What a difference two years make! The itinerary for our visit to Sicilia last week included a stop in Piazza Armerina to see the Villa Romana del Casale. After we visited Greek temples at Agrigento on Saturday morning, we asked our daughter, Kate, to decide if we would go to the villa, because Michael and I saw acres of gorgeous mosaics in the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and I visited the villa two years ago. Happily, Kate chose to see the villa, and I’m so grateful that she did.
When I visited in 2011, excavation and repair work were still underway in the villa. Two years ago I saw five of the 40 rooms; last week we saw most of the 40. Two years ago the villa was covered with a horrid plastic roof; now the rooms are covered with a new roof that allows visitors to see the mosaics much better. I’ve never toured a home in quite the way we walked through the villa, because we couldn’t walk on the floors. We had to use catwalks to get some distance on and better ogle the brilliantly colored mosaics.
And such mosaics! Every floor of almost every room is covered from wall to wall with mosaics created by meticulous and creative craftsmen from North Africa. The mosaics depict every subject: hunting, mythology, daily life, festivals, food, animals, children, girls in bikinis, amorous couples—you name it, a floor has it! The villa’s large basilica is a different story. There marble covered the floors, obviously the most precious floor covering at that time.
The villa that we see today was built atop another structure sometime around the end of the 3rd century or the beginning of the 4th century AD. It was buried by a landslide in 1161 and rediscovered only at the end of the 19th century. Excavations began in 1950 and are still underway. It must have been an amazing place to visit during its heyday! Because the owner paid such elaborate attention to the floors, I imagine that the walls must have been covered with wonderful frescoes as well. In fact, I could still see some of the vivid colors on wall fragments in some areas.
If the mosaics weren’t enough, seeing how a nobleman lived during the Roman Empire was fascinating. The villa sits in the countryside, and it measures around 37,000 square feet. It boasts a large complex of rooms for the owner, guest rooms, servants’ quarters, a basilica, latrines, rooms for cold and hot baths and saunas, and an exercise room. The villa’s most magnificent room is the Hall of the Great Hunt, which is 200 feet long and crammed with hunters who are capturing animals to be displayed in Roman spectacles. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The Villa Romana del Casale is utterly magnificent! I’m so glad I returned. Oh, how I love Sicilia!
P.S., The photos in this post are from the trip last week. To see photos from my 2011 visit, click here.