer points of dog-breeding. The train’s sole conductor, passing by to do a much-delayed ticket-scan, stopped, enthusiastically whipped out an iPhone, and showed multiple pictures of the litter that HIS prize female had just birthed. Diagonally across the aisle, an exuberant American couple from Florida who were speculating about their soon-to-be-first-time stay in a Cornish village, paused, and, with double yelps presented THEIR phones to the conductor and the farmer: all of these folks owned the same breed of dog. Much hilarious (to dog owners) canine talk ensued. By this time, the train was crossing the River Tamar, and passing from Devon into Cornwall.

Image & Caption courtesy of Tom Jolliffe

Several miles down the track, the train lurched to a stop: the conductor forgot all about dogs, and then rushed forward, to consult with his engineer. Our train idled, and then idled some more: we had reached Cornwall, but were only in its Eastern-most parts. Penzance was still nearly 2 hours away.
A crackly-announcement came over the train’s speakers: Ahead of us, a car had driven into one of the supports of a train bridge…we’d have to remain where we were, until Great Western personnel
could be certain of the bridge’s structural integrity. People grumbled a bit, and then a sour silence descended.

His iPad muted, the posh Oxfordian had been watching the 2018 World Cup Playoffs. Either dispirited or bored by the soccer, he began humming, and then to sing, but very quietly. The German-English Londoner swallowed a mouthful of sushi that his wife had been feeding him, and, looking across at the Oxfordian, also began to sing, making a harmony with the young man. These strangers
( who I later learned partake regularly in the Cornish tradition of spontaneous pub-singing ) — both of them having been blessed with beautiful vocal chords — then sang, in the most offhand but accomplished way, a ditty which has become a Cornish anthem (lyrics follow) :

A seagull and a chough play tug-of-war with a Cornish Pasty. Image courtesy of Stamp-and-Go


I’ve stood on Cape Cornwall in the sun’s evening glow,
On Chywoone Hill at Newlyn to watch the fishing fleets go,
Watched the sheave wheels at Geevor as they spun around
And heard the men singing as they go underground.

And no one will ever move me from this land
Until the Lord calls me to sit at his hand.
For this is my Eden, and I’m not alone.
For this is my Cornwall and this is my home.

I’ve left childish footsteps in the soft Sennen sand,
I’ve chased the maids there, all giggly and tanned.
I’ve stood on the cliff top in a westerly blow
And heard the wave thunder on the rocks far below.

First thing in the morning, on Chapel Carn Brea
And gaze at the Scillies in the blue far away.
For this is my Cornwall, and I’ll tell you why
Because I was born here and here I shall die.

By Harry Glasson (singer/songwriter: born in Cornwall, in 1951)

Songwriter Harry Glasson, with
Singer Will Keating. Image courtesy of Will Keating

Their duet finished, each man nodded at the other, and, respectively, soccer-watching and sushi-eating were resumed.This song had charmed me, and everyone in our carriage; our delay
was forgotten. Then, with nearly poetically-perfect timing, the train soon grunted, and came back to life, and began to move in its proper direction; no serious damage had been done to the railway’s bridge, and so we could proceed, on towards Penzance.

More and more, as I toddle around in the World, I’m convinced that Serendipity is Real, and that Truth is Stranger Than Fiction. Cornwall has always considered itself a Place Apart from
England, and the oddities of my journey that day—as I left London and headed toward Cornwall —had made it very clear to me that I was transitioning from one World into Another.

And so now I begin for you a multi-chapter, region-by-region guide to those places along the Cornish coastline which have most enchanted me.

The Destinations in Part One of our Tour


The Mayoral Seal of Penzance

Until the 1930s, the severed head of St. John the Baptist was the chosen symbol of Penzance. Not at all macabre, or even particularly religious, this Symbol reflects typically Cornish wit. Over 1000 years ago, a chapel was said to have stood on the hill which overlooks Penzance Harbor. In the Cornish language, “Pennsans,” means “Holy Headland.” And thus the holiest head of them all, belonging to the unfortunate St.John, became the Town’s emblem.
What’s not to love? Cornwall wears its peculiarities proudly.

At Penzance my recent train journey ended, and therefore this is where our Cornwall explorations must begin.

This is my train, just arrived in Penzance, where my dear friends Anne & David Guy awaited me. Over the course of two extended, summertime stays, the Guys led me to all of the places which we’ll discover, in my Cornwall Diaries; were it not for their natives’ knowledge of the area, I would have missed many Cornish Treasures. I take full blame, however, for ALL observations, opinions, and syntheses, contained herein.
Photo courtesy of Anne Guy

Apart from the rolling stock and conductors’ uniforms, not much at the Train Station (which was built in 1879) has changed since this photo was taken in 1915.

During the 1930s, in what has since been declared to be the Golden Age of British Railway Posters, each of England’s four largest regional rail companies developed a distinct, graphic style for their advertisements. The work of the Great Western Railway’s artists, who publicized destinations in Cornwall and Devon, was refined and seductive: what holiday-maker would NOT wish to be spirited away to places such as those illustrated on GWR’s Posters … into (as Hopkins & Cole have described, in their History of the Railway Poster in Britain) “a world of sunshine, sandy beaches, and endless fun!”

But long before the advertising department of the Great Western Railway had begun to paint their rosy pictures of the Cornish coast, the notion of Penzance as a merry place had already become well-established in the popular imagination. In 1879, when W.S.Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan — those Mad-Geniuses of Operetta — first presented “The Pirates of Penzance,” the name of this remote town in Cornwall instantly became well-known, across the World. It’s no stretch to say that, in the 139 years since the debut of this musical confection, during every single month, on yet another stage, somewhere upon Earth, a baritone has belted out “I am the very model of a modern Major-General.” “Pirates” has always been one of G&S’s most crowd-pleasing creations, and, so, in our familiarity with the name “Penzance,” it has been easy for us to imagine that the fantasyland concocted by Gilbert & Sullivan bears some resemblance to the actual Town.

