Hadrian, Hadrian's Villa, (Tivoli: AD 118-125).
Hadrian here beguiled the time in the recollections of his Odysseus-like travels, for this villa built according to his own designs, was the copy and the reflection of the most beautiful things which he had admired in the world. The names of buildings in Athens were given to special parts of the villa. The Lyceum, the Academy, the Prytanetim, the Poecile, even the vale of Tempe with the Peneus flowing through it, and indeed Elysium and Tartarus were all there.
One part was consecrated to the wonders of the Nile, and was called Canopus after the enchanting pleasure grounds of the Alexandrians. Here stood a copy of the famous temple of Serapis, which stood on a canal, and was approached by boat. Hadrian had transplanted Egypt itself to his villa. Sphinxes and statues of gods carved out of black marble and red granite surrounded the god Antinous, who was represented as Osiris in shining white marble. The temples built in Egyptian style were covered with hieroglyphics.
At a sign from the emperor these groves, valleys, and halls would become alive with the mythology of Olympus; processions of priests would make pilgrimages to Canopus, Tartarus and Elysium would become peopled with shades from Homer, swarms of bacchantes might wander through the vale of Tempe, choruses of Euripides might be heard in the Greek theatre, and in a sham fight the fleets would repeat the battle of Xerxes
Ferdinand Gregorovius (Mary E. Robinson, trans.),The Emperor Hadrian, A Picture of the Greco-Roman World in his Time (London: Macmillan and Co., 1898).
It is exactly the notion of creating an environment to mimic an actual "other" place--the notion of simulacra--that relates Hadrian's villa at Tivoli to today's idea of virtual reality. Far from being a mere imitation or sham, however, the villa is firmly the prototype of "virtual place." Although now largely in ruins, Hadrian's Villa was, in fact, a veritable "museum of virtual places," and, because of the high architectural quality of its many built allusions, it coincidentally functioned as a museum of Roman architecture as well.
Not only did this 2nd Century imperial palace/resort literally set the stage for "virtual experience," its example perseveres by shining new light on the contemporary concepts of virtual reality and virtual architecture, and, in spite of Hadrian's vast architectural legacy, it is a surprise, nonetheless, that his villa can still effect a viable grounding for the new virtual form of creativity that is dawning with the 21st Century.
seeking precedents... ...finding inspiration