As of 16h30 this afternoon, the site presentation I’ve been stressing out over all week was over! Done, finished, kaput – the best feeling in the world. The whole thing ended up taking almost three hours – including my formal presentation and discussion, and an hour for everyone to roam (pun intended) around the garden. The weather was surprisingly pleasant – maybe a little on the humid side, but in general, it was dry, sunny but breezy. Discussion was a little sad, but more than anything I think that was a result of the circumstance: we had been traveling since 8h15 this morning, spending the morning at Hadrian’s Villa (for Denver’s awesome presentation on the Maritime Theater and the logic behind Hadrian’s massive design). The Maritime Theater is a really interesting space – said to be Hadrian’s private retreat and, amongst other interpretations, the symbolic and physical nucleus of the sprawling villa. McEwen argues for a strong connection to the structure and design of the Pantheon (this involved literally hundreds of measurements and comparisons between the two and some um, creative extrapolation) which, in another article, she connects to the composition of a rhetorical argument and the ancient art of oration. Here, too, McEwen relates the architecture to rhetoric, arguing that the villa as a whole but, most particularly the Maritime Theater, was a memory palace for Hadrian. For those of you unfamiliar with the ancient arts of memory, the Palace was one particular technique for remembering a speech or different ideas. The concept is that you would imagine a great palace and assign different ideas to the furnishings, architecture, curios, etc. and then, when you wanted to remember a speech, say, you would walk through the palace (or room) and the visualization would trigger a strong memory response.
In any case, the Maritime Theater is one of the least-understood spaces at the villa. The concentric-circle form is very uncommon and it’s pretty quirky: there is an inner disk of land, surrounded entirely by a moat (which was more of a reflecting pool, but stocked with really scary fish – I SAW THEM) then an outer rim of land, enclosed by walls. Now here’s the fun thing – Hadrian specifically designed the inner disk and its small temple-like structure to be a private retreat and, as such, made the bridges removable. When he wanted to have some alone time, he would go out with a servant and then pick up the wooden bridge and keep it with him on the island. Cool, right?
Anyway, we walked around for a few hours to see the rest of the Villa which includes baths, the Canopus and Serapeum (pool and grotto – probably the most famous/iconic structures), the hospital, Greek theater, and Temple of Venus. Somewhere in there, we also had an informal picnic (by “somewhere” I mean in the dirt at the Temple of Venus) before driving into Tivoli proper to the Villa d’Este for my presentation.
We arrived at the villa around 13h30 and I jumped into my presentation, in the courtyard before slowly wandering through the villa itself and the hall of frescoes to kill a little bit of time. Leading the group down to the Rometta fountain, I got into more of the meat of my discussion, raising issues of the period (most notably, the influence of the Counter Reformation) and introducing what I feel to be the most influential factor: humanism and the resulting interest in antiquities. Finishing this section, we were just in time for the Water Organ performance at 14h30 which, while brief, was unbelievably cool and a new experience for both the group and myself. From this point, we walked down to the Porta Romana (the original entrance to the property) to introduce the element of spatial experience and design and its prominent role in the garden. At this point, we turned everyone loose to explore the garden for an hour before reconvening at the loggia for ice cream (mmm magnum bars…) and a final discussion based on the group’s on-site experience. We finished up just in time to meet our bus driver at 16h30 and make the hour-long journey back to Rome.