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Imperial Estates, Villas, and Retreats




Tiberius’ Villa

(Island) Capri, Italy

14 AD


The complex was built as a palace/retreat for the Emperor Tiberius, the successor to Augustus. It was designed as a year round residence, with much attention given to the organization of the structure in relation to the daily activities of the emperor. Particular care was given to take advantage of the views out to the bay, multiple levels allowed a range of vistas.


The Grotto at Sperlonga, Villa of Tiberius

(Island) Capri, Italy

14 AD


Grottoes and Nymphaea were popular architectural features generally associated with Imperial Villas of the time.


Grotto – Cave, or an artificial structure made to resemble a cave, often with running water.


Nymphaeum – a classical building or room with fountains, statues, and plants, used for relaxation.


Tiberius’ grotto at Sperlonga was a cave that was made to serve as a Nymphaeum and banquet hall. Sculpture ensembles within the cave re-enacted scenes from famous literature, such as the Oddysey


House of Loreius Tibertinus

Pompeii, Italy

62 AD


The sequence through the house of Loreius Tibertinus was through the entrance to the atrium, which was surrounded by the two storey house, through the peristyle, to the garden axis, and beyond to gather the view of the mountains.


The garden and house of Loreius Tibertinus were joined through the use of an irrigation channel that ran from an open terrace, or peristyle, through the entire length of the garden. The water channel bisected the garden and was framed by flowering shrubs and trees. A fountain and pergola mark the mid point of the canal. At the north end of the garden was an outdoor dining area complete with wall paintings and furnishings for dining.


The house, terrace, and gardens were linked to one another by the temples, pergolas, fountains, and sculpture.


Atrium – Entrance hall of a roman style house following the entrance passage – or – the central part of the roof sloped inward to collect water for the cisterns below.


Peristyle – Colonnaded garden court of Pompeian and Hellenistic homes.


Imperial Estate of Nero (Nero’s Golden House)

Rome, Italy

64 AD


Begun by Nero after the great fire of 64. Series of structures–pavilions and a long wing with living rooms and reception rooms, set in an articulated garden with an artificial lake in the center (the coliseum now is there). The Esquiline wing on the north side of the lake had open views to the lake and beyond.


Neros Golden House is noted for its complex organization, polygon shapes, and domed rooms combined with the woods, long views, and pastures.


Quote by Suetonius: “There was an artificial lake to represent the sea, and on its shores buildings laid out as cities; and there were stretches of countryside, with fields and vineyards, pastures and woodland, and among them herds of domestic animals and all sorts of wild beasts…. There were dining-halls whose covered ivory ceilings were set with pipes to sprinkle the guests with flowers and perfumes. The main dining-room was circular and it revolved constantly, day and night, like the universe. There were also sea water baths and baths of sulphur-water (from Aquae Albulae, near Tivoli)”


Nero’s golden house displaced many people in the crowded center of Rome The creation of a country estate of this size led to resentment, and ultimately to his downfall and suicide. His statement at the completion of the golden house “now at last I can begin to live like a human being.”


Domitians Palace


92 AD


Occupied most of upper portion of the Palatine Hill overlooking the site of the circus maximus. The palace is relatively compact in plan. There are two areas of primary interest, both relate to outdoor courts.


1. The group of public rooms (state rooms) ordered around the peristyle.


2. The axial organization of the private wing ( the center portion, between the state rooms and the stadium gardens).


The public and private space is separated as an overall organizational strategy.


Hadrians Villa

Near Tivoli, Italy

118 AD


Built as a country retreat. Made up of a wide range of architectural forms and a diverse array of settings. The spatial composition at Hadrians Villa was different than most of the earlier plans of its type which were primarily rectilinear forms and relationships. At Hadrians Villa axes meet at various angles to one another and set up unexpected relationships between various spaces.


Vistas within the organization are articulated through the use of axis and sequence.


Hadrians Villa functioned as a small city, and was self sufficient. A diverse array of distinct architectural types was present. (Island villa)


Cryptoporticus – the underground network of tunnels allowed slaves to carry out their service and not become a disruption above.


The gardens make use of topography through terracing, and resemble a miniature geography of the empire.


160 acre complex of palaces, probably represented components of Hadrians travel.


Poccile-probably intended to remind visitors of a stoa in Athens, during Hadrians time it had a covered colonnade.


The canopus was a formal lake and maritime theater with movable bridges, possibly meant to suggest the river Nile. The canopus had colonnades down both sides of it, and from one side it is overlooked by caryatids copied from those at the Erectheum on the acropolis.



Granada, Spain

1338-1390 AD


A highly decorated Muslim palace of interconnected rooms including richly planted terraces with water features. The palace was originally an eleventh century fortress palace. It is set on a steep outcrop within a fertile valley. Organized as a series of interlocking spaces including the court of the lions and a at right angle to it, the court of the Myrtle’s which together dominate the composition.


The court, or patio, of the Lions is surrounded by a highly decorated arcade. Channels of water, and fountains dominate the open air space. The patio of the lions, it is a chahar-bagh in form.


Chahar-bagh–four square sections with deeply sunken beds, divides by the ‘four rivers’ water courses.


Water begins in rooms adjacent to the court and moves through narrow channels forming the four rivers and then flowing to the Twelve Lions at the central fountain. It would have been planted with orange trees at a much lower bedding height than today.


The court of the Myrtle’s has a wide central reflecting pool capturing the image of the tall arcades. Inside the arched walls of the court are shallow bowls with flowing water suggesting ‘gardens underneath which rivers flow’.



Granada, Spain



Complex of gardens built over time, some date to the 19th century. The Moorish contribution, the long rectangular patio de la Acequia, or Court of the Long Pond, appeared much different than today. The Islamic version would not have contained the jets, which are probably a Spanish addition, after the renaissance. The planting would have been considerably different also, the planted areas were lower than today, which would have allowed the flowers to grow flush with the paths like the flowers of a bordered carpet.

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