Following the death of Emperor Trajan, power was passed to his cousin’s son Hadrian. Trajan never designated an heir, but supposedly chose Hadrian on his deathbed. Hadrian went on to rule Rome from 117-138, bringing 20 years of peace to the empire. Hadrian is considered 1 of the 5 good emperors, even if he was far from a perfect leader. He is the first Emperor depicted wearing a full beard (aside from Nero with his nasty neck beard). Supposedly, Hadrian wore a beard to conceal bad complexion. He also was a great admirer of all things Greek, and may have taken the look to resemble the great bearded Greek heroes. The Emperors after Hadrian all have beards, so he set quite a fashion trend in the 2nd century.
Hadrian’s basic philosophy of rule was the opposite of Trajan. Trajan loved war, and used it as a powerful political tool. Hadrian hated it, and immediately upon becoming Emperor pulled the armies Trajan had advanced east of Rome’s borders out of Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq (insert modern political parallel here). Hadrian believed that Rome was big enough and turned his attention to strengthening its borders and its infrastructure. He ordered a 80 mile long wall built across Britain from sea to sea in order to keep the northern barbarians out and define the edge of the empire. It was 15 feet high, 10 feet think and marked every mile with a guard post. Hadrian’s wall took 10 years to build, and is still visible today in England. Hadrian’s biggest blunder was his war in Jerusalem. After the city was destroyed and the temple laid waste by Vespasian, Jerusalem remained a ruin for decades. Hadrian decided it would be a good idea to create a new city there, and build a huge temple to Jupiter on the spot of the Jewish temple. This brought about a second Jewish revolt and the death of many Roman soldiers there. 3 years later, half a million Jews were dead, and Hadrian built his temple anyway.
Back in Rome, Hadrian used his power to build some of the cities most enduring structures. The first was the Pantheon or “temple to all gods”, the grandest building of old Rome which still stands today. His Pantheon was a rebuilding after a fire in the original structure built 100 years before, but today when you go there you are walking almost entirely in Hadrian’s structure. Check out the previous post on the Pantheon here. The Pantheon is one of the most revolutionary buildings in the world, made of poured roman concrete and designed as an enormous open interior space equally wide and tall. There is an opening at the top which allows for light and air called the oculus. The Pantheon is a marvel of architecture and a huge inspiration to the great thinkers and architects of the Renaissance, who studied it to learn its secrets. Today, it is a virtual time-capsule to the reign of Hadrian- the only ancient Roman building to survive to today in such condition.
Hadrian also built an enormous compound for himself outside of Rome. Today, the ruins of Hadrian’s Villa are in the town of Tivoli. His other great building was his mausoleum, an enormous circular tomb on the river Tiber. Hadrian’s mausoleum was an huge drum of stone designed to contain his ashes. It was over a hundred feet high and even had trees planted on the roof. It probably looked something like this little picture here.
When you have a structure that big, its ruin is bound to be put to use. Today, it’s called the Castel Sant’ Angelo. It’s situated just north and across the river from Piazza Navona and in close proximity to St. Peters Basilica. It was converted early on to a medieval fortress, and has been in use for nearly it’s entire history in one way or another. Being so close to the Vatican, it was a palace for the popes and the one sure place to hole up when invading armies came into Rome. Today when you visit the place, you can walk into it’s core and the empty room that once held the remains of Emperor Hadrian. He’s long since gone, as are the great marble columns and stones that once made his mausoleum so impressive.
I’ll write another post on Castel Sant’Angelo later, but for now, check out this great site. It has a virtual 360° cam of the Castle and lots of cool info, including a downloadable app and MP3 audio tour.