Penzance, as envisioned by Gilbert & Sullivan

I’ll get right to it. Accurate reporting demands this caution: of all the places you’ll visit in my multi-part survey of Cornwall, Penzance will be far and away the least charming, at least upon first glance.

Much like Hastings or Brighton — other end-of-the-train-line seaside towns in England — Penzance, with its melange of fine but often ill-tended Regency and Victorian era buildings, and unfortunate 20th century “improvements,” has the forlorn air of past prosperity and faded glory. The Town is much in need of some sensitive, 21st century rejuvenation.

As described in Historic Cornwall’s survey:

“Penzance lies in the Penwith District, in the extreme west of Cornwall, 10 miles from Land’s End. It is the most south-westerly town not only of Cornwall, but of Britain as a whole. It sits on the north-west shore of the spectacular sweep of Mount’s Bay. With the most temperate climate in Britain, the town is particularly noted for its sub-tropical trees and plants. Penzance is a port, rail and coach route terminus. Sea links with the Isles Of Scilly operate from Penzance harbor and air routes from the nearby Land’s End airport.” [Note: A new Heliport is currently being built, near to the Penzance Train Station.] “The harbor is the most westerly major port in the English Channel, the first reached from the Atlantic, and the principal commercial port west of Falmouth. These connections give Penzance a strategic importance that outweighs its remote location.”

My favorite Postcard Map of South-West Cornwall

And so, although Penzance does not possess the same loveliness as that which draws visitors to her sister towns of Mousehole and Marazion, Penzance is nevertheless an historically significant and worthwhile and USEFUL place: its population of over 21,000 souls allows the businesses ( the likes of which are often harder to find in Cornwall’s less populated and more picturesque regions ) which provide Life’s Necessities, to prosper.

Aerial view of Penzance

We can stock up on the essentials at Sainsbury’s, an enormous and first-rate grocery store; they’ve also got a terrace Café, serving up coffee AND beautiful views of the English Channel (which is just beyond the not-so-lovely A30 road).

Sainsbury’s, in Penzance. Image courtesy of Norclad.

From the 2nd floor Café at Sainsburys: our view across the lanes of the A30, toward St.Michael’s Mount, in Mount’s Bay.
Image courtesy of Anne Guy.

We can shop for high-quality, made-in-Cornwall clothing and soft goods, which are sold at Seasalt’s flagship store, at 1-3 Adelaide Street.

Seasalt was established in 1981 by Don Chadwick, whose studio designs all of their products. I’m addicted to their blouses: each season, unique new prints are introduced to adorn the 100% cotton fabric, which is meant to be twisted and dried after washing…perfect clothing for a Traveling Lady. These are just some of the blouses I’ve collected:

We can browse Barton Books’ impeccably-curated shelves,at 45 Causewayhead.

And in just a few hours of wandering through the Town Centre, we can view a bricks-and-mortar stylebook of architectural fashions from the past 200 years. Unlike many other regions in England, where centuries-old structures are commonplace, most of the buildings we now see in Penzance are relatively new, and date from the early 1800s, and onward into the present day.

Although archaeologists know that humans have been knocking about in Penzance since the Bronze Age, the first documented mention of “Pennsans” is dated 1284. By the early 1300s, market days were being held in the area, and tax collection records indicate that by 1322 Penzance was considered to be a Town. With the granting of its Royal Market status in 1404, Penzance began an extended period of relative prosperity, which continued for five centuries, despite the area being regularly sacked by various, seafaring aggressors. During the Middle Ages, Barbary Pirates made frequent raids. In 1595, four Spanish galleons landed, sacked Penzance and the surrounding villages (including Mousehole), and then set fires, which reduced nearly all of the area’s structures to ash. Such are the perils of being situated upon England’s southwestern-most peninsula…the first port of call, for belligerent and avaricious sailors.

A Spanish Galleon. Or, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, in his tale of the ship REVENGE: better to
“Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain.”

We’ll take a fast stroll now, along some of the Town Centre’s more interesting streets ( most of which are within the earliest-settled areas of Penzance, indicated by the Purple zone, on the following map).

Map of the Historic Development of Penzance. Image courtesy of Historic Cornwall

Market Jew Street, during Golowan (the Feast of St.John and a Pagan celebration of midsummer). We’re half way up the Street, which rises with the hill. We pause, turn around, and then look back, in the direction of the Harbor. Image courtesy of Anne Guy

On Market Jew Street we find what has always been Penzance’s main shopping district. Wikipedia’s summary of this thoroughfare explains its name:

“The name ‘Market Jew’ comes from the Cornish language’s
‘Marghas Yow,’ meaning ‘Thursday Market,’ the name of a nearby village now absorbed into Marazion,” towards which Market Jew Street points.
[Note: In Part Two of my Cornwall guide we’ll visit Marazion, the location of St.Michael’s Mount.]
These days, Market Jew Street isn’t particularly distinguished by its vendors. Rather, The Terrace — with its flights of stairs, and dual-level granite walkways which run along the entire length of the steeply-sloping northwestern side of the Street — is the Street’s defining feature. The Victorians built this odd but functional streetscape—which is essentially an extended Stage–when they transformed what had been a narrow, muddy and sewage-tainted lane into a hygienic place for the townsfolk to do some serious promenading.

Market Jew Street in 1953. Image courtesy of Francis Firth.

Market Jew Street in 1990. Courtesy of Historic Cornwall.

At the top of Market Jew Street is the Market House: Penzance’s little temple of Commerce, which was built in 1838. Until the early 1600s, twice-weekly market days in Penzance had been open-air events. In 1614, James I made Penzance a charter town, and the town fathers, proud of this improved status, saw fit to design a permanent structure to accommodate the Tuesday and Thursday Markets. Considering what additional uses might be made of their new building, the town fathers also added prison cells (which soon became notorious) to the design programme. That building lasted for over two centuries, until it was replaced by the current edifice (which is now a branch of Lloyds Bank).

The West side of the Market House, on Market Place. Image courtesy of Historic Cornwall.

