12/9/08 – 5.35pm
Today we went by coach to Tivoli to see Hadrian’s Villa. I think everyone’s pretty shattered now and we perhaps didn’t get as much out of it as we might have done – though maybe that’s just me. Also, it’s been raining a bit which didn’t help. It was very interesting of course, and the site was really impressive in its scale, but it was often hard to envisage its former grandeur. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve now seen so many magnificent Roman ruins that I’m becoming slightly blase about them – I don’t know, I just felt slightly underwhelmed! I will definitely have to go again on a nicer day when I have more energy.
The highlights of Hadrian’s villa were the so-called ‘Maritime Theatre’; the library; the dining grotto where guests would have had dishes presented to them floating on channels of water; and a sort of watch tower thing which afforded commanding views of the surrounding countryside and from where, it is said, one can see the Dome of St Peter’s on a clear day. One surmises – and indeed, I believe the ancient sources record – that Hadrian himself would have been able to see Rome from there, which must have helped him feel ever so slightly more in touch with the capital in his relative isolation.
Lunch at the restaurant in Tivoli was plain but adequate, and made a refreshing change from the usual packed lunches at least. After lunch we descended on a couple of nearby bars where people had espresso or grappa, and then we saw a couple of temples overlooking a spectacular gorge with a waterfall, the mist from which formed an exquisite rainbow. This is a scene which has often been romantically depicted by the Grand Tourists of the 18th century, and it was rather marvellous to behold the very same spectacle myself.
A pleasant stroll through the medieval streets of Tivoli led us back to the coach, and from there back to the BSR. We’re all meeting on the steps of the BSR shortly for a group photograph, which will be a nice thing to have.
The group photo wasn’t hugely successful as some people didn’t turn up for it, but nevermind. It was also very windy, so I expect skirts were flying about in the photo!
The last lecture of the course this evening was followed by dinner in the dining hall, which was somewhat reminiscent of one at an Oxford college. During the course of dinner a large thunderstorm was brewing, and when it reached us it was both very bright and very loud, causing people to jump up and run over to the window midway through the meal. It was a bit like Hogwarts actually!
After the meal I went outside for a bit of air and watched the impressive lightning from the BSR terrace. It then started raining torrentially, and after lingering outside in the rain for some minutes I went back inside, where a group of people were gathered by the window watching the storm. One or two struck up a tune on the grand piano, which combined with the thunder and lightning made for quite an atmosphere for our last dinner in the BSR.