discovering

Piazza Armerina – Villa romana del Casale

The Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, Sicily, is a prime example of Roman luxury villa dating to the Late Empire age, famous for the wealth and quality of its mosaics (4th century A.D.), which are acknowledged as the most beautiful Roman mosaics still in situ. In 1997 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

After the end of the First Punic War, in 241 B.C., and the conquest of Syracuse, in 211 BC, the whole of Sicily, long disputed between native populations, Greeks and Carthaginians, became a Roman province, a statute further confirmed by the Emperor Diocletian, in 284, as part of his administrative reform of the provinces. Extraordinarily rich in fertile agricultural land, the island, exploited by the Romans through a network of immense latifundia, served as an important granary for Rome from the end of the Republic onwards. Long depressed by this system of exploitation, the island experienced a new period of prosperity at the beginning of the 4th century, thanks to its strategic position on the Mediterranean trade routes. Since then, it was subject to a succession of conquests by the Vandals in 440, the Byzantines in 535, the Arabs in 827 and the Normans in 1086.

history

VILLA ROMANA DEL CASALE
the past

Five km from Piazza Armerina, near Enna, in the inland part of Sicily, the Roman villa del Casale is a luxury leisure building built around 320 in the centre of a large latifundium, in the place of a previous villa. Its plan, which seems to have been predetermined, provided for public and private spaces; it was later modified, perhaps following an earthquake in 363, until the end of the same century. Access to the building was through a monumental entrance, similar to a triumphal arch, with a horseshoe-shaped courtyard leading into the central body of the villa, arranged around a garden-peristyle, the centre of which was occupied by a mixtilinear basin, the true fulcrum of the complex. From there, a long corridor, called of the Great Hunt, gave access, in its centre, to a basilica hall and to the private apartments of the villa, as well as to a large elliptical peristyle. The villa also included a large thermal complex, accessible from the monumental entrance, composed of a traditional sequence of rooms – apoditerium, calidarium, apsidal tepidarium and octagonal frigidarium. As a whole, the building had about thirty rooms decorated with paintings and, for a total surface area of about 3,500 m2, polychrome mosaic floors, dating back to between 370 and 400, which present a very rich iconography: hunting scenes, circus games, mythological tales, scenes from everyday life, sports exercises (“maidens in bikinis”), agricultural works. Their realization is attributed to artists coming from Africa. Despite the extraordinary luxury of the villa, it was not an imperial residence, but that of a member of the pagan senatorial aristocracy – maybe, among other numerous hypotheses, the governor of Sicily in the Constantinian age, Lucius Aradius Valerius Proculus, consul in 340, who had organised memorable games in Rome, possibly evoked in the mosaic floors of the villa. A village called Platia, from the Latin Palatium, developed on the site of the villa and remained occupied, at least partially, in the Byzantine and Arabic ages, until the middle of the 12th century.

 

Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt

Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt today

Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt

Mosaic of the frigidarium

Bikini girls mosaic

Elliptical peristyle

Elliptical peristyle today

Reconstruction of the Villa

Reconstruction of the Villa, F. Corni, Ink Line Courtesy

Covering preparation

Mosaic of the Big Game Hunt

Mosaic of the Big Game Hunt, detail

Excavations of the Villa

Excavations of the Villa

REDISCOVERY AND RESTORATION

VILLA ROMANA DEL CASALE
a new life

Destroyed by a fire, the villa was buried by a landslide, and rediscovered only at the beginning of the 19th century. The extensive excavations that took place there in 1929, from 1935 to 1939, and in the years 1950-1970, were mainly conducted in the residential part of the building. Given the state of conservation of the villa, whose walls are still raised to an exceptional height for this type of monument (circa 1 m), and the fragility of its decoration, the villa underwent a major restoration project, innovative in its time, at the end of the 1950s. After the creation of a collector ditch to divert rainwater, a large Plexiglas canopy was built, supported by steel pipes; the outer perimeter of the building was surrounded by Plexiglas walls, and walkways were installed to allow visitors to walk over the mosaics. Following several problems linked in particular to the solution chosen for the roof, a new restoration was carried out between 2007 and 2012, both to protect the structures with more suitable materials and to clean and integrate the mosaic carpets of the villa and its paintings. Particular attention was paid to the lighting of the ancient rooms. Further restorations were started in 2018, in areas not yet touched. The Roman Villa del Casale has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1997, for an area of about 9 hectares, as an example of the very high level of luxury and refinement achieved by the Roman aristocracy in the late antique age. This is particularly evident in its mosaics, exceptional for their artistic qualities, their inventiveness and their extension: they are considered the most beautiful still preserved in situ in the Roman world.

 

piazza armerina villa romana

UNESCO HERITAGE LISTING CRITERIA

Piazza Armerina, Villa Romana del Casale

Selection criteria

The UNESCO Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of criteria (i), (ii) and (iii), considering that the Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina is the supreme example of a luxury Roman villa, which graphically illustrates the predominant social and economic structure of its age. The mosaics that decorate it are exceptional for their artistic quality and invention as well as their extent.

 

An initiative promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation - Directorate General for nationwide Cultural and Economic Promotion and Innovation

 

The site was created in collaboration with the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

Director: Alessandro Furlan
Curator: Prof. Vincent Jolivet
Virtual 3D: Pietro Galifi; Stefano Moretti
Post Production: Luigi Giannattasio
Scientific data collection: Maria Grazia Nini

 

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