Behind Market Place, we turn left, and connect with Chapel Street ( Penzance Centre’s other, major roadway ) : we’ll follow this route as we continue our gradual ascent through the hilly Town, toward St.Mary’s Church, which is at the top-most point on Chapel Street. Along Chapel Street we’ll pass many of the Town’s most significant buildings, which were constructed between 1750 and 1850. During this 100-year stretch, Chapel Street became the focus of what the folks at Historic Cornwall have described as “Penzance’s First Age of Elegance, when the cultural, leisure and religious life of the Town….of polite society and the luxury trades,” began to flourish. Historic Cornwall further explains: “Penzance was an important naval, postal and victualling station during the long French wars of 1793-1815. As with many other south coast ports, the effective closure of Europe to travellers during this period also stimulated a nascent tourist industry. The mildness of the air, the agreeableness of its inhabitants rendered Penzance particularly inviting to residence.”

Penzance Streetscapes. Image courtesy of Historic Cornwall

My view up Chapel Street, toward the tower of St.Mary’s Chuch

The most eye-catching sight on Chapel Street is The Egyptian House.

The Egyptian House, on Chapel Street

The Landmark Trust acquired The Egyptian House in 1973 and they describe this treasure as “a rare and noble survivor of a style that enjoyed a vogue after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798.”

But the exotic appeal of the Egyptian House is only skin deep. In 1800 the building was an unremarkable town house. In 1835, the antiquarian John Lavin purchased the property, and instructed his architect to renovate the façade in an ersatz-Egyptian style, by applying Coade stone, which was then painted in vivid colors. Local reactions to Lavin’s newly-gussied-up street-face weren’t positive: “astonishingly gaudy” seems to have been the most positive verdict.

Rooms (which — Alas — look perfectly ordinary) in Penzance’s Egyptian House are available as self-catering, holiday rentals, through the Landmark Trust.

Interior of the 1st floor, of The Egyptian House. Image courtesy of The Landmark Trust

The Egyptian House. Detail of the Fabulous Chapel Street Facade

The Egyptian House. Detail of Coade stone façade. The recipe for Coade stone was developed in the late 18th century. This artificial stone is easily moulded into intricate shapes, is thus particularly suited for making sculptural pieces and architectural decorations, and is tough and nearly impervious to weather.

And still further up Chapel Street we find the Admiral Benbow Pub and Inn, which dates from the 17th century.

The Admiral Benbow, on Chapel Street

In TREASURE ISLAND, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of “buccaneers and buried gold,” the author used the Admiral Benbow as the fictional home of his hero, Jim Hawkins. On the roof, the present owners of the Pub have mounted a figure of smuggler Octavius Lanyon, the ringleader of the Benbow Brandy Men. During the “Golden Age of Smuggling,“ from 1750 until 1830, Cornwall’s impoverished fishermen and laborers turned to smuggling to survive, when the tax burden upon ordinary citizens—levied on a vast range of everyday goods and imposed by a far-away central government to fund foreign wars—became enormous and untenable.

As we draw closer to the end of Chapel Street, we pass Abbey Street, which is worth a little detour. This area, on a bluff overlooking what was Penzance’s original Harbor, is the most long-established section of Town.

Abbey House, on Abbey Street, overlooking Penzance’s Quay. Until 2016, this was Jean Shrimpton’s Abbey Hotel.

For more than 30 years, Jean Shrimpton, the world’s first supermodel, owned and operated The Abbey Hotel with her husband, Michael Cox. In 2016 they retired, and their son now manages the site as a self-catering holiday rental, which is suitable for groups of up to 14 guests.

Jean Shrimpton in the 1960s, before she turned her back upon Fame.

In her early 30s, Shrimpton, weary after many years of being one of the World’s most photographed models, first moved from London to southwest Cornwall…to nearby Marazion, where she ran an antiques shop. Soon thereafter, she bought Abbey House, which she completely renovated and then glammed-up into an award-winning Hotel.

My glimpse of the private garden, behind the former Abbey Hotel. The foundations and cellars of the main building date from 1660. In the 1820s the original house was remodeled in the Georgian/Gothic style, which has survived to the present day.

Interior décor at The Abbey was done
by Jean Shrimpton. The Abbey, Self-Catering Holiday Mansion.
7 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms. Property # 918888, available through

View from New Street (which is just below the former Abbey Hotel) of the Quay.

Chapel Street ends, appropriately, at St.Mary’s: the Mother Church of Penzance. St.Mary’s is situated atop a hill; upon the same “Holy Headland,” with its commanding views across the Bay, where the ancient chapel which inspired the naming of the Town originally stood. The tower of St.Mary’s is Penzance’s dominant landmark, both for townspeople, and for sailors on Mount’s Bay.

St.Mary’s Church. Image courtesy of Historic Cornwall

Our final waterside destination in Central Penzance is the Art-Deco era, Jubilee Pool, at the Battery Rocks. If you refer to the second Great Western Railway Poster which appears earlier in this Diary, you’ll see that it features an enormous, glisteningly-white, triangular pool, which extends into Mount’s Bay. GWR’s artists didn’t have to idealize the View: in its heyday, the Jubilee Pool, an open-to-the-elements Lido, was an artistic and engineering Marvel, and a Great Crowd-Puller.

Aerial view of Jubilee Pool, with St.Mary’s Church in the upper left hand portion of the photo. Image courtesy of the Jubilee Pool.

A closer look at the Jubilee Pool.
Image courtesy of Historic Cornwall

Perched between land and sea, the Lido has inevitably been battered by Winter storms, the worst of which came in 2014, when the very underpinnings of the structure were nearly destroyed.

Here’s another illustration of just how vulnerable Penzance’s waterfront is to Mother Nature’s Fury. An Autumn Storm batters the Promenade (which is adjacent to the Lido) in Penzance,
on 13 October 2018.
Photo courtesy of the GUARDIAN.

A nationally-funded campaign allowed for total restoration of 2014’s storm damage, and currently the managers of the Lido report that:

“ work is underway to drill a geothermal well which will provide enough renewable energy to heat a section of the water to 35 degrees C. This will mean that, for the first time, the Pool will
have heated water, transforming it into an all-year-round attraction, which we hope to open in May of 2019.”

