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Treasures of Roman emperor Hadrian on display in Paris

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  • Hadrian's artifacts on exhibit
  • Ruins of Hadrian's estate

    February 2, 2000
    Web posted at: 5:05 p.m. EST (2205 GMT)

    PARIS (CNN) -- Just outside Rome, near Tivoli, stand the ruins of the 2,000-year-old estate of the Roman emperor Hadrian. Considered a man more of the arts than of war, he made his villa a showplace for works -- authentic and replicated -- from Roman, Greek and Egyptian civilizations.

    Curator Jacques Charles-Gaffiot gathered many of Hadrian's prized possessions for an exhibit in Paris at the Pantheon. He says the exhibit, entitled"Hadrian: Treasures of an Imperial Villa," tells the story of the leader's life, what influenced him and how he influenced Western society.

    "The idea is to show for the first time ... the taste of an emperor of his time," he says.

    Hadrian ruled from 117 to 138 A.D. He traveled more than any other emperor, according to Charles-Gaffiot. The Roman leader had a particular passion for the civilizations of Greece and Egypt, and during his trips, he either bought treasures from those countries or had them copied for his estate.

    "The emperor of Rome, who is a master of the world, cannot behave like a barbarian and just steal works from Athens," Charles-Gaffiot says. "So he had copies made from the originals."

    Saving the works from barbarians

    He notes that Hadrian's villa and art collections were a symbol of his power and worldliness. "He felt his estate had to live up to the image of an emperor who is knowledgeable about the great civilizations of the world."

    After Hadrian's death, the villa remained an imperial residence until barbarians arrived hundreds of years later.

    "The barbarians came in 410 A.D., threatening to burn down the villa," Charles-Gaffiot says. "Caretakers placed the statues in the water of fountains ... to protect them. The statues remained there for more than 1,000 years until they were discovered in the 18th century."

    The works were then sold to aristocrats all over the world.

    "This is the reason why today the statues can be found really everywhere," Charles-Gaffiot says. "Some are in the United States, some are in Britain, some are in Germany, and some are in Russia.

    "So we've tried for the first time to collect all these statues from the different places."

    "The rediscovery of the antiques is a reminder that the influence of the ancients isn't lost forever, but is still present in our everyday life, in our modern Western society."
    -- Jacques Charles-Gaffiot, curator

    Throughout the exhibit are works depicting Antonius, a young man said to be Hadrian's lover. Some statues show Antonius as an Egyptian; others show him becoming a god.

    There are many busts and statues of Hadrian. He was the first Roman emperor to be depicted wearing a beard.

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    Also among Hadrian's treasures are representations of birds, deer and other wild animals, which symbolized the garden of nature and represented paradise to the ancient Greeks. One pillar, for example, depicts a bird feeding a butterfly to a little bird, with a snake lying in wait.

    "What we have here," Charles-Gaffiot says, "(is) the most symbolic representation of the antique mentality. It questions the tragedy of life on Earth."

    Since its discovery, the imperial estate has influenced the planning of European cities and inspired sculptors and painters.

    "The rediscovery of the antiques is a reminder that the influence of the ancients isn't lost forever," Charles-Gaffiot says, "but is still present in our everyday life, in our modern Western society."

    CNN Style Correspondent Elsa Klensch contributed to this report.

    About Hadrian
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