Tivoli (11 June 2013)

I went there mainly to see 2 villas, 1 Roman and 1 Renaissance. It is quite an interesting city but the shadow cast by its neighbour Rome is too vast and too dark. I wonder how many people I know have ever heard of Tivoli. I suspect that most people are more familiar with the frou frou place in Copenhagen than the town in Italy.

The train ride was a short one, just over an hour, except that I had to get to the Roma Tiburtina station to take the train. I knew I made the right choice staying just next to a metro station.

The streets of Tivoli were sort of confusing even with Google Maps but after I had wasted a lot of time wandering around confusing alleys I finally found the Villa d’Este. If my eyes had not been sharp enough to catch sight of the sign near the door that said “Villa d’Este”, I would not have found it. The building from the street was really quite nondescript.

The Renaissance Villa d’Este was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. He was presented with a palace on that piece of land when he was appointed Governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III in the 16th century and had the palace reconstructed to become its present form.

Now why would a cardinal be given a palace when he became governor? Should he not be living in some church or monastery instead, since I am sure money had already been spent building that church or monastery? It all seems very strange when I consider the matter with a modern mind. In any case, it is very clear from this villa that clerics in political positions lived very well indeed in Renaissance Italy.

The visit is in 2 parts: the villa itself and the garden. What made me wish I had a home like that was the view from the villa.

View from the Villa

As for the villa itself, I am not so sure that I can live in a house decorated in that way. It might have been tasteful and chic in the 16th century, but I doubt that it would work in the 21st century. The villa I think is better off maintained as a museum for people to marvel at the Renaissance art and architecture.

Courtyard fountain

Salon of the Fountain

Wall fresco

Ceiling fresco

The garden is lovely although I would also not want a garden like that for myself. I think I still prefer my décor more subtle.

General view of the garden

The Organ Fountain

The Rometta Fountain

View of the Villa from the Hundred Fountains

The Fountain of Diana of Ephesus

It was amazing how people in the past actually accepted idols of foreign gods into their homes as decoration. The people of Renaissance Europe frequently used Greek and Roman gods as allegorical figures. But here in the Villa d’Este, a stately home built for a cardinal of the conservative Roman Catholic Church no less, there is an idol of the Ephesian Diana with her multiple breasts spewing water from her multiple nipples. All the other Roman gods in the villa did not quite register in my mind, but this one looked so idolatrous that the sight of it took me quite by surprise. What would those crazy everyone-who-is-not-like-me-will-burn-in-hell Christians in Singapore say to this I wonder.

I think I had more fun in the garden than in the villa. It was a nice shady place to hang out in on a hot summer day. Much better than being cooped up indoors I think.

The other villa is located about 4 km or so outside of town. I did consider walking there but realised that it looked too difficult on Google Maps to find my way on foot. There are buses that stop right at the gate of the archaeological complex so why not do things the ‘normal’ way? That is, if I could find the bus. And just as I was about to give up and return to Rome disappointed, I found the correct bus by sheer luck. I then had to buy the bus ticket which could not be bought from the driver. I was told that it had to be bought at the newsstand. There was one near the bus stop but it was closed. So where do I get my ticket? No one on the street seemed to know where else besides the newsstand. I finally decided to ask the bus driver and he told me to get it from the bar nearby. Now who would have thought that a bar would sell bus tickets? Fortunately it was still early for the bus to leave and the driver waited for me.

The bus ride was a short one but it turned ever so often around street corners that all looked confusingly the same to me that I decided that I did the right thing getting on the bus.

The Villa Adriana was a retreat for Hadrian. He built it because he did not like his palace in Rome. There were palaces, baths, temples, a theatre and quarters for everyone living and working there. Now how many people in the world today, besides those despots who rule countries that do not believe in the rule of law, are able to command the building of an alternative palace complex 1 km² in area and containing over 30 buildings just because he did not like the home he was given?

Astoundment and indignance, with a little envy, aside however, I really enjoyed wandering among the ruins. I thought that this Roman villa was far more interesting than the Renaissance one. In fact I would even say that the Villa Adriana was pretty amazing.

The Maritime Theatre

Canopus and Serapeum

Part of the Great Baths

The Praetorium

Temple of Venus

Model of Villa Adriana

I stayed in the Villa Adriana for as long as I could. The latter part of my visit was a little rushed as I wanted to at least eyeball every single ruin on the list but at the same time had to make sure that I was in time to catch the last bus back to town.

I got back to town in the evening when the sun was setting and the residents of Tivoli were coming home from work and preparing for the night. It made the town look so lovely in a homely way. Since it was not a museum town, Tivoli could actually be itself for its own sake. I enjoy towns like that. Tivoli like this was to me Italy at its most natural and charming.

The city centre

Old Tivoli alley

Old Tivoli alley

Old Tivoli alley

I want to pay my compliments to La Fraschetta where I got a porchetta and cheese sandwich to eat for dinner on the train back to Rome. The outlet calls itself “The House of Sandwich” and I can agree that it is entitled to the title based on my sandwich. It was pretty delicious. The lady who helped me pick my cheese and made my sandwich was also wonderfully hospitable and helpful.