The Future, at the Jubilee Pool. Image courtesy of the Jubilee Pool.

As we wrap up our Penzance-stroll, we’ll head inland, toward Penlee Park. In the early years of the Victorian Age, the fields that lay to the west of Chapel Street provided much-needed expansion space for the Town. Terrace housing to accommodate the growing population of middle-class workers sprang up, and, today, most of those buildings are still residences.

Stuccoed Terraces, and Front Gardens Aplenty, in the Morrab Gardens neighborhood

The Morrab Gardens neighborhood: Pedestrian Friendly, but Parking Hell.

Approaching Penlee Park along a pedestrian lane, with lush greenery cascading over boundary walls.

Greg’s Cottage, with a Bird of Paradise: blooming, for the pleasure of all who pass by.

Date palms flourish, in Penlee Park’s semi-tropical gardens. Image courtesy of Anne Guy

During our day-long walks, Anne and David and I stop frequently for coffee, and food. Our destination: The Orangery Café, at the Penlee House Gallery & Museum. Penlee House was built in 1860 by the Branwells, who were wealthy cousins of the Bronte sisters. In 1946, when the Branwell family line had finally fizzled out, the property was offered to Penzance’s Town Council, who promptly repurposed the estate into a park and a museum. In the Museum you’ll find displays by the Penwith Natural History Society, as well as a selection of the work by painters of the Newlyn School (which I’ll mention, in just a bit).

Penlee House Gallery & Museum.
The Orangery Café. I recommend having lunch on the Cafe’s tented terrace. Be advised, however, that diabolically clever seagulls lurk there, and will swoop through the tent to snatch any unattended food.

Adjacent to the Orangey Café is a recently-installed bronze sculpture, titled “The Broccoli Juggler.” Look closely, and you’ll see that this faceless man is in fact juggling cauliflowers…..yet another instance of a Cornish word meaning something Different from what that word means, Elsewhere.

Image courtesy of Anne Guy.

I’ll quote the Artist, Kurt Jackson, in his Statement:

“I live and work within an agricultural community here in the far west of Cornwall; many of my friends and neighbors are farmers. The landscape has been shaped by their activities and by their ancestors before them. In the last few decades their livelihoods have become more tenuous, less certain with market prices falling; labour, transport and production costs rising, and the disruption from extreme weather events more frequent. ‘The Broccoli Juggler’
juggles precariously, throwing up cauliflowers (broccoli in the local dialect), a small tractor and a home whilst perched, balanced on the remains of a cast iron ancient carcass of the ancestors’ farm machinery.”

Kurt Jackson’s sculpture will be a permanent presence on Penlee’s Terrace. That the Town Council chose to acquire this particular work of art — where the sculptor’s serious intent and love for this region is illustrated with a disturbing yet endearingly daft image — seems to sum up the enduring complexities, and humor, of the Cornish people.

In Cornwall, Cauliflower is called Broccoli


Having cleared up some questions about the cruciferous vegetables in Penlee Park, we now turn our attention to Fish, and thus to the Harbor at nearby Newlyn.

Newlyn’s 40 acre Harbor is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in the United Kingdom. Image courtesy of
Town of Newlyn.

Newlyn has been a fishing settlement since at least the 13th century, and the vessels which frequent the Harbor now contribute many tens of millions of British Pounds to the Cornish economy, each and every year. But unless you hanker for just-caught-fish, you’ll find few other reasons to visit Newlyn; this is a working-town, and not a place which lends itself to hours of sightseeing. Because the port was sacked and burned by the Spanish in 1595, no vestiges of the medieval town survived. By the late 19th century, Newlyn’s built environment consisted largely of granite or white-painted cottages, and those affordable accommodations attracted a cluster of plein air painters, who called themselves The Newlyn School, an art colony which flourished from the 1880s until the early 20th century. However, a good portion of the remaining charm of the Town was erased by the “slum” clearance which occurred in the 1930s.

THE RAIN IT RAINETH EVERY DAY, by Norman Garstin, shows the Promenade, in Penzance. Garstin (b.1847, d.1926) was one of the earliest members of the Newlyn art colony. Image courtesy of the Penlee House Museum.

SELF PORTRAIT WITH NUDE–1913, by Dame Laura Knight, is an extraordinarily bold (for its time) and well-done composition. Dame Knight (b.1877, d.1970) was part of the second wave of artists who settled in Newlyn. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

But, back to freshly-caught Fish, and THE reason to make a detour to Newlyn. During my sojourns in Western Cornwall with Anne and David Guy, we have rented a house with first-rate kitchen facilities, and so have regularly bought fish for ourselves at Stevenson Newlyn: these folks are the BEST fishmongers in Town (or perhaps in all of the UK).

Stevenson Newlyn,
The Strand, Newlyn, Cornwall
TR18 5HA
Image courtesy of
Anne Guy

Feel like frying up some fish? Go to Stevenson’s!
Image courtesy of
Anne Guy

For my Final Newlyn Tip: I’ll let the website of the United Kingdom’s National Tide Gauge Network speak for itself about the importance of the Newlyn Tidal Observatory:

Image courtesy of the Newlyn Tidal Observatory

Anne Guy wisely suggested that I include mention of Newlyn’s critically important Tidal Observatory. She took this photo of the plaque, on the Quayside, several years ago.


Remember, it’s pronounced MOW-zul

Two and a half miles south of Penzance, on the western shore of Mount’s Bay, is the tiny village and man-made harbor of Mousehole. At the 2011 census, 697 year-round residents were recorded, but on a fine summer’s day—or during the village’s annual festival of Christmas lights— the nose-count in Mousehole is always considerably larger. This community, which until 100 years ago was a bustling fishing port but is now dependent upon day-tripper visitors for its financial survival, has somehow retained an authenticity which is absent in most tourist-magnets.

