A beautiful archaeological area in Piazza Armerina, a splendid city of art located in the province of Enna, is the Villa Romana del Casale. In 1997, due to its exceptional wealth of architectural and decorative elements, the ancient residence became part of the World Heritage List protected by Unesco. Located in the heart of Sicily and surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes, it is an artistic treasure of inestimable value, which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.
Dating back to the late imperial era (3rd-4th century AD), the villa belonged to a member of the Roman senatorial aristocracy, probably a governor of Rome (Praefectus Urbi); according to some scholars, however, it was built and enlarged at the request of a very high imperial official, Maximiano Erculio, a tetrarch of Diocletian.
Monumental complex of great historical-artistic importance, it can be considered one of the most significant examples of a representative residence that celebrates the glories of its client, through an iconographic program stylistically influenced by African culture.
This fabulous archaeological area in Piazza Armerina stands out for the vastness of its public and private spaces. Important excavations conducted in the mid-twentieth century brought to light 3500 square meters of figurative and geometric-style mosaic flooring, as well as columns, statues, capitals and coins. According to distinguished art historians, the mosaics are the most beautiful and best preserved of their kind.
Among the remains of this archaeological area in Piazza Armerina, four separate nuclei have been identified, each with a different axial orientation, but closely connected to each other:
- the monumental entrance with three arches and a horseshoe-shaped courtyard;
- the central body of the villa distributed around a courtyard with a quadrangular peristyle, accompanied by a garden with a mixtilinear basin in the centre;
- a large hall with three apses (trichord) preceded by an ovoid peristyle, delimited in turn by another group of rooms;
- the baths.
The villa welcomes tourists through an entrance structured as an honorary arch with three openings; we continue towards a polygonal porticoed courtyard which, to the north, leads to the aedicule of Venus, while to the east we reach the vestibule, a quadrangular room in which guests were received. After passing the latter, visitors enter the large quadrangular peristyle, the space around which the rooms of the villa revolve.
Characteristic of this archaeological area in Piazza Armerina is the Sacello dei Lari (a small apsidal hall dedicated to the cult of the protective deities of the house) and the private latrine, whose mosaic floor shows a carousel of animals.
Continuing north we reach the thermal complex, which could also be frequented by strangers, configured according to the traditional sequence of Roman thermal environments: frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium.
The environment of the Piccola Caccia and the ambulatory of the Grande Caccia are of great tourist interest: the first, probably a winter living room or dining room, has a mosaic centred on hunting trips, with a scene of sacrifice to Diana in the centre; the second, however, is a raised corridor which, despite the name by which it is known, is interesting for the exceptional mosaic representation of the venation, the catching (and not hunting) trips of wild beasts to be exhibited in the circus shows in Rome.
Inside the peristyle, there is an elegant garden enriched by a fountain with three basins. Subsequently, you come across the Stanza delle Palestriti and the Diaeta of Orpheus: one exhibits women’s athletic competitions, and the other is an apsidal room (once dedicated to musical entertainment or used as a summer dining room) adorned by a mosaic it portrays the subject in the act of playing the lyre under a large tree.
Archaeological area in Piazza Armerina In the southern part of the villa there is another ovoid-shaped peristyle (Xystus), which constitutes a scenographic introduction to the luxurious triapsidal triclinium, dominated in the centre by the mosaic illustrating the enemies of Hercules.
In the western part of the residence are the private apartments which extend to the sides of the basilica. The southern one, which is larger, is distinguished by the mosaic of the marine procession led by Arione (a mythical character who rides a dolphin playing the zither); the northern one, on the other hand, recounts the episode in which Ulysses offered wine to Polyphemus and also includes a bedroom, guardian of the famous embrace of lovers.
The basilica, a large apsidal room in which the owner granted audiences, plays a very important role within the Domus, both for the marble decoration of the floor and for its position, understood as the arrival point of a path which, starting from the monumental entrance develops upwards.