Wednesday, October 10, 2007

La Villa Romana del Casale, vicino a Piazza Armerina, Sicilia

Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Villa Romana del Casale, situated 5 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, is visited annually by more than half a million people. What draws these tourists there are the more than forty rooms with 12,500 square feet of mosaic pavement, the best collection of Roman mosaics in existence today.

A mosaic from the Corridor of the Great Hunt

I was fortunate enough to visit this wonderful spot in 2000, as a side trip from my stay in Taormina. A group of about fifteen of us took a tour arranged by the language school where I was studying and we had an excellent Italian guide, with the tour being in Italian of course. It seems that so many of the guides I have had on trips to Italy have been architects. I don't know if there is an over supply of architects in Italy and they cannot find work in their field, but they certainly make splendid guides.

Catwalks are used to traverse the mosaics and you can see the overhead
protective cover. Our excellent architect guide is in the blue shirt

The villa, which was the house of a large surrounding estate, was constructed over an older villa around 320 AD. While there is much controversy about who the owner was, he was certainly a man of wealth and power. From the mosaics we can see that he had connections in Africa, he loved hunting as well as music and poetry and that he was probably a pagan. The villa was thought to be destroyed by invaders about 150 years later although some buildings continued to be used until the twelfth century when there was a fire. The site was abandoned and finally the whole was covered by mud landslides. It is this fact that enabled the mosaics to survive and be so well preserved today.

Another part of the Great Hunt mosaic

At the end of the nineteenth century preliminary excavations were made of the site but most of the work was done during three periods in the twentieth century. The major excavations were done between 1950-60, when a cover was built over the whole to protect the mosaics.

The furnaces where the wood was burned to heat the water both
for the baths and the heating system of the villa itself

The extensive mosaics of the villa were probably done in the early fourth century by North African artists, for the materials are considered African in origin. A very detailed account of the mosaics is given here where the workmanship is discussed as well as the mosaics of each room. Of course when we talk about a room, we are basically talking about the floor because most of the walls, although there, are damaged, however some frescoes and wall paintings and niches for statues still exist.

A different style of mosaic, with a central so-called "erotic" image, in the
antechamber to the main bedroom in the private quarters

Visitors to the villa walk on catwalks built on the old walls which you can see in my photo. It is not easy to photograph the mosaics since you stand high above them. In addition they look rather dull because they are open to the air and covered in dust, although in fact when cleaned they have good colour on the whole.

Of course the most widely known of the mosaics is the Bikini Girls Mosaic which I posted about previously here. It is situated in the Sala delle Dieci Ragazze, The Room of the 10 Girls. But another mosaic floor, in the Ambulacro della Grande Caccia, The Corridor of the Great Hunt, measuring 60m or 197 ft in length by 5 m or 16ft in width, is surely more splendid. The mosaics depicted there are among the most impressive from the ancient world, showing the hunting and capture of wild animals and their transportation to Rome for use in the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. I'm afraid my scanned photos do not do justice to this amazing place. Please click on them for a slight improvement.

I would consider my visit to this villa one of the highlights of my stay in Sicily and recommend it highly should you go there. As the Italians say, Vale la pena. It's worth the trouble.

This is crossposted at Sicily Scene and Nobody Important.


lady macleod said...

I really think you should re-title or at the least subtitle this blog, Travels of the World (with brilliant photographs and commentary).

Once again, thank you for sharing. Splendid.

Ellee said...

I'm just itching to visit Sicily and this will certainly be on my list of places to visit. Hopefully, Welshcakes will be with me too.

Carver said...

Thanks for another great tour. The mosaics are beautiful. I am impressed with the detail which is involved with large mosaics. That's an art form I've always loved. Take care, Carver

Voyager said...

I've never seen such detailed ancient mosaics in such good shape. Thanks for sharing this.

jams o donnell said...

Wow those are amazing mosaics jmb. I must get off my lazy but and do some mre travelling. When it comes to Roman remains, the ones in teh UK are not as spectacular.. On the other hand we do have Hadrian's Wall

ipanema said...

what an amazing place! they're all lovely...the post and the photos.

BTW, I have something for you in my blog. :)

Janice Thomson said...

Gosh Jmb I could spends days just admiring these frescoes.. It is fscinating how they are done with 'a secco' added as some colors did not mix well with plaster or morter. The use of shadowing and lighting was exquisite in these paintings. Thanks so much for this tour.

jmb said...

Hi Lady Mac
I haven't been to near the interesting places you have Lady Mac, and you've probably been to all mine anyway.

Hi Ellee,
My visit to Sicily was wonderful and I hope you get there soon and see Welshcakes too.

Hi Carver,
The mosaics were wonderful and I've been to Ravenna several times and let me tell you they are wonderful but these were quite different because they were not religious. Mosaicists are unbelievalbe artists IMHO.

Hi Voyager,
It is most fortunate that the mud slides protected them for all those years.

Hi Jams,
True about the roman ruins in Britain, many of which I visited on my stay there in 1960-1. You are so close to Italy, pop over!

Hi ipanema,
Amazing is the right word for this villa. A true treasure. I'll pop across to see you now.

Hi Janice,
I'm sure you would love to see these mosaics. You would appreciate the art and the craftsmanship that went into this place. Imagine 12,500 sq feet of this detailed work.

Thanks to you all for visiting and commenting.

Lee said...

Ahhhh...another wonderful post with equally wonderful pictures, jmb. Thanks. :)

Political Umpire said...

Very interesting post JMB, and I wish I had time to respond in more depth. Am reading Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity in my v limited spare time at the moment, and listening to podcasts on Rome, so this was great to see.

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
I hope you enjoyed my two Sicily posts, you must get there some day.

Hi PU,
It was an amazing place, despite being really a ruin. The mosaics are amazing and interesting because they were not Christian which so many of the great mosaic sites are.
I have noted the book. The Roman period is a great favourite of mine since I was a highschool student and studying Latin.

S said...

Your post on the mosaics was good. It looks so artistic in the photos itself; lucky you got to see it in person. It is sad nowadays, we do not get to see / build these kinds of places with so much artwork -

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