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The Roman Villa
Romans considered villas to be more than just locations where they could live on a daily basis, as these buildings served a series of other purposes. City life imposed a great deal of stress on the wealthy and intellectual members of the Roman community and thus they needed a place where they could escape colloquial duties. City streets were dirty, unwelcoming, and filmed with violence, as they practically contrasted villas and their surrounding environments. In order for a villa to satisfy its inhabitant to its maximum potential, it had to be in accordance with his personal desires, both inside and outside. Also, the scenery where the villa was located needed to be especially welcoming, so as for the Roman citizen to be able to use his personal time to the fullest.
One can actually consider that Romans believed that their villas were places where they could contemplate, produce philosophical thought, and where they could expand their thinking horizons in general. Horace and Pliny the Younger (in particular) were more than ever fond of villas, with the latter even owning four villas and writing in regard to his passions concerning these buildings.
Villas were initially little more than simple country-houses build around farms, with their size varying depending on the interests of the people inhabiting it. However, as Rome became wealthier, Romans started to express their need in luxury -- a need that could principally be satisfied through building larger homes that put across extravagance. These homes differed greatly from those that were founded at the beginning of the Roman Empire. Romans living in villas were not responsible for cultivating land or for performing activities related to farming, as they focused mainly on exulting as a result of recovering the energy they lost on the busy streets of Rome. People practically started to express their need for larger buildings where they could live by themselves while slaves and farming tools were located in other parts of their lands. The term villa originates in the Italian saying "Andare in villegiatura -- to go a-village-ing" (Rykwert, and Schezen null9), which meant going on a vacation. "Whether traveling to the sea or up into the mountains -- or just into the country -- it is all villegiatura to them, and suggests a cool, airy house, a break from the pressures and anxieties of life in town -- a holiday, in short" (Rykwert, and Schezen null9).
The end of the Republican period marked the beginning of a new era, one that saw wealthy Roman patricians holding large areas of land but having no interest in getting actively involved in exploiting them. This class of Romans was among the first to consider that villas needed to be built in order for them to attain leisure. Imagination was the only thing that stopped Romans, as they did everything that they could think of in order to make their villas more luxurious.
Most of these villas somewhat resembled constructions in modern-day Italy, as they were surrounded by gardens and were of a similar size and structure. Others were surrounded by fishing ponds, large parks and places meant to hold wild animals. Architects and the people that they designed buildings for could fundamentally let their imagination roam free, and, depending on the investments available, they could assemble anything that they dreamed of.
One of the principal concepts that influenced Romans in trying to develop a comfortable environment in which they could spend their leisure time is philosophy. Philosophers often related to how it was important for individuals to concentrate on leisure time as one of the ultimate goals. Philosophers practically considered that happiness should be the most important aim that one can think of and that it is thus essential for people to do everything in their power in order to improve their lives from a material point-of-view.
Pliny the Younger was one of the most passionate Romans when concerning the leisure-related significance of villas. He did not hesitate to speak about his villas in his letters and was apparently very fond of their architecture, their decor, and the environments that surrounded them. He was particularly fond of his two villas located on Lake Como and he called them "Tragedy" (because it was situated on top of a hill) and "Comedy' (because it was situated on the Lake's shore, lower than "Tragedy").
Pliny considered "Tragedy" to be particularly impressive because of its location, given that it provided him with the opportunity of seeing all around the land. According to Pliny, his villa was "situated at a great distance from the sea, under one of the Apennine Mountains, which, of all others, is most esteemed for the clearness of its air" (Cicero & Pliny 144). "Tragedy" had a terrace in front of the portico, meant to impress those who visited it with its beautiful plants and the diverse figurines with which it was decorated. These plants were not meant to serve a decorative purpose only, as they also had the role of providing shade in sunny days, in order for their inhabitants to be able to relax without experiencing any disturbance. Pliny built a "Gestatio" -- a place where he could exercise near the terrace, with the intention of maintaining fit as he enjoyed the villa's attributes. The buildings walls were decorated with meadows meant to further contribute to the relaxing character of the villa.
"Tragedy" was also the place where one could invite guests, thus meaning that it had large dining rooms and guest rooms, all of them oriented toward beautiful scenery. It is obvious that Pliny the Younger completely understood the purpose of a villa and built his houses so as for him and his friends to spend a wonderful time there. The house's bedrooms were isolated from the rest of the rooms because Romans wanted to sleep in perfect silence. Even with the fact that "Tragedy" seems to be one of the most interesting villas ever, Pliny had three other villas that were similar to this one. As a consequence, one can only imagine the luxury that wealthier Romans indulged themselves in.
While it is difficult to determine if Pliny had any involvement in the construction of his villas, Emperor Hadrian is known to have been particularly interested in architecture. The Tiburtine Villa is but an example of his passion for architectural structures and one of the buildings characteristic for the Empire's greatness at the time. "There were different entrances for ambassadors, retainers, and the emperor himself. It had a Greek and a Latin theater, baths of varying complexity, barracks for soldiers, and lodgings for slaves, as well as numerous temples." (Rykwert, and Schezen 28).
The villa also had a large pool that was meant to provide cool air for the emperor and his companions and a place to bathe in. This was also a cultural location, when considering that it contained several theatres focused on Greek and Latin philosophy and libraries filled with interesting literature. A swimming pool and a sports area provided inhabitants with everything they needed in order to exercise. Socialization was also something that architects and Hadrian considered when designing the building, as it held a banqueting hall, a Piazza, and two large luxurious baths. These baths included gathering places called Scholae, meant for individuals to debate various subjects or to read. The Unctorium was a place where Hadrian and his guests could get an oil massage in order to further intensify the feeling of being entertained (Rykwert, and Schezen 32).
Villas also had the role of providing individuals with a complex cultural experience, given that most of them contained important works of art and texts written by some of the greatest writers of all time. Walls were used to their full potential by being adorned with paintings and statues were often seen on the corridors of these buildings. Villas started to be a common sight as Rome became richer and in spite of their greatness, it is presently difficult to identify the initial patrons of some of these builidings.
Taking into account the U.S. slavery system, one can easily relate to the Roman Empire. American landlords acted similar to Roman citizens by living in large buildings filled with diverse kinds of entertainment while slaves resided in smaller houses on the lands of their masters. Even the contemporary society holds some examples of individuals that employ a similar attitude to that seen in Ancient Rome, given that they live in large mansions that contain significant artwork and pleasurable devices in general.
It is surely very difficult for one to understand the concept of luxury as it was understood in one of the greatest empires ever to have existed. The way that sunshine affected surroundings of villas and the pools of water…