Villa Romana del Casale, Enna
Famous for the mosaics which have been found here, this place acts as a magnet for all visitors to Sicily. Lying 4km/2.5mi southwest of Piazza Armerina, where Saracens still lived when this town was occupied by Lombards. The village of Casale and the Roman ruins which until then were still inhabitated were both destroyed in a landslide in the 12th century and were forgotten. It was not until 1929 that scientists were intrigued by finds of small mosaic fragments and decided to excavate further; in that same year and also in 1935-39 parts of a Roman villa were discovered. This villa has been systematically explored since 1950. So far the manor house with nearly 50 rooms has been uncovered and conserved, but working areas and servants' quarters still await the archeologist's trowel.
Villa Romana del Casale Map
Official site: www.villaromanadelcasale.it
Address: Contrada Casale 1, Piazza Armerina, I-94015 Enna, Italy
Opening hours: 10am-7pm
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €3.00, Child 18 & under FREE, Senior over 65 FREE
Villa Romana del Casale Highlights
Results so far indicate that a modest building stood here in the second century, to be replaced in the third and fourth centuries by a magnificent villa, unusually large and lavishly equipped - the mosaic floors which have survived cover an area of 3,500sq.m/3,850sq.yds or four-fifths of an acre!Naturally experts would like to know who commissioned this large and expensive complex. To date no one knows for sure, but is seems probable that it was Maximianus Herculius, whom Diocletian appointed Caesar in 285 and Augustus in 286, with authority over the west of the Empire; in 293, under the tetrarch system, the sub-regents (Caesars) Galerius and Constantius Chlorus joined the two Augusti Diocletian and Maximianus; in 305 Maximianus and Diocletian gave up their office. Experts think they recognize Maximianus in one of the mosaic pictures, and the detailed description of the deeds of Hercules could well apply to Maximianus' epithet of Herculius. However, all this remains to be proved - the person who commissioned the building could perhaps have been a great landowner or a high imperial official. The villa was occupied until well into the fifth century; it later fell into ruins but these were inhabited by Saracens.
The mosaics cover a wide spectrum of subjects from daily and court life, mythology and hunting, as well as designs linked with the Roman custom of baiting animals in the arena, including catching, loading and transporting the beasts. Such scenes bear a close resemblance to those seen on mosaics in North Africa, and it seems certain that artists from that region worked here too. They created one of the largest and most beautiful complexes in Roman antiquity.There is now a roof over the whole site to protect the mosaics from the elements. There are some good walkways, which enable the visitor to study the mosaic floors from above.The single-storied complex is made up of five main areas: 1. The entrance area. The lavish triple-doored portal leads into a polygonal atrium (2). 2. To the north lies a thermal bath area (4-6). 3. Passing through a vestibule (8) the visitor enters a typical peristyle (9) surrounded by a number of rooms. 4. To the east the main axis of the building adjoins the magnificent "Great Basilica". 5. To the south stand the elliptical "xystos" with the adjoining triclinium.
Ante-room with apse, honoring Aphrodite (small remains of cult pictures). 4 Frigidarium (an octagonal room, once vaulted, mosaics in the west niche: two maidservants are shown taking clothes from a lady). 5 Salve and massage room. 6 Tepidarium (tepid bath) and adjoining calidarium (hot bath with underfloor heating, mosaics destroyed). 13 Palaestra or Salone di Circo: Roman circus scene based on the Circus Maximus in Rome. The observer can see the racecourse with the spina (long, low wall) down the middle and the two marks showing where to turn, with eight teams of horses colored red, green, white and blue like the four "circus teams" in Rome and, later, in Constantinople (this theme is repeated, in the form of a children's game, in Room 45). Also shown are the various stages of the race up to the awarding of the palm to the victor. 12 Small latrine 14 Large latrine.
Tablinum with portrayal of the imperial family in the form of Adventus Augusti (to which only a reigning emperor was entitled). 9 Peristyle, the rectangular central area surrounded by Corinthian columns, 10 on the long sides and eight on the short, with a water system (10); aedicula (small temple) opposite the entrance, perhaps for cult offerings to the emperor (11). 15 Room with stove 16 Inner hall 17 Dance hall 18 Geometrical stellar mosaics 19 Room from which the mosaics have been lost 20 Room of the Seasons 21 Room of the Little Hunt: five rows of pictures depict the sequence of events in a hunt in front of a house, probably Villa Casale: the hunters set off, sacrifice to Diana, the feast, bringing in the spoils. 22 Cupids fishing 23 Square mosaics 24 Octagonal mosaics 25 Corridor of the Great Hunt.. 37 Vestibule of Polyphemo 38 Erotic scenes 39 Representations of fruit Xystos 29 Xystos, an elliptical courtyard surrounded by colonnades and with a fountain in the center, at the western end an exedra with a niche for statues and on the north side three smaller rooms: 30 Amorettos (little Cupids) at the grape harvest.
Peristyle - Apse
This long, rectangular room with apses at each end is about 65m/213ft long and 5m/16ft wide. In the apses can be seen personifications of Egyptians (south apse) and Armenians (north apse). Starting from the south (right-hand) end the observer can see animals being caught, taken on board ship and transported to Italy, where they are used in animal-baiting games in the arena. Here, too, can be seen a figure taken to be that of the tetrarch Maximianus Herculius. 26 Rectangular mosaics 27 Maidens exercising 28 Orpheus Room: The animals in the wilderness gather around the singer Orpheus (only fragments preserved). In this room were found fragments of a Roman copy of the Apollo Lycius of Praxiteles.
Peristyle - Basilica
Great Basilica 40 The Great Basilica is a rectangular room, semi-circular at one end, a shape reminiscent of a palastaula, and will also have performed a similar function at ceremonial receptions. It is flanked by rooms with legible mosaics. South of the Basilica 41 Room with Arion 42 Atrium with columned hall 43 Boys hunting 44 Vestibule with Eros and Pan 45 Vestibule with a Small Circus (compare this with the description of the circus in the Palaestra, Room 13). 46 Musicians North of the Basilica Note This area is accessible only from the outside, so it is usually left to the end of the tour.
To the east of the Xystos stands the Triclinium, a square room with three apses, believed to be a dining-room. The floor mosaics deal with the Twelve Labors of Hercules (middle), the Defeat of the Titans (east apse) and the Apotheosis of the Heroes (north apse). Leaving this room and going round the eastern outside wall of the villa to reach Rooms 37-39 north of the Basilica, the visitor will pass by the remains of 48 Aqueduct and 47 A latrine - a rather prosaic end to a fascinating insight into the life of the upper classes in Late Roman times, even if it was not the house of the Emperor himself.