Ever wondered what life was like in ancient Roman times? As emperor from 117 to 138 AD, Hadrian shaped the Roman Empire through ambitious building programs, including the construction of new cities across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. His architectural legacy lives on in many places today. Want to discover some of the best-preserved Roman cities built under Hadrian’s rule? Pack your bags – you’re about to embark on an epic journey through time. From the sunny shores of southern Spain to the mountains of central Turkey,
Hadrian’s cities await. Stroll down colonnaded streets, marvel at towering temples, and soak in the ambiance of amphitheaters where gladiators once battled. While the centuries have taken their toll, Hadrian’s architectural vision lives on in these 10 spectacular Roman cities that still stand largely intact today.
Introduction to Emperor Hadrian and His Architectural Passion
Emperor Hadrian had a passion for architecture and left behind a legacy of cities throughout the Roman Empire. During his reign from 117 to 138 AD, Hadrian embarked on extensive tours of the provinces, overseeing construction of aqueducts, temples, theaters and more.
- In Italy, his villa at Tivoli featured baths, libraries, gardens and shrines. The circular maritime theater is an architectural marvel.
- In Greece, Hadrian sponsored the completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, one of the largest temples of its time. He also restored the Lyceum, where Aristotle once taught.
-In Egypt, Hadrian founded Antinoopolis in 130 AD to honor his young lover Antinous. He also completed Trajan’s Gate at Alexandria and built the Hadrianic Baths at Leptis Magna in modern Libya.
- In Turkey, Hadrian’s Gate still stands in Antalya. He also sponsored construction of the monumental Temple of Hadrian in Ephesus.
Hadrian left an indelible mark through his passion for building. His architectural legacy lives on in iconic structures throughout the former Roman Empire, many still inspiring wonder today. Though centuries have passed, Hadrian’s vision and influence remain.
Hadrian’s Villa – The Emperor’s Lavish Country Retreat
Hadrian’s villa was the emperor’s lavish country estate, a retreat from the bustle of Rome. Sprawling over 300 acres, it included palaces, temples, theaters and luxurious baths. ### Architecture and Artwork
The complex was adorned with sculptures, mosaics and frescoes, many depicting Egyptian and Greek themes, reflecting Hadrian’s love of Hellenistic culture.
Hadrian was an avid architect and closely oversaw the villa’s design. Its eclectic mix of architectural styles – from Egyptian obelisks to Greek temples – mirrored the cultural diversity of the Roman Empire. The villa also had functional buildings like storerooms, as well as extravagant entertainment spaces where Hadrian hosted lavish banquets and parties for his courtiers.
Though mostly ruins remain today, Hadrian’s Villa gives us a glimpse into how the emperor lived and a sense of the opulence of his era.
The Pantheon – Hadrian’s Architectural Marvel in Rome
When in Rome, a visit to the Pantheon is a must. This architectural wonder was built during Hadrian’s reign in the 2nd century AD. The Pantheon, which means “temple of all the gods,” was originally a Roman temple dedicated to the gods of Roman religion. Today, it is a church, the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres.
The Pantheon’s domed roof, the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, is a remarkable feat of Roman engineering. The oculus, or circular opening at the top of the dome, is the building’s only source of natural light. When it rains, the water drains through holes in the floor, carrying away the water. The dome symbolizes the vault of the heavens.
The Pantheon’s architectural design has endured for nearly 2,000 years and has been imitated in many public buildings and churches. Its architectural beauty and mathematical precision leave visitors in awe.
No trip to Rome is complete without gazing up at the Pantheon’s immense dome and imagining what life was like in the days of the Roman Empire under Hadrian’s rule. This iconic structure has stood the test of time and remains a stunning example of Roman ingenuity and
Hadrian’s Wall – Defending the Northern Border of Roman Britain
Hadrian’s Wall was a massive fortification built across Northern Britain on the orders of Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD. Stretching 73 miles from
coast to coast, Hadrian’s Wall was intended to defend Roman Britain from tribes in what is now Scotland.
