The perambulations of Hadrian: A walk through Hadrian's Villa

Michael R Ytterberg, University of Pennsylvania


Hadrian's Villa is one of the major monuments of the history of Western architecture, yet in spite of its preeminent stature, the accessibility of its site, and its much attested power and allure, available information on the Villa remains frustratingly vague as to the specific configuration of its architectural schema. This is not due to a lack of scholarly attention. The Villa is one of the most studied monuments in archaeology. Yet due in part to the Villa's condition and complexity, it is still not possible to describe with specificity the nature of its design and use, ultimately leaving inconclusive even the most learned speculation about its meaning and significance. Far from exhausting the Villa as a subject for study, recent scholarship has now laid the groundwork for a provisional attempt at a synthesis that explains the workings of the whole. This dissertation proposes hypotheses for geometric planning principles, building uses, and circulation patterns for this complex site, in the process uncovering hidden and unanticipated meanings. The focus is on the retrieval and analysis of the imagery of environmental experience as a whole as a way of increasing the understanding of historic contexts. Plans, diagrams, and analytic views uncover conceptual structures implicit in the evidence yet no longer visible to the visitor of the ruins. The culmination of the study is the recreation of the imagery of Hadrian's Villa communicated by a sequence of images which would be encountered on a walk through the Villa that a contemporary visitor might typically have taken. The Villa was created for movement through space from one evocative cultural statement to another, each unlike the rest, distilling its society and times into a concentrated array of appropriate themes and symbols. This is architecture as gesture, an active element in the mimesis of social structure through symbolic means. Both how the Villa worked and what it meant can only be clarified by a systematic visual analysis that affords a glimpse into the transitory world of experience lived and willed by an extraordinary man during his twenty-one years as emperor of the Roman world nearly twenty centuries ago.

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Recommended Citation

Ytterberg, Michael R, "The perambulations of Hadrian: A walk through Hadrian's Villa" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179844.