Aerial View of Mousehole, Cornwall

For your visit, don’t even think about driving anywhere near to Mousehole’s Harbor. Instead, as Anne and David and I did, park your car in the municipal lot on the northern edge of the village. A five minute stroll, downhill toward the Bay,
will transport you onto lanes and past cottages which date from the 17th century.

Unsurprisingly, Mousehole’s seaside setting and well-preserved architecture have beguiled some of England’s most discerning honeymooners. As mentioned in my caption which accompanies this Diary’s lead photo, Dylan Thomas, who in 1937 spent his wedding night with Caitlin Macnamara at the now-defunct Lobster Pot guest house, declared Mousehole to be England’s loveliest village. And Winston Graham has written that, in 1939, he and his new wife Jean Williamson “spent the few days of our honeymoon at Mousehole.”

Prolific British Author, Winston Graham
(born-1908 Manchester; died-2003 Sussex)

At this mention of Winston Graham in Mousehole, the whiskers of some of my more alert Readers may have begun to twitch. Graham churned out books about a wide range of subjects, but is today most acclaimed as the author of the Poldark series of 12 historical novels. Graham moved to Cornwall when he was 17, and lived there for the next 34 years of his very long life. He adored Cornwall, and knew it intimately, and his Poldark stories draw upon that emotion and knowledge. As Graham explained: ”Anyway, for better or worse, the Poldark world is one I have myself inhabited over long periods of my life.”

Cornwall’s culture and landscapes have been woven into the novels of many other British authors. Cornwall-loving writers include Daphne du Maurier, Virginia Woolf, John le Carre, Rosamunde Pilcher, and Anyone who has written about the Arthurian Legends.

Many of my Readers, when learning about my plans to write a multi-part Cornwall Diary, have inquired if I’ll be showing sites where the recent BBC adaptations of the Poldark books have been filmed. Yes: in my forthcoming Cornwall Parts 3, 4 and 5, ravishing places — tin mines, rock cliffs, windblown bluffs, churches, hidden coves, and beaches — on Cornwall’s northern, western, and southern coastlines which have served as filming locations will indeed be featured. For those Poldark Fans who’d prefer to forego my broadly-based commentaries about Cornwall, and who’d like, instead, to drill directly down to Poldark-as-seen-on-TV, in future Diaries I’ll bookmark the Poldark sections with the
following thumbnail :

Aidan Turner as Poldark.
Image courtesy of the BBC

But now — back to Mousehole — as I retrace the steps that Anne and David I took, during a balmy afternoon in June.

We approach the Harbor. To our left: the North Quay of the Harbor, constructed with granite from nearby quarries in Lamorna, dates from the 17th century.

Mousehole’s manmade Harbor, and its little sandy beach. Straight ahead, out past the Harbor, is
the English Channel.

Just beyond the North Quay, a small cluster of rocks in Mount’s Bay—called St.Clement’s Isle—is said to have been the (very uncomfortable) home of an ancient hermit.

What ELSE could they have named this strategically-located Gift Shop, which is on North Cliff (Mousehole’s Main street)? And just TRY to leave the Village
without a Mousehole mug, tea towel, and postcard!

From North Cliff: our view of the boat ramp and beach

The Essentials:
Town Clock. Post Box.
Phone Booth.

Now on South Cliff, we have a view of both Harbor Quays. The southern Quay (to the right), which is wider and taller than the northern Quay, dates from the 19th century.
St.Clement’s Isle is the mid-distance, and far, far away we can
see just a low sliver of the eastern-most shores of Mount’s Bay

A view of the North Quay, with the mainland in the distance.

The Fitzroy Barometer

EVERY village ought to have its own Barometer….

A typical lane in Mousehole

A fine fish, for a door knocker

Site of the home of Dolly Pentreath, who was one of the last speakers of the Cornish language.

Dolly Pentreath. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Anne and David (both sensibly be-hatted, on that hot, sunny day) lead me down into the Harbor.

From the beach, we’re able to peer through the central opening in the Quay.

We’ve reached the southernmost end of the Harbor, and are on Gurnick Street. A little boat with a beautiful,
terra-cotta colored sail, is in the distance. Look carefully, past the upper left of the sailboat, and, above the horizon, you’ll see the peaked roofs of St.Michael’s Mount (which we’ll visit in Part Two).

Another view of St.Clement’s Isle. The
red ship is one of the many seagoing vessels which were anchored that day, in the Bay.

On Gurnick Street: I passed these two animal-doors, and was reminded by Anne that, a couple of years ago, she’d sent me an email reporting HER discovery of these same doors.

As Anne had written to me, in 2016:
“We saw a beautifully tended tiny garden overlooking Mount’s Bay. We met a man coming out of his house to let his pet duck into the garden! His duck was of course called Donald but was lovely even though he thought I had food and pecked my hand! Apparently the man takes Donald to the pub on Tuesdays and Thursdays where the duck eats pork crisps and drinks Guinness! Donald also has his own duck flap as he couldn’t get in the one the man had made for his previous pet rabbit!”

Unfortunately, during MY visit to Mousehole, neither man nor duck appeared. But, without Anne and David — wonderful travel companions, who share my fascination for Distinctly Odd Places — my Cornish explorations would clearly have been far less entertaining.

A stretch of Harborside gardens run alongside Gurnick Street. Per Anne Guy (who is also my Horticulture Guru), the rather Dr.Seuss-ish tree to the left is Cordyline australis (or Cabbage Tree, or Cornish Palm). This tree is native to New Zealand.

My view down Gurnick Street, back into Town

Another Bay View, from Gurnick Street. The flowers cascading over the edge of the seawall are Erigeron glaucus (or beach asters). These flowers are native to the coastlines of Oregon and California.

Per Anne: “The orange flowers on the stone wall are Gazanias, and the pink ones Lampranthus.” Both types of flowers are native to South Africa.

As is obvious: British Gardeners are horticultural magpies. They collect odds and ends of plants, from around the entire Planet, and they’re not afraid to then try to get those plants to flourish, on their own northern-hemisphere Island.

