Sicily

Day 4 - Villa Romana del Casale, part one


Some background and the public and service rooms


Villa Romana del Casale was built as a country villa or hunting lodge for an important but unknown Roman. The Villa was built in the first part of the C4th, on top of an earlier villa inhabited from C1st to late C3rd. After the fall of Rome, the villa continued in use and was surrounded by defensive perimeter wall.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

The site was abandoned when it was covered by a massive mud slide in 1194, and the survivors moved to Piazza Armerina. The site was almost entirely forgotten and the area was cultivated. In the C19th some mosaics and columns were found. The first official excavations took place in 1929 with a major excavation in 1950-60.  Excavations are still on going and it is estimated about 70% of the site is waiting to be excavated.

To date about 50 rooms have been uncovered and this is one of the largest and best preserve villas to be found anywhere in the Roman Empire. It has the largest collection of mosaics in the world as well as remains of wall paintings. Much of the villa is protected by glass roofs and there are raised walkways around the site.

The villa was at the centre of a huge rural estate, or latifundium. This was a high status building even by Roman standards, although no one knows who the owner was. It would have belonged to the absolute upper crust of Roman society. At the very least the owner may have been a member of the senatorial class if not the imperial family. There is a suggestions that it could have been the home of either Lucius Aradius Valerius Proculus, Governor of Sicily between 327 and 331 and Consul in 340. Another suggestion is that it was the country retreat of Marcus Aurelius Maximus, Co-emperor with Diocletian between 286-305AD.

It is an impressive site, built round a central peristyle. The public areas are shown blue on the plan. The private family quarters are shown brown, servants area beige, guest areas green and the baths are purple.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

The main entrance was through the colonnaded atrium with is three arched gateway and central fountain.  Guests waited here to be admitted into villa. 

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

To one side is the public latrine.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

A vestibule leads to the peristyle which has a small shrine to the household deity at the entrance.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

The peristyle was an open courtyard with a garden and fountain at the centre and surrounded by a walkway with Corinthian columns. The mosaic panels have animal head medallions, each representing a Province of Rome.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Off the peristyle on the north side are the service and guest quarters. The service rooms have geometric mosaics on the floors.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

The guest rooms have more elaborate mosaics with images of animals, flowers and human heads, including the lovely mosaic of the cherub fishermen. Remains of wall paintings can be seen in some of the rooms.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

The Hall of the Great Hunt separates the peristyle from the basilica. This grand aspsidal hall was the most formal room in the villa and was used as an audience hall. It was reached up a short flight of steps with two columns of pink Egyptian marble. Little is left of the marble floor which was made of slabs of marble from all round the Mediterranean

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

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