The villa, about 20 miles east of Rome at Tivoli, was constructed by Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD and was then the biggest constructed in the Roman period. It covered around 250 acres and consisted of more than thirty significant structures. Hadrian started building the complex right after he became emperor in 117AD and carried on contributing to it until his death in 138AD. He built this rural house retreat in order to escape the disturbance and crowds of Rome, but was obliged to bring half the city with him! Hadrian was preoccupied with privacy. He moved to Tivoli to find it but was still surrounded by people. That could help justify the reason why he put so much of the everyday life of the villa below ground.
While referred to as a villa, it was in reality a huge rural property. Archaeologists have recognized thirty structures, such as palaces, hot bath, a theatre and libraries, as well as gardens and fountains. The villa is thought to have covered up to 250 hectares but the limits are still unknown.
Deserted after the fall of the Roman empire, the villa was taken apart little by little throughout the generations, with for example one native cardinal removing off marble to build his very own house close by in the sixteenth century.
Experts have noted for many years that a labyrinth of tunnels that enabled servants to walk across the villa without bothering the Emperor and his guests.
However Italian archaeologists have come across a genuine underground highway … a tunnel large enough to have received horse carts, that would have carried meals, fire timber and various other objects from a section of the vast residence to another one. It was found out when archaeologists working at the place came across a small depression in the ground, covered by bushes, that led to the principal corridor.
Although researchers have long known that tunnels run below the house, the Italian team was the first to go down through tight passageways in order to walk through them. They have mapped a principal passageway, 2.40 metres (7ft) wide, that goes more than half a mile (700 meters) on to a round spur, which could have been used to turn one-way carts.
“What we are exploring is, to a certain extent, the real villa, because the tunnels will show us where the confines of the property really are,” said Marco Placidi, an amateur caver, who has led the search.
“All the majesty of the villa is reflected underground,” Vittoria Fresi, the archaeologist leading the research project. The underground network helps us to understand the structures that are above ground.”
“These tunnels lead us to understand that Hadrians Villa was organised less like a villa and more like a city,” said Benedetta Adembri, the director of the Hadrians Villa, who is planning to open up parts of the tunnels to the public for the first time for next autumn.