A last look at the garden on Gurnick Street

The clear waters of Mount’s Bay

The breakwater, at the base of the Harbor Wall

Another reminder that Cornwall is also the Land of Merlin & King Arthur

Per Wikipedia: “Mousehole, like Penzance, Newlyn and Paul, was destroyed in the 1595 raid on Mount’s Bay by Spaniard
Carlos de Amesquita. “ This building, which is called the “Keigwin Arms,” is the only building that survived, when the Spaniards set
fire to the Village. The structure is now a private residence.

A closer look at the imposing portico of Keigwin Arms

Tragically, although this building survived, the Master of the House did not.

Flowers WILL grow where they want to be. Here, a clump of Centranthus (or Red Valerian) has taken root, high up in the wall of a stone house.

T’was time for Tea, and Anne and David began to search for a watering hole.

We ended our afternoon in Mousehole with a Proper Tea, at Jessie’s Dairy (11 Fore Street). Image courtesy of David Guy

near Gulval, Penzance, Cornwall TR20 8YL

Aerial view of Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens

Plan of the Sculpture Garden

In the general context of British gardens, Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, which is being established upon land which its owner acquired in 1997, is still in its infancy. In England, even large-scale gardens which have been continuously developed for 40 years are still considered to be merely adolescent, and so garden-snobs will just have to be patient, while the physical reality of Tremenheere catches up to what it must already be, in the imagination of its creator,
Dr. Neil Armstrong.

That said, when visiting southwestern Cornwall, these 22 acres of parklands and semi-tropical gardens are NOT to be missed. Sprawling across a steep hillside which is split by a valley, the gardens offer spectacular views of St.Michael’s Mount and of Mount’s Bay. Tremenheere is embellished by cutting-edge architectural follies, decorated with large-scale sculptures, enlivened by a first-class plant nursery, and enriched by an art gallery. And the presence of its excellent Café makes a day-trip to the gardens very satisfying, in every respect.

Since I don’t rephrase what others have already stated quite well, I’ll quote from Tremenheere’s Visitors’ Brochure, which explains the History:

“Prior to 1294 the land at Tremenheere was owned by the monks of St.Michael’s Mount. Michael De Tremenheere bought the land at that time…and thus began an unbroken lineage of 600 years where the owner of the land carried the name Tremenheere. This persisted until 1890 with the last Tremenheere being Seymour.
The gardens are greatly indebted to this man as it was he who planted the beech, the oak, the sweet chestnut and holly throughout the woods in or around 1830.”

“The land at Tremenheere was said to be the vineyard for the Mount in the 15th Century. Much later in the 1800s it was a noted strawberry growing area with products being exported to Newfoundland.”

“The land is south facing with good soil. It is early favoured land, largely sheltered from prevailing winds by the mature woodland and the particular valley landscape. A free flowing stream runs through the bottom of the valley and several substantial ponds are aligned nearby. The total area amounts to 22 acres and is situated a mile east of Penzance along a stretch of land known as the Golden Mile.”

“After the Tremenheere lineage fell away the Pearce family farmed the land for 4 generations until 1997, when Dr. Neil Armstrong acquired the core valley to which other fields were added in the interim. Neil acquainted himself with the land in tackling heavily overgrown scrubby woodland with 10 foot high brambles, wild rhododendron and impenetrable swamp.”

“The land however immediately announced itself as having tremendous potential with its natural assets – the habitats were varied from pond to dry, arid slopes. A planting scheme and landscape design was largely dictated by these natural features.”

“There was no big house or driveway, which allowed him to create paths to follow the natural camber of the hillsides using directional prompts and framing vistas as appropriate. The steep terrain dictated the need for access tracks and these conveniently compartmentalized the garden, creating slightly different moods in different areas.”

“The guiding principle has been to evolve a naturalistic, arcadian space blending the elements of landscape, planting and art to create a place for contemplation and wonder.”

Dr. Neil Armstrong (NOT the astronaut!)

Is this an Ambitious Enterprise? Yes Indeed. As he creates his garden, Dr. Armstrong is doing what fewer and fewer people in England—or anyplace else—have the will or the means to accomplish. Dr. Armstrong is part of a select group of people, who—instead of lavishing their time and money upon yachts or sports teams—are continuing the grand, deeply civilized tradition of creating World-Class Gardens, from scratch. Such endeavors, even if they might be perceived by some as vanity projects, ultimately benefit all of us who cherish gardens.

Now, a slight Detour, with a Note: During my annual visits to England, I’ve found four other relatively-NEW, expansive, and uniquely-styled gardens, which have already achieved world-class significance. In future Armchair Diaries, which will cover more regions in England, I’ll take you on tours of the following extraordinary places:

#1: Broughton-Grange Garden, in Oxfordshire.
Land acquired in 1992, and a massive garden expansion begun in 2001.
Designer: Tom Stuart-Smith.

The Parterre, at Broughton Grange

#2: Upton Wold Garden, in Gloucestershire.
Land acquired in 1973. Initial garden plan
by designer Hal Moggridge, with continual
additions by the owners, Caroline & Ian Bond,
as well as by other designers.

Upton Wold’s Labyrinth (designed by Hall Moggridge)

#3: Wollerton Old Hall Garden, in Shropshire.
Since 1984, designed and developed by the owners,
Leslie and John Jenkins.

Wollerton Old Hall,
The Upper Rill

#4: East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden, in Norfolk.
Land acquired 40 years ago, with gardens designed
entirely by the owners, Alan Gray and Graham Robeson.

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden, The Desert Wash

Let’s return to Tremenheere, where we’ll begin our Tour of the Site.

[Note: the Gardens are closed, from late October through mid-February.
The Kitchen Restaurant is open, year-round. Daily: 10AM—4PM;
and on Friday & Saturday, from 6PM until “late.”]

