Italy, Museums, Sicily

Villa Romana del Casale’s Magnificent Mosiacs

March 14, 2015

Heroic hunting scenes, chariot races, beautiful birds, wild beasts, cherubs, mythical sea creatures, even girls in bikinis—are all here at Villa Romana del Casale depicted in mosaics so vibrant that they almost come to life.

One of the polychrome floor mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale, near Piazza Armerina, Sicily.

One of the polychrome floor mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale, near Piazza Armerina, Sicily.

Almost in the dead center of Sicily, about 5 km southwest of the town of Piazza Armerina, Villa Romana del Casale is home to the largest, best preserved and most exquisite Roman mosaics anywhere in the world. You won’t come upon these splendid ruins by chance and it is well worth a side trip to see them. We chose to visit the Villa Romana del Casale on our way from Taormina to La Planteta’s La Foresteria near Menfi. You may be scratching your head if you’re looking at a map right now, but for our purposes and itinerary, it seemed the best time to go. It was a very long drive to get here but it was worth it.

Mosiac at Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina, Sicily.

The African animals depicted in the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale show the far reaches of the Roman Empire.

Protected as a UNESCO site since 1997, the Villa was likely constructed in the 4th century, possibly for a Roman senator. The structure was built upon a more rustic villa dating between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD. The exacting detail illustrating dress, hairstyle and even footwear, shown in the mosaics’ depictions of daily life, as well as those more fantastical scenes, helped archeologists date the villa’s construction.

Villa Romana del Casale was built between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD.

Villa Romana del Casale was probably built 4th centuries AD atop an older structure.

The mosaics are so well preserved primarily because they were covered in a mudslide in the 12th century and remained buried until excavations began in the 1950s. Once subject to the elements, the ruins are now covered and walkways connect the four buildings at different elevations, allowing visitors to view many of the intricate mosaic floors from above and at ground level. Various rooms including private apartments, baths, and courtyards are open for viewing.  Different themes and mosaic motifs indicate who was most likely to inhabit or use the rooms: adults, children, servants, or guests.

Extensive ruins at Villa Romana del Casale, near Pizza Armerina, Sicily.

Extensive ruins at Villa Romana del Casale, near Pizza Armerina, Sicily.

Villa Romana del Casale was not at all crowded when we were there in October, but if the enormous car parks and tour bus lots are any indication of the number of visitors that arrive during the busy summer months, beware.  Try to go early or late in the day to avoid the crowds and the heat. Please visit the Villa’s website for updated ticket prices and hours of operation, as well as for downloadable visitor’s guides in English, French and Italian.

Whenever you go, you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse into Imperial Roman daily life, and fantastic flights of fancy, as you view this incredible record of the past preserved in the form of magnificent mosaics.

Note: If you go to see the villa, have a delicious lunch or dinner at nearby Al Fogher. We had a lovely multi -course lunch before our visit to the villa. We were told Al Fogher was one of the best restaurants in the area but was not at all busy when we were there. Book a table to be sure you get one if you travel during the high season.  There was a cafeteria onsite at the Villa Romana but it was not particularly inviting and most of it was closed—likely because we visited off-season. We were happy to have a cold drink there though. It can get very hot, even in October, in Sicily and the day of our visit was no exception.




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