Monday, March 31, 2014

Hadrian's legacy

Today's photos:


1. Hadrian's tomb (Castel Sant'Angelo) and the bridge (Ponte degli Angeli) he built to give access to it from the city.

2. Another view of the tomb and the bridge. You have to be out early to get a shot like this!

3. The Pantheon: perhaps Hadrian's greatest achievement.

4. The Temple of Venus and Rome in the Roman Forum.

5. The remains of the Temple of Hadrian as it appears today.

6. An 18th century print of Piazza di Pietra dominated by the massive columns of the temple.

7. A model of the Temple of Hadrian as it probably looked in the 2nd century A.D.

8. A bust of Hadrian in the Uffizi Museum in Florence.


It is not surprising that Rome boasts several spectacular monuments thanks to the emperor Hadrian (photo #8) who ruled for 21 years (117-138). Considered one of the so-called "good emperors", he succeeded his cousin Trajan (98-117) who had adopted him in the last days of his life. The empire had reached its greatest extent under Trajan, and his successor devoted himself primarily to the defense, organization and administration of the conquered territories. For this purpose he traveled extensively throughout the empire. Many people are surprised to learn that both Trajan and Hadrian were from Spain.


One striking example of his attempt to protect Roman territory is the great wall (Hadrian's Wall) in Britain, 117 kilometers long, in great part still standing today. He seems to have done everything in a big way, literally, such as the largest and richest imperial villa in the empire just outside of Tivoli, a small town about 20 miles east of Rome. Known simply as Hadrian's Villa, it is one of Italy's most important and impressive archaeological sites.


Despite the fact that his many travels kept him far from Rome, Hadrian did not neglect the city. In fact, some of the most famous monuments in Rome were built during his reign. It was he who rebuilt the mighty Pantheon of Agrippa (photo #3) after it had been damaged by fires. This remarkable building is the best preserved structure of ancient Rome, mainly because in 609 it was converted into a church. The building is considered the living symbol of the greatness of the Roman Empire. Incredibly, it was completed within a ten-year period, 118-128. Hadrian was a skilled architect and it is believed that he himself may have designed the building. (For more about the Pantheon, see the previous post on this blog and The Sights of Rome book, Chapter 16, The Pantheon).


A lesser known but no less spectacular building associated with Hadrian is the so-called Temple of Hadrian (photo #5). The considerable remains of the temple lie on the well-beaten path between the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, in Piazza di Pietra (photo #6). As you walk into this unassuming piazza you are sure to be amazed at what you see. The original temple consisted of 13 marble columns on the two long sides and 8 on the two short sides. Eleven of the left side columns  remain in their original position. The columns are enormous: 15 meters high and about one and a half meters in diameter. The entrance to the temple was from Via Lata (Via del Corso today), through an arch with three openings, still visible in the 1500's, although none of it has since survived. In 1695 Pope Innocent XII Pignatelli had the temple converted into the Papal State's Land Customs Office. Since 1879 the building has been home to the Rome Chamber of Commerce. The Italian custom of incorporating Roman ruins into modern buildings instead of destroying them has at least partially preserved many of these ancient structures for us. In a store window just across from the columns you can see a reconstruction (photo #7) of the entire complex which included a covered colonnade around the temple.


In the same year that the Pantheon was completed, Hadrian began work on his mausoleum. It was completed in 139, a year after his death. This remarkable structure has also come down to us intact, thanks to the popes who turned it into their fortress in the Middle Ages. We know it today as Castel Sant'Angelo (photos #1 and 2). on the right bank of the Tiber near the Vatican. This was an isolated area in those days because there were very few bridges over the river, none in this particular area. So in order to provide easy access to his mausoleum, Hadrian had a bridge built just in front of it. It was originally named Pons Aelius after him (Aelius Hadrianus), and was completed in 134. We know it today as Ponte degli Angeli, Bridge of the Angels (photos #1 and 2). (For more about this bridge, see The Sights of Rome book, Chapter 19, Ponte Sant'Angelo).


Another imposing structure left to us by Hadrian is the enormous Temple of Venus and Rome (photo #4), the largest temple in the Roman Forum. It looms impressively at the far eastern end of the Forum just opposite the Colosseum. Not only was this the largest temple in the Forum, it was also the most durable. It continued to play a part in the annual celebration of the birthday of Rome (April 21) as late as the fifth century. It remained basically intact until the eighth century when it began to be dismantled, its pieces recycled for use in other buildings. (For more about this temple, see the January 12, 2012 post on this blog: The Temple of Venus and Rome).


The actual physical, tangible legacy left by Hadrian is, in my opinion, greater and more extensive than even that of Augustus, the first emperor, who ruled for over forty years. Rome would certainly be a much poorer place today if Hadrian had not passed our way in the history of the city!



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