The triclinium, the villa's large ceremonial banqueting hall, is a 12 square meter (129 square feet) room with three semicircular apses on the sides. The mosaics, which can be seen from raised platforms along the edges of the room, are primarily mythological scenes, including the Labors of Hercules. In the apses, there is a continuation of this theme with the Glorification of Hercules, Conquered Giants, and Lycurgus and Ambrosia.
As you enter this room, there is a very good scale model of the villa which gives the visitor a perspective for just how big the place really is. After walking around the various rooms, we had lost track of how much ground we had covered and this model brought us back to reality.
I recognized this room right away; after all, our primary guide book for our Sicily trip had this mosaic as its cover photo. This large room near the Corridor of the Great Hunt has mosaics on the floor that depict ten female athletes in various poses of performing athletic activities or accepting accolades, all wearing bikinis. In one corner of the room the floor has been removed for visitors to see the former tiled floor that was covered up for this one. The walls of the room were at one time richly painted; fragments of these wall decorations still can be seen. This is probably the most famous mosaic in the villa.
There are many public rooms, perhaps used as guest quarters and formal receptions areas. Most of these rooms, which can be seen from a raised platform above the rooms, contain beautiful mosaic pictures of a variety of scenes. Some of the most action-packed scenes can be found in the hunting rooms.
Room of the Small Hunt: This room shows various hunting scenes of smaller animals and birds. Of particular note is the detailed scene of the boar hunt in which one man is injured by the boar and another man is going in for the kill as a dog assists. These mosaics give us glimpses into the way hunting was done and the weapons used, such as lime-sticks and double-pointed lances, as well as the use of falcons and dogs.
Corridor of the Great Hunt: This is an absolutely amazing hallway that is full of scenes from hunts of much larger animals, such as lions and elephants. The corridor stretches the length of the villa and is nearly 66 meters long (216 feet) and appears to be the focal point of the entire villa. More than 25 types of stone tiles were used in the creation of these mosaics, which show beasts from both Africa and India.
Romans are well done to have enjoyed the relaxation and cleaniness that a bath can bring. Here at the villa, the baths are typical of other Roman baths with the three varieties of temperatures being provided for bathes of its residents and guests: frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldaria. Massage rooms with mosaics depicting slaves providing massages are also in this part of the villa. Other bath areas show scenes of slaves assisting in the various stages of assisting in the dressing and undressing of guests enjoying the baths.
The raised floor of the caldidarium can still be seen; here is where the hot water would be heated and sent under the floor. Visitors can still see the supports used for this floor and the outside area where the water would be heated.
Nearby the baths is a rather large semicircular latrine where marble seats once were placed for guests. A channel for cleansing water and niches for sponges can still be seen today.
The Villa Roman del Casale is a World Heritage site which contains some of the largest and extensive Roman mosaics found to date. It was obviously owned by a very wealthy Roman, although there are debates on whether it belonged to Diocletian’s co-emperior Maximian, or someone less important but still obviously very important (and rich). It sits in a secluded valley about five kilometers from the center of Piazza Armerina.
In addition to the mosaics, which they believe number 120 million tesserae (small tiles) in the entire villa, there are remains of wall paintings and enough of the villa is intact so that one gets a good feel for the layout and rooms of the villa.
The villa is currently being renovated and we saw some workmen around on the day we were there. Roofs have been added and lighting for nighttime viewing is part of the plans.
We visited in November and, like so many places we visited, we found ourselves alone at the site with no other tourists around. At the villa, we passed two other people during the couple hours we were there. This is in stark contradiction to my guide book which states the site “receives thousands of visitors a day” (maybe in high tourist season).
Parking was very easy since we pretty much could choose any spot we wanted – and although there were meters to pay, they were turned off while we were there. We followed the road which led us past the bathrooms and then a long line of vendor stalls that, if open, would be selling any number of souvenirs, postcards, and guidebooks. In fact, we were approached by the only vendor who was there for the day who offered to sell us a tour book about the villa, to which I kindly showed him my Blue Guide – Sicily which more than adequately covered our tour.
Tickets were €10/person, higher than other sites we’ve visited. However, considering the vast amount of working being done to preserve the site and update it for visitors, I felt this was not too steep and worth the money to be able to see the mosaics. We paid at the main gate and were pointed in the right direction. No map or other information were provided, although there are good signs in English and Italian throughout the villa.
The website of the villa has two very nice downloadable English brochures that I would recommend you print and use on your tour, even if just for initial research and then the map. There is a mini-guide and a more detailed booklet. Additionally, I can’t emphasize enough how helpful the Blue Guides are for a study of historical art and architecture. We used our book along with the signs in the villa and it was ample information for us as we toured.
Beside the villa is a small café and souvenir shop which we wandered around but did not purchase anything.