In the Car Park, a Rusty Reclining Man

The Plant Nursery

The Nursery’s Living Roof

Anne & David bought this Air Plant, which they then carried for the next 2 weeks of our travels….this is when a car’s front-seat cup-holders come in handy! The unfussy plant took well to tourism, and very soon produced this blossom. Photo courtesy of Anne Guy

A beautifully-composed display of succulent plants, at the Nursery


Pots and Pots of Plants, for sale at the Nursery


Yes! They ship….to anywhere in the World.

A Not-So-Comfy-Chair, near the Plant Nursery.
Photo courtesy of David Guy.

Adjacent to the Kitchen Restaurant, a Radiating Assemblage of Cornish Slate Tiles

Tremenheere’s Kitchen Restaurant has both indoor and outdoor tables. I highly recommend their Tempura of Seasonal Vegetables, with sweet chili dip.

The view from our outdoor table, at the Kitchen Restaurant. St. Michael’s Mount—a tidal island in Mount’s Bay—is in the distance.

At the Gift Shop: Just-picked Posies, grown on-site. Photo courtesy of Anne Guy.

More Nosegays, in the Gift Shop. Photo courtesy of Anne Guy.

We begin to hike uphill, towards the Gardens, but are immediately distracted and then utterly waylaid by a Marvelous Contraption. A wooden temple is balanced upon an iron platform, whose black legs seem spiderish. The Temple’s dilapidated columns are quivering, or sometimes swaying every which way…their unpredictable movements prompted by the merest whispers of the ocean breezes which blow, up from Mount’s Bay. Beneath the platform, multiple pendulums are swinging slowly and purposefully. Although clearly an Architectural Thing, this Looming and Wondrous Construction feels Alive, and is the brainchild of Penny Saunders, who unveiled her RESTLESS TEMPLE at Tremenheere in 2015.

RESTLESS TEMPLE, by Penny Saunders

The Artist’s Statement, about RESTLESS TEMPLE

Penny Saunders. The artist worked for 35 years making mechanized sets and props with Folkbeard Fantasy, the theatre and animation company. She says that she’s now “moved outdoors into natural light and the realities of nature.”

RESTLESS TEMPLE. My frozen-moment-in-time photo cannot show how this machine of wood and metal and concrete NEVER stays still. The TEMPLE actually seems to fidget; its columns seem undecided, and do not necessarily all tilt in the same direction when the wind blows.
Below-decks, the heavy pendulums, which also continually move,
seem deliberate, and almost calm.

RESTLESS TEMPLE: detail of columns, which are clad with thin pieces of cedar

RESTLESS TEMPLE: detail of base, from which hang circular concrete pendulum-weights

RESTLESS TEMPLE, with a distant view of St.Michael’s Mount, in Mount’s Bay. The close-by teepees are
fixtures of Tremenheere’s Marquee Site.

As the RESTLESS TEMPLE shifts, it is simultaneously familiar, unnerving, funny, thought-provoking, delightful, and hypnotic.

As seen from the RESTLESS TEMPLE site: Tremenheere’s Gallery building is in the foreground. In the distance, St.Michael’s Mount is in the Bay. When I took this photo, the tide was IN, and the causeway which connects The Mount to Marazion, on the mainland, was totally submerged.

We enter the Gardens. David leads the way, up a long path which bisects the Palm Garden.

Over 50 distinct garden areas have been established at Tremenheere. Grouped within each area are perennials and trees which have been chosen to flourish in each, specific micro-climate. Tremenheere’s website includes exhaustive lists of every plant
which the gardeners have added to the site. I include the following map of the garden areas, simply to illustrate the complexity of this ambitious horticultural enterprise.

Locations of the various garden areas, at Tremenheere. [Note: for complete lists of plant species in each area, consult the Tremenheere website.] Image courtesy of Tremenheere.

Lush, semi-tropical plantings. Yes, those are banana trees, flourishing in Cornwall. None of the thousands of non-native plants and trees which are planted the
Gardens require coddling, in Wintertime.

The banana plant, originating in Southeast Asia, is the World’s largest herbaceous flowering plant. This close look at a banana flower, courtesy of Anne Guy.

Alongside the path, more exotic gardens, with plant IDs kindly supplied by Anne Guy. Front: pink flowers are Lampranthus (from Southern Africa). Center left: Agave (from Mexico). Center: Cactus (South and Central Americas). Rear: orange flowers on tree are Isoplexis (Canary Islands).

A beautifully-balanced composition of plants. Per Anne:
Spiky tree at far left is Xanthorrhoea Grass Tree (from Australia).
Yellowish plants in foreground, middle and left are all Cycads (which have been on Earth since the Jurassic age).
Fan shaped plant is Trachycarpus Palm (from the Himalayas).

Per Anne: At the front, Protea (South Africa), with its vivid orange blossoms. A Banana is at the rear.

Protea blossom, close up. Photo courtesy of Anne Guy.

Contrasts of texture, form, and color. As identified by Anne: Yellow pyramid flowers are Tree Aeoniums (Canary Islands), with Restio grass (South Africa) behind them. Orange flower is Isoplexis. Front shrub is a variety of South African pine.

More plant IDs, courtesy of Anne: Banana at back. Bottlebrush callistemon (Australia) below. Front right Cycad. Behind that, is a tatty date palm– Phoenix species. Behind that, the wavy grass is Restio.

Now above the Palm Garden, we approach a Pavilion, which has a rooftop Observation Deck. What we haven’t yet discovered is that, through the Pavilion, we’ll soon enter an underground corridor which leads to a mysterious, elliptical Domed Chamber. In the distance, the top-most towers of
St.Michael’s Mount are JUST visible.

This Domed Chamber, which is buried under the hillside, was designed by the American artist James Turrell (born 1943, in LA, CA). On Turrell’s website he describes his medium as “pure light.”
He explains: “My work has no object, no image, and no focus….what is important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought.”

We pass between the columns of the Pavilion which is
below the Observation Deck. Looking back, I appreciate the
exquisitely-done stonework, and the lush vegetation beyond.

Leading us away from the entry Pavilion, along a subterranean corridor, Anne is silhouetted against the bright, white light which emanates from the Domed Chamber that’s
ahead of us.