A Defensive Stronghold
The wall was up to 15 feet high and 10 feet thick, with stone forts spaced along its length. Between 10,000 to 15,000 Roman soldiers were stationed at Hadrian’s Wall, guarding the empire’s northern frontier. The wall had a ditch on its northern side, and a road on the south, allowing.
Roman forces to quickly move between forts
Though chiefly defensive, Hadrian’s Wall also controlled trade and immigration between Roman Britain and unconquered territories to the north. The wall is a striking example of Roman military engineering, as well as Hadrian’s policy of securing Rome’s borders through physical barriers.
Today, large sections of Hadrian’s Wall still stand, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can walk or bike much of the wall’s length, getting a sense of the challenges Roman soldiers faced manning this isolated northern border of the empire. Hadrian’s Wall remains an enduring symbol of the peak of Roman power in Britain.
Rebuilding the Athenian Temple of Olympian Zeus – Honoring Greek History
One of Hadrian’s most memorable building projects was reconstructing Athens’ Temple of Olympian Zeus. Originally begun in the 6th century BCE, construction stalled for centuries. Hadrian decided to complete it in his own vision.
Hadrian admired Greek culture and sought to honor its history. By finishing the massive Temple of Olympian Zeus, he paid homage to the ancient Athenians who first envisioned it. Hadrian likely saw the temple as a symbolic link between Rome’s present power and Greece’s historic grandeur.
Today, 15 of the original 104 Corinthian columns still stand, a lasting testament to Hadrian’s reverence for the site’s cultural significance. The temple remains an iconic symbol of Hadrian’s reign, and of the inextricable ties between the Roman Empire and its Greek predecessors.
Aqueducts, Baths, and Harbors – Hadrian’s Civic Improvements Across the Empire
Hadrian made substantial improvements to infrastructure across the Roman Empire, including aqueducts to supply fresh water, public baths for hygiene and socializing, and harbors for trade.
Hadrian built and repaired aqueducts in many cities to ensure a constant supply of clean water. The aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima in Judea stretching over 6 miles long and the aqueduct at Tarraco (Tarragona) in Hispania (Spain) are examples of Hadrian’s civic improvements providing fresh water to cities.
Hadrian constructed impressive public baths, providing hygienic facilities for exercise, socializing and relaxation. The Baths of Hadrian in Lepcis Magna (Libya) and the Baths of Hadrian in Rome, also known as the Baths of Agrippa, were popular community hubs. The baths typically included pools at varying temperatures, gymnasiums, gardens and libraries.
Hadrian improved harbors and ports around the empire for the benefit of trade and commerce. At Caesarea Maritima, Hadrian expanded the harbor, adding moles and breakwaters. But, at Tarraco, Hadrian likely improved the harbor facilities. At Ostia, the harbor of Rome, Hadrian built a lighthouse and enlarged the harbor, making it a major port for the grain supply to Rome.
Through ambitious building programs providing civic works like fresh water systems, public baths and harbors, Hadrian greatly improved living standards, health, trade, and connectivity across the Roman Empire. His architectural legacy lives on in many cities today.
The Arch of Hadrian – A Triumphal Gateway in Athens, Greece
The Arch of Hadrian in Athens, Greece is one of the finest surviving Roman monuments in the city. Built in 132 AD, this grand triumphal archway spanned a major road in the ancient city, marking the boundary between the old and new cities of Athens.
A Grand Gateway
Standing nearly 60 feet high, the arch was an impressive sight. Its three arched openings allowed traffic to pass through, while its decorative facades featured Corinthian columns, statues and relief sculptures depicting Hadrian, Greek gods and personifications of virtues. The arch celebrated Hadrian’s philhellenism and the unification of the old and new cities of Athens.
It is a striking reminder of Hadrian’s legacy in fostering prosperity and integrating Greek and Roman cultures in the cities under his rule.
