What can you expect from the visit to the Villa Romana del Casale, the place for which Piazza Armerina is famous in the world? A magnificent imperial villa with an incredible gallery of human and animal figures, mythological references, but also scenes of everyday life, parties in honor of the gods and circus games, alternating with geometric decorations, medallions, stars, Greek decor in a vivid rainbow of colors. This is a very partial synthesis of the extraordinary mosaics that you will find on the floors of all the rooms of the Villa Romana.
The most beautiful mosaics from the Roman age
There are about sixty rooms covered with over 30 million tiles that give life to a carpet of polychrome mosaics that represent one of the most precious archaeological evidence in Sicily. So much so that this patrician residence, of which the owner’s name is not known, in 1997 was fully included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The secret of the almost perfect conservation of these masterpieces is instead known. They were two natural catastrophic events, the earthquake of 364 A.D. and the landslide that buried it in 1161 to preserve the entire area of the villa which, built between the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth century AD, was inhabited until the twelfth century.
The first excavations that brought it to light were carried out in 1929 and immediately they realized that they were facing a grandiose complex consisting of large rooms, galleries, courtyards, spas and rooms reserved for domestic life, all paved with mosaics of great value, among the most beautiful of the Roman era, probably the work of African workers.
Among the latest discovered areas are the thermal spaces and the grandiose basilica in which the owner of this sumptuous residence received his guests.
The spas are characterized by floors with marine scenes and pertaining to the world of water, but what is surprising is the modernity of the systems intended for these rooms even equipped with under-floor heating.
The villa itself is accessed through a large peristyle formed by a rectangular quadriportico with beautiful marble columns and an elegant central fountain. But the space that is more surprising is the Corridor of the Great Hunt, both for the immensity and for the complexity of the mosaics in which scenes inspired by the trade in fairs and exotic animals destined for fighting and parades in amphitheatres.
This space acts as a link between the innermost rooms and the large basilica hall. From this corridor you enter the Hall of the 10 famous girls to wear the first bikinis in history. In reality they are not swimmers but gymnasts who wear underwear: the upper part called fascia pectoralis and the lower part, the subligatur. The young women, intent on doing gymnastic exercises from the weights to the discus throw, from the race to the ball games, for grace and beauty continue to enchant after centuries.
In what was the part of the house reserved for the landlord, there is also the cubicule of the erotic scene, together with the girls in bikini symbol of the villa. Surrounded by the images of the four seasons inserted in the hexagonal medallions, there is a polygonal medallion that encloses a laurel wreath inside, the embrace between a young man and an unraveled young girl. The value of this room is however another: in fact it is one of the few rooms that still retains the remains of the wall paintings that have been almost completely lost in the rest of the villa.
About ten kilometers from Piazza Armerina, the archaeological site of Morgantina is worth a visit, which is part of the cumulative ticket which entitles you, within the following three days, to the entrance to the Villa del Casale, the archaeological area and the Regional Museum of Aidone. Unfortunately for an error in the communication of the opening hours we found the site closed, so we consoled ourselves by going to admire the exceptional permanent exhibition of the Archaeological Museum of Aidone.
The museum, inaugurated in 1984, is housed in the former Capuchin Convent which also includes the church dedicated to San Francesco from whose nave you can access the exhibits enriched by the arrival in 2011 of the Venus of Morgantina.
The statue, more than two meters high, has been among the most prestigious pieces of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for 30 years. Together with the Demeter, as it was then more correctly interpreted, 13 precious pieces of silver from the 4th century BC also returned home from the Met in New York always found in the area and then sold on the underground market and ended up in the United States. We could not see them because they were traveling to Palermo for restoration. In short, we have good reasons to return here too!
Villa Romana del Casale
Contrada Casale – Piazza Armerina – Enna
Contacts: +39 0935 680036
Archeology Area of Morgantina
Contacts: +39 0935 87955 – +39 0935 87307
Archaeological Museum of Aidone
Largo Torres Trupia – Aidone – Enna
Contacts: +39 0935 87307
Archaeological Park of Morgantina and Villa Romana del Casale
Palazzo Trigona – Piazza Cattedrale 20 – Piazza Armerina
Contacts: +39 0935 687667