Can you recall there used to be another contributor to this blog? It’s been a long while since we heard from Ross, but I can assure you he is alive and well because over Easter Natalie and I went to Italy with him, his girlfriend Louise and his mother Ayesha. Four of the five of us are pictured above at the entrance to the Villa Adriana, a historic former Roman emperor’s residence in Tivoli, east of Rome. Making efficient use of the four day weekend involved me and Natalie flying to Rome Fiumicino early on Good Friday, where we met up with the three weary travellers fresh from the centre of Rome. This was a seminal trip for the French family as it was the first time Ross’s mum was to meet Louise’s Italian family. They were very kind in inviting us all along for lunch on Easter Sunday at their house near Viterbo, which is about two hours north of Rome. With four days at my disposal I suggested we hire a car and travel up to Viterbo via a night in Tivoli, which is home to not one but two World Heritage Sites – the Roman ruins of Villa Adriana and the Renaissance-era Villa d’Este. The Villa Adriana is really more of a small town, created in large part by the emperor Hadrian, who was a keen amateur architect, in the second century AD. He decided that an out-of-town retreat would be just the thing he needed after he made himself less than universally popular in Rome by having several senators put to death. The site is a bit of a mishmash of buildings of various purposes, which include a grand villa, temples, a large bath house and the water feature known as the Canopus, below. This picture shows the view from the Serapeum, which featured a show-stopping open-air dining area for the emperor’s most honoured guests. Around the Canopus Hadrian placed statues that he particularly wanted to show off to his visitors, such as a row of ‘Caryatids’ designed to imitate the female-form columns of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis. Hadrian was a philhellene, or an admirer of all things Greek, so he had numerous statues brought over or copied. He was possibly the first Roman emperor to sport a beard – not, as was cruelly suggested, to conceal acute acne, but because his heroes the Greek philosophers were similarly hirsute. Hadrian showed how sensitive his ego was when he had professional architect Apollodorus of Damascus (the designer of Trajan’s column) killed for daring to ridicule his own architectural attempts (Apollodorus compared a Hadrian building in Rome to a pumpkin). I doubt that Hadrian would have approved of this sort of thing either: On the other side of the site we found the atmospheric Temple of Venus. This area has some of the best views of the Tiburtine Hills, which you can see behind the statue of Venus below. The Villa Adriana is dotted with statues that are presumably not originals but modern copies. There have been some significant finds there over the years that have ended up in major national collections across Europe, such as one of the best Roman copies of the lost Greek Discobolus statue, which you can see nowadays in the British Museum. All that walking was thirsty work, so as you can imagine we were pleased with the Villa’s network of working water pumps. That evening we journeyed up the hill into Tivoli town centre for a drink and dinner, where we ate at a pleasant restaurant called Il Paradiso Nascosto, before heading back to the hotel in preparation for another day’s World Heritage Siting the following day.