Figure 1 - Marina De Franceschini in the Hall of the Philosophers
at Villa Adriana
Marina De Franceschini archaeologist, and independent scholar, studied and graduated
in Humanities at the University of Genoa (Italy) with professor Gioia De
Luca, and a thesis on Roman buildings dedicated to the Roman imperial
She then obtained a Master of Arts in the United States at Bryn
Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania), studying with professors
Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway and Gloria Ferrari Pinney; the thesis was on
the mosaics of Villa Adriana at Tivoli (Rome).
Subsequently she attended
the School of Specialization in Archeology at Pisa (Italy) with
professor Andrea Carandini.
The thesis for the Master of
Arts was the starting point of her research on Roman villas.
studying Villa Adriana for a long time on the books, visiting the site
she became aware of the fundamental importance of fieldwork, with on
site survey and analysis of the Villa.
She then expanded her American
thesis (focused only on mosaics), applying for the first time in the
imperial villa the principles of archaeometry, studying and cataloging
each building with room-by-room catalogue entries, listing building
techniques, decoration, water and thermal plants, and so on.
This long work of research and documentation was awarded the Prize
«l'Erma di Bretschneider», with the publication in 1991 of the book
Villa Adriana Mosaici, pavimenti, edifici [Figure 1] from which the information provided in this
site is partly taken.
It is still a fundamental text for the study of
Villa Adriana: it collects previous antiquarian information, listing
mosaics and opus sectile floors – previously unpublished. It provides a
new key for understanding the Villa, its function and meaning, and is
the starting point for new studies and research.
Figure 1 - The first book on Villa Adriana.
Villa Adriana, Mosaici, pavimenti, edifici.
following years she studied the Roman villas of the Roman regions of
Veneto and Istria with professor Eugenio La Rocca at the University of
Pisa (Italy); in 1998 she published the book Le Ville Romane della
Venetia et Histria [Figure 2].
The villas are set into their historical, economic and
territorial context: cities, roads, ports, rivers, centuriation and
The capillary and rational organization of the
territory created by the Romans – which replicated throughout Italy the
model of Rome – is being reconstructed.
The Romans built cities with a river
port combined with a seaport, for the transportation of agricultural
products by boat, which was faster, cheaper and more efficient compared
to road transportation.
Figure 2 - The Roman villas of the X Regio Venetia and Histria
In 2005, in cooperation with the
Superintendency of the City of Rome and professor Eugenio La Rocca, she
published the book Ville dell'Agro romano [Figure 3], a catalog of one hundred villas located in
the surroundings of Rome.
The book explains the typology and evolution
of the Roman villas over the centuries, focusing on their productive and
thermal plants. It also catalogs floors (mostly mosaics) and findings,
especially sculptures. The research proved that the villas appeared in a
very ancient age and were active until the V-VI centuries AD.
monumental pavilion villas, such as the villa dei Quintili or the villa
dei Sette Bassi, were an exception. The majority of the villas was much
smaller and featured a residential part with a decoration of a certain
quality together with a ‘rustic’ part devoted to the agricultural
production: oil, wine and food.
Figure 3 - The book on Roman villas surrounding Rome
Ville dell'Agro romano
In 2003 Marina De
Franceschini cooperated with the University of Trento (Italy) and
professor Mariette de Vos
in a project for the survey and study of the
Palestra at Villa Adriana,
resuming a previous study dating back to
Starting from 2005 she created and directed the
Accademia Project , [Link alla Sezione: Progetto Accademia…] to
study the area and the building of the Accademia – one of the lesser
known buildings of Villa Adriana –– which is still in private ownership,
thanks to the courtesy of the owner, Mrs. Daniela Bulgarini.
The Accademia Project started with a new survey, using information technology
(Total station, Geo-Resistivimeter and Laser scanner) during several
campaigns with architects Umberto Pavanello and Giorgia Andreatta and
archaeologists Anna Maria Marras, Caterina Ognibeni and Birgit Costazza
of the University of Trento (Italy). [Figure 4]
Figure 4 - The team of the Accademia Project at work with Laser Scanner.
Umberto Pavanello, Caterina Ognibeni, Birgit Costazza and Anna Maria Marras
We were the first to use the
Laser Scanner for the archaeological survey at Villa Adriana: at that
time few scholars understood its potential. The first results of the
Accademia project were published in several articles and disseminated in conferences.
Other surveys of the subterranean
corridors were made by Anna Maria Marras using geo-resistivity: she
reconstructed their network which partially coincides with what was
drawn by Piranesi.
