Tuesday, October 23, 2018


HADRIAN must have delighted in forcing Patrician Romans to make the 20-mile (30 km) trek to his Tibur Villa in the rugged hill country east of Rome.

Perhaps the surroundings reminded him of his native Hispania. Perhaps he just despised Rome and its snooty residents because he had been taunted as a youth for his "Hispanic" accent and provincial manners. 

Whatever the reason, he spent most of his reign as emperor far away from Rome, traveling to the far-flung corners of his realm.

And when he wasn't traveling, he resided at his Villa, far removed from the city he abhorred. Anyone who wanted to see him was forced to make the journey over hill and dale out to Tibur. In the days of the "letica" or litter chair, it was an uncomfortable and wearying ordeal.

And it still is, even in these days of rapid transit and buses.

"He must have enjoyed making them come all the way out here," Flamen ANTONIUS SUBIA told Priest Hernestus as they waited for one of the notorious overcrowded and unairconditioned "Blue Buses" that ferry passengers from a suburban commuter rail station out to Tivoli ... and then walking a couple of miles along dusty roads to the imperial compound.

Arriving hot and weary, you then ascend a steepish incline to the walls of the Villa itself before finally arriving, out of breath, at the top of a small hill surrounded by magnificent pines, cypress and olive trees.

It is then that you realize what Hadrian loved about this place. A cool breeze wafts across the hilltop, carrying with it the scent of pine, cedar and wild roses and other flowering plants.

Antonius had never been to Hadrian's Villa until his Sacred Pilgrimage, but he knows the layout of the compound by heart, having studied its floor plans and schematic drawings for years.

"So people would arrive here," Antonius said, pointing to the entry portals only a few meters from the enormous bath complex. 

"And they would immediately be invited into the baths to freshen up before being admitted into the presence of the Emperor."

Even in a ruinous state, the baths are breathtakingly enormous, towering the equivalent of six stories overhead.

The private quarters are less easily discerned today, though Antonyus marched through them as if he had always been at home there.

"Just imagine, this is where Hadrian slept," he said in awe.

"And where do you suppose Antinous had his quarters? He must have had separate quarters of his own," Hernestus wondered.

"Somewhere with a nice view, no doubt," Antonius speculated.

The Canopus area of the compound is still stunning even today. At the end of a long pool flanked by Greco-Egyptian style statuary is a seashell motif alcove.

"This is where they dined," Antonius said with a sweep of his hand around the curved base of the alcove, "on dining couches all along here."

Very few tourists were there the day Antonius visited the Villa, just one group from a charter bus and a few hardy souls who had made the rather harrowing trip on a careening and over-crowded public bus and the trek on foot from the bus stop.

No one was paying any attention to what appeared to be a barren field between the baths and the Canopus. There was no sign indicating that this was the very heart of Hadrian's Villa, the most sacred part of the complex.

The ANTINOEION — the Temple of Antinous.

This was where the OBELISK OF ANTINOUS originally stood. This is possibly where the Lost Tomb of Antinous is located.

The Antinoeion is adjacent to the curving entry pathway. It is the spiritual cornerstone of Hadrian's Villa.

"It was the first thing that anyone saw as they approached," Antonius said with a smile reflecting the satisfaction that Hadrian must have felt. "He made them acknowledge Antinous as a God."

Despite repeated promises by curators of the Villa to erect a sign, there is nothing to mark the sprawling temple complex which may yet conceal the Lost Tomb of Antinous.

Antonyus stood for a long time at the low fence which cordons off the area. To the other tourists, it was just a barren field with a few remnants of marble marking foundations of a few buildings and a plinth where an obelisk may have stood.

But for Antonius, this was Sacred Ground. This was where the Ancient Priests of Antinous had laid down the precepts of a beautiful new religion based on tolerance, love and beauty. This was where Hadrian himself came to commune with his Beloved.

A cool breeze wafted across the field, bringing with it the scent of late summer roses, pine and cedar and the sound of cicadas in the olive trees beyond the field, only a portion of which has been excavated in very recent years.

The rest of the weed-overgrown field is a ripple of mounds of earth. Or are these mounds actually the remains of still more structures, possible the Lost Tomb itself?

"There has to be much more buried under there," Antonius said. "There just has to be."

Click here to take your own tour of Hadrian's Villa:

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