Hadrianopolis – Establishing a New Roman Colony in Turkey
Hadrian founded Hadrianopolis around 123 AD in northern Turkey. As part of his vision for unifying the Roman Empire, Hadrian established colonies in strategic locations. Hadrianopolis was built on an important trade route, bringing economic opportunity to the region.
A New Foundation
Hadrian chose the site of Hadrianopolis carefully. Located in the fertile Paphlagonia region, the city provided agricultural prosperity. It also connected trade routes between the Black Sea and central Anatolia. Hadrian likely saw potential for Hadrianopolis to become a thriving hub of culture, commerce, and community.
The city was built on a grid plan with amenities like a temple, theater, baths, and aqueducts. Settlers came from across the empire, bringing diversity that Hadrian promoted. As a colony, Hadrianopolis was a miniature Rome, spreading Roman customs, laws, and loyalty to
Hadrian in these frontier lands
Hadrian took a personal interest in overseeing construction of Hadrianopolis. He may have even visited the site during his travels in Anatolia from 121 to 123 AD. Hadrianopolis stood as a testament to Hadrian’s vision for unifying and stabilizing the Roman Empire through strategic founding of new cities and colonies in the 2nd century AD.
Jerash – Transforming a Hellenistic City in Roman Syria
The ancient city of Jerash in modern-day Jordan is one of the best-preserved Roman cities outside of Italy. As the
Roman Empire expanded
Around 63 BCE, Pompey annexed Jerash and made it part of the Roman province of Syria. The Romans rebuilt the city in a classical Roman style with grand temples, theaters, and columned streets. They constructed a hippodrome and South Gate, as well as the Oval Plaza and Cardo Maximus—Jerash’s main street, which is still remarkably intact today.
The Temple of Artemis was also constructed during this time, dedicated to the patron goddess of the city. With its massive columns, it is considered one of the most impressive temples in the Roman world.
By the 2nd century CE, Jerash was a prosperous trade center. The Roman Emperor Hadrian likely visited during this time. The Triumphal Arch was built to honor Hadrian, under whom the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent.
The ruins of Jerash stand as a testament to the longevity and spread of Roman architectural influence. Even after thousands of years, the grandeur and symmetry of Roman design still inspires awe.
Tivoli – Rejuvenating a Town Near Rome as Hadrian’s Tibur
Tivoli, located just east of Rome, who named it Tibur.
As a retreat from the bustle of Rome, Hadrian built his villa here, a sprawling palace complex set amongst landscaped gardens, pools and fountains. The villa featured replicas of architectural wonders from across the empire that Hadrian had visited, like the Serapeum in Alexandria and the Poikile Stoa in Athens.
Hadrian improved Tibur by building a temple to Hercules, a theater, and an amphitheater where events and spectacles were held. For Romans seeking leisure, Tibur offered a peaceful setting with picturesque natural scenery in the Aniene river valley along with cultural amenities.
Today, Tivoli is a UNESCO World Heritage site, its fortunes still tied to Hadrian’s architectural gems. The villa remains an icon. Hadrian left an indelible imprint on Tibur that has endured for centuries. His rejuvenation of the town into a prestigious getaway destination cemented its status in Roman history and its allure for visitors to this day.
After touring some of the best-preserved Roman cities built under Emperor Hadrian, you’ve seen firsthand why his reign was the pinnacle of architectural achievement in the ancient world. Hadrian poured money and resources into civic planning and construction, raising entire metropolises across the empire during his rule. While Rome may get all the glory, these provincial Roman towns prove that Hadrian’s vision of a unified empire went far beyond the Eternal City.
Today, walking the streets of Ephesus, Jerash, Leptis Magna, and the others, you can’t help but feel a connection to Hadrian’s grand ambition.
His love of art, culture, philosophy, and innovation lives on in every column and cobblestone. Though nearly two thousand years have passed, Hadrian’s architectural legacy stands the test of time. These cities remain a remarkable window into the grandeur and prosperity of the Roman Empire at its height.