I was hoping to get into the cathedral if only to see the Byzantine panel painting Madonna of the Victories which dates back to the 11th century, a gift to Count Roger by Pope Alexander II in 1063. Our guide books said the entrance was on the side of the cathedral, but everything appeared to be closed up; it was raining so I didn’t keep trying doors. This seemed to be the theme for the day.
The brick façade of the cathedral was added a century after the cathedral was rebuilt through funds by Baron Marco Trigona in the 1600s (the Baron’s statue is in the middle of the Piazza del Duomo right in front of the cathedral he paid to have rebuilt). There is a copper covered dome that was added in 1768, now greenish in color. The campanile (bell tower) is from the earlier 1490 church.
In front of the cathedral is the Piazza del Duomo, a parking area that is not that inspiring. There is a statue to the Baron Marco Trigona, the patron who paid for the rebuilding of the cathedral in the 1600s, with a relief of his wife on the front of the statue’s base.
A number of small café’s and shops as well as the Diocesan Museum line the piazza and on nice days there is a good view from the wall. We ate at one of the little cafés in the piazza, selecting it because it happened to be open and it was pouring down rain outside! The owner was extremely friendly and we enjoyed some warm panini before heading on our way to the aiport.
If you have read many of my tips from this Sicily trip, you will know that visiting the Norman and medieval castles were a priority of mine. So it would make sense that I would include the Aragonese castle in Piazza Armerina. This castle was built by King Martin I in the last 1300s and sits high on a hill near the cathedral. The castle was built around the same time that the massive defensive wall system was built in this town that was inhabited mostly by Lombards from Piacenza.
Sadly, the castle is not a star attraction in the town. We walked from the cathedral, following the signs to the castle, passing the thick stone defensive walls, and came to a fence and a locked gate. We could only see a part of the front and it looked very much like the castle has been renovated and updated but then left to deteriorate. The grounds were unkempt and a car sat unused. It was a disappointment for sure. I snapped a couple photos (above) before turning around and heading back towards the cathedral area.
We visited the villa expecting to see the famous mosaics. The entrance fee was only euro 3, which was lower than we expected. But we soon learned that the largest part of the villa is being redone and that only a small part of the mosaics are on display. The villa has been closed, we were told, but is now partly open to public.
What can be seen is good, but not as impressive as the brochures and the sites promise. When you've travelled over 2 hours, this is disappointing. So first check the availability of the mosaics on the web site: "Il percorso di visita e' subordinato ai lavori di restauro in corso".
Arguably the most famous mosaic in the villa shows ten girls playing games in what look like bikini's. In the left bottom corner a girl wearing a toga offers a crown and a palm branch to one of the other girls.
This villa has one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world. If you have only the slightest interest in Roman times, this UNESCO site is not to be missed.
The villa was built around 300 AD, maybe for Emperor Marcus Valerius Maximianus. It probably was the centre of an agricultural estate. Parts of it remained in use until the 12th century, when it was covered by a landslide. This protected the villa for centuries, until excavations began at the end of the 19th century.
At the moment (2009) the villa is being restored. A significant part of the mosaics is off limits. What remains is definitely worth the trip though!
Do yourself a favour and arrive early, before the tour groups show up, as it can get very crowded at the small viewing platforms of the villa.
Opening hours: 10 - 18
The mosaic of the triclinium, dining room, is one of the largest of the villa. It's damaged and because of its size difficult to oversee. The central theme here is Hercules and his labours.
One of the best parts is in the eastern apse: the gigantomachy, the battle between gods and giants. Five giants are hit by Hercules' arrows, their legs replaced by snakes.
There's much more to be seen, such as the myth of Lycurgus and Ambrosia in the southern apse. Lycurgus, a Thracian king, tries to kill Ambrosia, a maenad (female follower of Dionysus), who is changing in a grapevine.
The mosaic of the little hunt covers the floor of what probably was a dining room. It shows twelve hunting scenes. Among them a big banquet, two hunters sacrificing to Diana and many action scenes from a hunt.
The duomo is situated at the highest point of town. Its green cupola towers above the ancient houses. Although this is definitely a Baroque church, it is not as lavishly decorated as many other churches on Sicily. The outside is quite sober and inside it's the unusual combination of blue and white decorations that stands out.
Notice the Trinacria (the symbol of Sicily) below the left organ.
If you have some time to kill before or after visiting the Roman mosaics, this is a nice way to spend it.
Amazing mosaics - 35 rooms of mosaics were discovered under the extensions over the original site which was thought to be a roman villa owned by a noble family.
What is so useful about them are the stories they tell and show of the culture at the time - the height of fashion and activities of various classes and roles of men and women, even down to what was being by worn by roman women doing their exercises in a gym!