Turrell describes this construction, which is called TEWLWOLOW KERNOW (Cornish for “Twilight in Cornwall”) as
“A temple, at the prominent site at the high point in the valley, entered from the base of the hill through an underground corridor. One is led along a rising passageway to an interior space, an elliptical chamber whose ceiling frames the sky. Discreet background illumination under-lights the ceiling of the space, and provides a telling contrast with the sky. The shifting balance between the interior and exterior light provides a hypnotic transition.”

Once inside the elliptical Domed Chamber, it takes my eyes a while to adjust to the contrasts between the bright sky, and the dark access corridor, and the dim natural light that washes across the walls.

At the top of the domed Chamber: an
Oculus frames the sky

The Guys Sky-Bathe, inside the Chamber. During our summers of traveling together, I’ve taken many photos of
David and Anne. This is one of my favorite portraits of my treasured friends.

From within the Chamber: our view of the dark corridor which will lead us back outside.

Complex forms and shadows, in the Chamber.

We’re back outside, and have climbed to the
observation deck, above the columned entry pavilion

Nan and Anne, taking in the View. And NO, we don’t intentionally coordinate our outfits….it just happens, more often than not. Photo courtesy of David Guy.

My zoom-lens view of St.Michael’s Mount,
seen from the Observation deck

Uphill from the Domed Chamber, aligned exactly north-south, Richard Long has planted a simple line of ornamental grasses, which he calls TREMENHEERE LINE. I consider this the most UNDERwhelming art in the Gardens.

We follow a path that runs along the upper edge of the Palm Gardens. Image courtesy of Tremenheere.

On a wooded hillside, we encounter THE MINOTAUR, by Tim Shaw

An untitled work by Kishio Suga: a large scaffolding cage encloses bamboo poles.

SLIP OF THE LIP, by Peter Randall-Page. An interlocking
work, in Hassan Marble.

Detail: SLIP OF THE LIP. Peter Randall-Page developed
this piece from drawings of Eucalyptus seed pods.

Detail: SLIP OF THE LIP. In the words of the sculptor: “The male and female forms are ambiguous and somewhat

Nearby: stone shards, arranged with Intention (Arranger unknown)

SKHIMZA, by Ken Gill: described by the artist as “an installation using glass to honor an ancient fissure in a rock face.”

BLACK MOUND, by David Nash, who says this
“Powerful collection of charred oak shapes in a sculptured huddle is sited to resonate with the mature oak woodland and bluebells in season.”

In a field, at the highest point of the Gardens, a changing collection of brightly colored kinetic artwork. On display now: PERSPEX WIND SCULPTURE, by Michaels Chaikin.

A former Chelsea Show Garden, by Darren Hawkes.

At the lowest point in the Gardens, adjacent to a pair of ponds, we find a cascade of steps and terraces—all made of Cornish slate. The original version of this Garden was designed by Darren Hawkes, for display at the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show, in London. At Chelsea, Hawkes’ entry was awarded a Gold medal by the Royal Horticultural Society. Every year, after the week-long Chelsea Flower Show, most of the massively expensive Show Gardens are then dismantled…a VERY wasteful habit indeed. Instead, in a laudable demonstration of Show-Garden-Recycling,the Designer’s Chelsea garden was moved to Tremenheeree, and reconfigured
to create this restful vantage point, near water.

A floating sculpture, near to the Cornish slate terrace.

Detail of exquisite Cornish slate stepping stones.

Afloat: a lacquered red vessel

Nearby, Cornish stone mason Richard Marsh’s

Another look at how the Chelsea Flower Show Recycled Hardscape, along with masses of newly-added plant material, have been seamlessly integrated into the natural landscape, in the Darren Hawkes garden at Tremenheere.

Our garden rambles at Tremenheere had come to an end, but, as we headed downhill, and back towards the car park, ‘twas impossible not to stop for a little bit longer, to once again admire the RESTLESS TEMPLE.

The Restless Temple, by Penny Saunders, at night. Image courtesy of Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens

As I wrap up Part One of our Cornwall explorations, consider that the wonderful places in and around Penzance which I’ve shown you here are contained within about a dozen square miles. Such abundance—of history, of culture, and, most importantly, of glorious stretches of land and of sea—and all conveniently compressed (which of course will spare a Visitor many wasted hours of driving), is typical of all of the Cornish coastal regions which we’ll visit in my forthcoming Diaries.

Here’s what I’ll be working on, so that we can continue to celebrate Cornwall’s endlessly interesting and varied seacoast:

PART TWO. Mount’s Bay, and Environs: Praa Sands, Godolphin House, Marazion, St.Michael’s Mount

PART THREE. Western-most Cornwall: Merry Maidens Stone Circle, Boscawen-un Stone Circle, Porthcurno Bay and the Telegraph Cable, Minack Theatre (& YES: there will be a Poldark-Alert, in this Diary)

PART FOUR. North-western-most Cornwall: Sennen Cove, Levant Mine & Beam Engine, St. Ives, Gwennap Pit ( with yet another Poldark-alert)

PART FIVE. England’s southern-most spit of land: Lizard Point; along with Porthleven (This part will contain the final Poldark-alert)

PART SIX. The central, southern coast, near to Helford River and Frenchman’s Creek: Trebah Garden, and Glendurgan Garden (with this Chapter we’ll begin some Daphne duMaruier-alerts)

PART SEVEN. The Roseland Peninsula: Trelissick Garden, King Harry Ferry, St.Mawes, Lamorran House Gardens, St.Just in Roseland

PART EIGHT. The eastern, southern coast, with a pinch of Bodmin Moor added to what has been a largely watery mix of locations:
Fowey, a cautionary tale about the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pinsla Garden,Jamaica Inn, Altarnun (for our 2nd duMaurier alert)

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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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].

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
( )
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.


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.


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)


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

Antinoeion Plan. Courtesy of DHVP

Courtesy of DHVP


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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

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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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).


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


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 ).


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


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/

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/

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/


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

Architect Frank Warner Riepe

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.


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:

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: ) . 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 ( )
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.”

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…