Visit the Villa Romana del Casale, constructed on a terrace, about three and a half miles from the town of Piazza Amerina in Sicily and you’ll discover a sumptuous display of Roman mosaics. The Villa, built around 330 AD, was the heart of a great landed estate built on the remains of an older Villa; today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Though the Villa suffered damage during the time of the Vandals and Visigoths and endured through the Bysantine and Arab eras, the residents fled to Piazza Amerina, in the 12th century, when a landslide of mud covered the retreat and hunting lodge. The awesome magnitude and quality of the Villa indicate its possession by an individual of high rank and eminence, perhaps a Senator or a member of the Imperial family, perhaps the Emperor himself-the mystery of who has not been solved. A few of the spectacular mosaics and columns were found at the beginning of the 19th century and there were major excavations between 1950 and 1960 with 60 rooms excavated in 1952.
A must-see, well-preserved mosaic, created by African artists, is titled “Coronation of the Winner,” and features trim, young women exercising with balls, discus and hand weights. The winner holds a palm leaf and a crown of roses. The fashionable female athletes are dressed in the same style bikinis worn on the beach by sun worshippers today. When it comes to fashion, everything old is new again.
Enter the site and follow a walkway through the rooms including the baths – a group of dressing rooms where a tired guest could relax with a massage then indulge in a plunge bath located by the frigidairium decorated with a mosaic of sea nymphs, tritons and boats rowed by accommodating cherubs. Past the atrium is the peristyle-an open court in a Roman house-surrounded by rooms used for public and private activities. Stop to gaze at and photograph one of the most impressive, The Corridor of the Great Hunt, a mosaic of hunts for animals that pits hunters against tigers, ostriches and elephants.
Orpheus playing for the animals in the Hall of Orpheus-the Hall was once a living room-while the Room of the Dance displays a mosaic of dancing women and the Cubicle of Fruits with its geometric mosaic was used as a bedroom. From a balcony, you can gaze at a mosaic of a circus with its chariot race.
There are four levels: mosaics cover 30 rooms, 12,500 square feet of floor space. Unearthed during the excavations are a gym, dining room and an audience hall plus thermal baths where guests could frolic and a vomitorium for those who frolicked a bit too much.