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Emperor Hadrian's imposing Rome: from the Pantheon to his dream refuge


Highlights: Pantheon was a reconstruction of the work begun in 118 by General Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Emperor Hadrian concluded it in 126 by giving his sense of homage to "All the Gods" The height of the temple, from the ground to the sky, is the same as the diameter of the dome. On top of that, his oculus is still open. An all-seeing eye, keeping an eye on the incredible strength of Roman materials. They did not only use pozzolana, the porous volcanic ash, but quicklime. That mixture has not collapsed in two millennia.

Three of the most beautiful and solid constructions of Antiquity are his legacy: the hypnotic oculus of the Pantheon, a mausoleum on which stands the castle of Sant'Angelo and Villa Adriana, an exquisite town of retreat near Tivoli

On the outside, the Pantheon does not give an idea of the immensity of emptiness that it contains. It is its appeal, unscathed for 19 centuries. It catches the air of Rome by lightening the weight of the dome with its hollow, an architectural triumph that still raises admiration. It does not smell of sandalwood or incense in the great interior bell that led the emperor Publio Aelio Adriano, who if he was not born in Rome in the year 76, perhaps he did it in Itálica (next to the current Sevillian town of Santiponce).

The truth is that the Pantheon was a reconstruction of the work begun in 118 by General Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Emperor Hadrian concluded it in 126 by giving his sense of homage to "All the Gods", the Greek meaning of Pantheon. Not a single god was to be left on the loose, without his place in the great air house that the Romans built. It had to be, and was, the largest temple in Rome, if not in the world.

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Hadrian trusted his architects: everything would fit under a dome of 43.44 meters. This is a diameter that still fascinates, surpassing that of the dome of St. Peter's in the Vatican itself. And having as a boast that the height of the temple, from the ground to the sky, is the same as the diameter of the dome. And on top of that, his oculus is still open. An all-seeing eye, keeping an eye on the incredible strength of Roman materials. Starting with reinforced concrete. They did not only use pozzolana, the porous volcanic ash, but quicklime, the secret finally revealed by a study in which MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has collaborated. That mixture has not collapsed in two millennia, and has over time repaired its own fissures.

The traveler enters the Pantheon, again and again, and has eyes only for the oculus. It is true that they have not put any closure, being an eye to the weather of the Italian capital. No eyelids, open day and night. Even the Colosseum had an awning that was run to relieve the public. The gods of the Pantheon were left alone with their omnipotence. There is no miracle that counts. If it rains, the Pantheon gets wet like the others. But at the same time everything drains into a soil that has thirty centimeters of subtle unevenness from the center to the edges. While the entire structure is compacted, as if humidity were also responsible for the hardness of that unbeatable Roman cement.

Exterior view of the portico of the Pantheon, one of the best preserved constructions of Antiquity.Hemis / Alamy

Already towards the fourth century, the Pantheon remained in carcass. The barbarians came and vandalized him. Then many bronze elements and ornaments were torn out by order of Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII, and ended up melted down to make cannons of the castle of Sant'Angelo and for the baldachin of St. Peter's in the Vatican. That's why the Romans coined: "What the barbarians didn't do, the Barberini did."

The Pantheon is a basilica, Santa Maria dei Martires, and after the Unity of Italy houses the memorial chapel of the Italian kings. The tomb of the painter Raphael Sanzio, genius of the Renaissance, impresses with its simplicity in the current set.

In our days, it has become a great tourist focus in the Trevi neighborhood. Restaurants with terraces almost prevent walking through adjacent streets, such as Via dei Pastini. Any day is good to admire the Pantheon. But better if it is when the summer solstice projects on the ground a solar disk of the same diameter as the oculus.

A castle on Hadrian's mausoleum

Hadrian was also responsible for the erection of two other temples as significant as those of Venus Felix and Roma Aeterna, major goddesses of the Empire. Of these, there are only a few broken columns in the eastern part of the Roman Forum, already near the Colosseum. But that mystical image of Hadrian overlaps his warmongering, and his determination to expand Roman borders. For not only did he reinforce them with a wall, like the one that bears his name in the north of England, but he also strengthened the Roman boundaries to the Sahara, to the south, and Mesopotamia, to the east. In 132, Hadrian crushed the rebellion of the Jews led by Simon bar Kojiba, and is credited with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hebrews. Hence the curse against him contained in the Jerusalem Talmud. That is why the emperor clashes with his desire for a certain mysticism, as when he wrote his famous verse: "Animula, vagula, blandula..." ("Small, delicate, hesitant soul...").

