With one week remaining in Sicily, we realized there were still a lot of sights on the island that we couldn’t possibly skip. So we rented a car and set out on a final road trip. First stop: Villa Romana del Casale.
The world’s most comprehensive and exquisite set of Roman mosaics is found in the middle of Sicily, at the archaeological site known as Villa Romana del Casale. The specifics of the villa’s history are largely lost to history, but experts have dated its origin to around the 4th century AD. It’s believed to have been the hunting lodge for Roman aristocrats, possibly owned by Emperor Maximianus Herculius. But there aren’t enough clues to say for certain.
The tiled floors are amazing; bright, colorful and largely complete. The mosaics look as though they were laid down one century ago, not seventeen; a miracle for which we have nature to thank. Mother Earth recognized the historic and cultural value of the lodge better than medieval humanity ever could have, and buried the villa underneath a mudslide sometime in the 12th century. The site was forgotten under the soft earth for 700 years, until its excavation in 1929.
Visitors are able to see a number of rooms laid out with the incredible mosaic floors. The Corridor of the Great Hunt is probably the most impressive. Here, soldiers battle with tigers, then lead them onto ships bound for Rome, where they’re to fight against gladiators in Roman colosseums. Other scenes depict a group of soldiers trying to pull a hippopotamus out of the water, and a wounded lion jumping onto a soldier.
The most famous mosaics are the so-called Bikini Girls. In a smallish, square room, ten wonderfully preserved and scantily clad Roman beauties are engaging in various athletics, such as discus-throwing, running, and playing with a ball. One girl, apparently the winner, has been presented with a golden crown.
We were lucky enough to visit Villa Romana during the low season, when the number of other tourists is manageable. This is one of the most popular sites in Sicily, and a destination for almost every tour bus. If the size of the car park and the overwhelming number of stands selling cheesy trinkets are any indication, the place must be unbearable in the summer. But regardless, for those with any interest in ancient art or history, Villa Romana del Casale is unmissable.
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