Together with archaeo-astronomer Giuseppe
Veneziano, Marina De Franceschini is the pioneer of the studies of
archaeo-astronomy at Villa Adriana.
In 2011 they published together the
volume Villa Adriana. Architettura Celeste. I segreti dei Solstizi [Figure 5], on the extraordinary
discoveries of their studies.
At Villa Adriana, the buildings of
Accademia and Roccabruna and the whole Accademia esplanade were in fact
astronomically oriented. On Summer and Winter Solstice remarkable light
phenomena are still taking place there, exactly as in Stonehenge or Abu
Figure 5 - The book about our discoveries of Archaeoastronomy at Villa Adriana
Villa Adriana. Architettura Celeste. I segreti dei Solstizi.
Youtube video of Roccabruna: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKMcHXfjhI4
Youtube video of Accademia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuJOg_hKHUk
In 2016 her new book on the Accademia was released, in English
language: Villa Adriana. Accademia. Hadrian’s Secret Garden, History of
the Excavations, Ancient Sources and Antiquarian Studies from the XV to
the XVII Centuries [Figura 6].
It traces back the history of studies and
excavations at the Accademia and Villa Adriana, from the time of their
rediscovery in the fifteenth century down to the seventeenth century.
For the first time the book gives a complete collection of ancient plans
and antiquarian drawings, in color and large format, such as for
example the general plan by Francesco Contini of 1668.
and mosaics found during those first three centuries of excavations are
illustrated with new color pictures, presenting new discoveries.
antique texts are quoted in their original version and also translated
into English language.
The book was awarded a Grant from the
Archaeological Institute of America to pay the royalties of the
pictures. It will be followed by a second volume on the history of
excavations and studies in the eighteenth century.
Figure 6 - The first book on the Accademia.
History, escavations and studies from XV to XVII Centuries
In 2016 she founded Rirella Editrice [Figure 7], to publish and disseminate her studies of Archsaeoastronomy and other studies of Archaeology, in small book with plenty of beautiful color pictures. The frst book of the sieries is about her discoveries of Archaeoastronomy in the Panheo of Rome: the Arc and the Square of Light.
Video of the Arc and Square of Light:
Figure 7 - Rirella Editrice
February 2017 she spoke about her research at the Accademia of Villa
Adriana during the International Workshop at the British Museum in
London «New Research at Hadrian’s Villa» [Figure 8], organized by Thorsten Opper of the British Museum, where also the Columbia University of New York took part.
Figure 8 - International Workshop on Villa Adriana at the British Museum
with the archaeo-astronomer Giuseppe Veneziano, Marina De Franceschini
has opened new paths in the study of archeo-astronomy [Figure 9
] in ancient Roman buildings;
previous literature mainly focuses on prehistoric, Egyptian, Maya or
medieval buildings, and very seldom on Greek and Roman ones.
They studied the astronomical orientation of other ancient buildings in
Rome: the Mausoleum of the Equinoxes (on the Appian Way), the
Horologium Augusti, the Domus Aurea.
They discovered it in the Mausoleum
of Hadrian (Castel Sant’Angelo), and most of all in the Pantheon of Rome, with the extraordinary Arc and the Square of Light which appear
twice a year.
Figure 9 - Marina De Franceschini and the Arc of Light in the Pantheon
They also discovered the astronomical orientation of the
Villa Jovis of the Emperor Tiberius in Capri, and recently in the Grotto
of the Villa of Tiberius in Sperlonga, and in the ancient Aventicum
(today’s Avenches in Switzerland), which was the capital of Roman
In all those buildings archeoastronomy provided a new key to
understand their function and symbolic meaning.
Thanks to the
cooperation with the Speleologists of the Association Sotterranei di
, she explored and studied the network of the subterranean corridors
of Villa Adriana (which are not open to the public) focusing on the
Great Trapezium and the subterranean corridors linking Roccabruna to the
Accademia and the Inferi (Underworld) [Figure 10
Figure 10 - Marina De Franceschini in the subterranean tunnels of the Great Trapezium
cooperated with Professor Jørgen Hansen in the study of aqueducts and
water supply system that fed Villa Adriana’s waterworks.
continues to study the mosaics of Villa Adriana, and discovered many
unpublished or unknown ones, tracing back some mosaic table-tops
previously known only from antiquarian sources.
The results have been
published in several articles and presented during Italian and
Her recent work focused on
architectural marbles of Villa Adriana re-used in the palaces of Tivoli.
Other studies of Archaeoastronomy in Roman sites are in progress.