View of the temples of Venus Felix and Roma Aeterna from the upper gallery of the Colosseum.Endless Travel / Alamy

That verse, as if it were an epitaph, is reproduced on a plaque of the castle of Sant'Angelo, on the ramp that leads to where Hadrian's mausoleumis believed to have been. The emperor had it built around the year 123 on the right bank of the Tiber. He devised a tomb that was commensurate with his greatness in life, although over time on it a castle was raised several times destroyed and rebuilt to its current image. There were also buried other emperors, Commodus, Caracalla, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius himself, the author of some Meditations still full of reason and validity.

Exterior of Castel Sant'Angelo, built over the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian in the city of Rome. ALESSANDRO SERRANO (AGF / Universal Images / Getty Images)

The castle of Sant'Angelo was not spared from being vandalized by the barbarians. Later it became the great defense of the popes, even during the Sack of Rome ordered by the Spanish Emperor Charles V in 1527. For centuries it served as a dungeon, for heretics and alchemists of the stature of Cagliostro, and as private rooms of many pontiffs. There they felt safer than in the Vatican palaces. However, there is still the Passetto di Borgo, an 800-meter passageway that connects the Vatican with the castle, and vice versa. On level IV are the apartments of the popes. It highlights the stufa or hot bath of Clement VII, who took refuge there during the Sack of Rome. There is no longer his bathtub with a sculptural Venus that poured the water, but the frescoes, not censored, of nymphs, shells and other aquatic creatures.

But the castle is, above all, to fly your eyes on its terrace, one of the most spectacular to contemplate today the Italian capital. There stands the copy of the archangel that gives its name to the site, a San Miguel of stainless steel and titanium. Another bet on eternal Rome.

Villa Adriana, a whole city

But if you want to treasure different perspectives, and high views of Rome, about 25 kilometers east of the capital, on the outskirts of Tivoli, is Villa Adriana. And stillness and greenery like that of an oasis. It is where Emperor Hadrian retreated to seek rest and beauty despite living in a Roman area as exclusive as the Palatine. Villa Adriana emerges as the compendium of what Hadrian idealized. A kind of foretaste of the possible terrestrial paradise. Which does not mean excess, hanging gardens, palaces of colossal marbles. Villa Adriana, what we have left, still demonstrates with its ruins a call to serenity, to the suspension of conflict, with the help of art, silence and the soft disheveling of cypresses.

Canopo of Hadrian's Villa, a large lake dotted with statues near Tivoli. Alamy

It was an entire city of 120 hectares, although only a third of that area has been excavated. And with everything, the place gives for a trip not so spare. There he walked and was inspired by Marguerite Yourcenar for her Memoirs of Hadrian (1951). And it is that it is, more than a villa, a synthesis of Rome. A city in itself, even with all the gnawed and looted marble that it was. Perhaps the delirium of wanting to make a metropolis for the enjoyment of one man is moving. To satisfy their claims to control the world, especially that of art, congruence, the balance between reason and truth, interest and the dreamlike. An illusion, of course. And more with the now broken flash of so many luxuries. So much space. It had its Great Baths and its Small Baths, and temples of Venus, without the need to overwhelm as in the Roman Forum. And a Praetorium and barracks, and theaters and library. Without forgetting less conventional parts such as the Pecile, a long arcaded promenade where philosophers, rather stoic, could relax. And to exhibit ingenuity served its Maritime Theater, with the stage on an islet. And to cite the delights of Egypt nothing better than reinventing a Canopus, a large lake where only the statues on the edges are those that make the role of shade trees. Hadrian attended behind a curtain of sprayed water.

The visitor can follow his own map. Or just wait for the sunset at the viewpoint of Roccabruna. It is supposed to have been a building taller than its current two floors, used as an astronomical observatory. The truth is that the upper platform is a 360-degree belvedere from where you can only hear the music of silence. And with your eyes set to sail, on the one hand, to Rome itself in the distance. One of the best views of the so-called Eternal City. Meanwhile, on the other hand, greed has not yet been able to with all the fields of Rome, nor with all the slopes of Tivoli, nor with the green height, far from the haughtiness, of the Lepine mountains. The same thing that Hadrian must have seen one happy afternoon.

Luis Pancorbo is the author of Caviar, Gods and Oil. A return to the Caspian Sea... (Renaissance publishing house).

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-06-04

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