Villa Romana del Casale
The Villa Romana del Casale is a Late Roman Villa (or Palace), dating from the late 3rd and early 4th century AD.
What makes it unique among other surviving Roman villas are its floors, that are covered almost completely with well preserved (and coloured) mosaics. There are over 50 rooms full of them, in total ca. 3500 m².
The villa was brought to its splendour by tetrarch Marcus Aurelius Maximianius. The mosaics probably were the work of North African craftsmen. The site was excavated mostly in the 1950s.
Map of Villa Romana del CasaleLoad map
I visited Villa Romana del Casale in September of 2021. It is undoubtedly among the most unique and impressive monuments of antiquity. The very short WH inscription mentions the richness of the mosaics found in practically every room of the villa, and indeed those are altogether remarkable and likely unparalleled among the surviving such artifacts in both quantity and quality.
The mosaics are almost entirely found as floor decorations. With just one or two exceptions, you view them from elevated platforms. There are a few rooms where the damage to the floor is extensive, and only the fragments of the original decorations are visible. But most of the rooms are on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a few damaged areas surrounded by well-preserved mosaics. Some rooms display amazing patterns and vignettes, and the jaws really drop when you come to one of at least a dozen rooms where the floor is veritably a canvas depicting various scenes bound by a common theme, be it pursuits of leisure, commerce, or mythology. The most impressive of all is the “Corridor of the Big Hunt”, a 66-meter long space adorned with scenes involving numerous animals and overseas voyages, although the most famous might be the "Bikini Girls", a depiction of young women engaged in athletic competition.
In Covid times, on a wide-ranging trip around Sicily, Villa Romana del Casale was the only place where advance reservations proved to be essential to get in. I made them online a few weeks before the trip for a specific time entry (with no advance payment) and was asked to present proof of reservation both by the guard at the gates and by the ticket agent at the entrance. The villa is considered to be an "indoors" site, which I expect to continue to have limits on the number of daily visitors for the foreseeable future.
A typical visit to Villa Romana del Casale will take around two hours, where the actual duration directly depends on your desire to linger to examine mosaic details. Getting to the villa is not exactly hard, but the location is far enough from the regular overnight-stay destinations, so budgeting significant driving time to get there and back may be unavoidable. The town of Piazza Armerina, whose municipality encompasses the villa, does not feature on any must-see itineraries of Sicily that I’ve seen, and therefore unlikely to be considered for an overnight stay on a common itinerary; interestingly enough, from a distance, it looks like a lovely hilltop town and actually may be worth exploring on its own merit.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
When I visited Aquileia last year, I mentioned in our whatsapp group that these were the greatest Roman mosaics I had hitherto seen. I was wondering what greater mosaics existed on the list. The group feedback was Villa Romana del Casale. I would have gone anyhow. But this way I was quite curious what I would find.
The villa is a 4th century Roman villa that probably was built for the then Roman governor of Sicily. The Romans chose the location for its proximity to the main road between Catania and Agrigento. Nowadays, the area is more of a backwater.
In the 4th century, the Roman empire underwent massive social changes. Prior, the nobility would not reside with their holdings. Instead, they would live in larger cities, directing their farms from afar. With the nobility and upper class moving to the countryside, they built large villas to live in, the Villa Romana del Casale being a prominent and well-preserved example.
As pointed out by others, the mosaics are stunning and large. They cover the whole floor of the villa and tell plenty of stories. The long central aisle (picture) with the story on the delivery chain of arena animals was the best, but there is so much more. Astonishing. And unlike in Aquileia there are few religious mosaics, so both sites are unique in their own way.
The Italians built a visiting trail in the villa running high above the marvelous floors plus a roof. The dimensions of the constructions seem huge and infringe on the overall atmosphere. But when the first bus tours arrived around 09:30h, space quickly became scarce.
My recommendation would be to arrive early (or very late), i.e. before or after the bus tours arrive/depart. Thanks to a friendly local giving me a ride to the site, I arrived at 8:50h and was table to enter 5 minutes before the official opening. The first bus tour arrived at 9:30h. So, on my first round I had the site mostly to myself. To take in the full glory I did a second round with multiple tour groups in my way; the visiting experience suffered significantly.
Bus connections in Sicily are complicated. There are several competing operators. Only a subset provides detailed online information and schedules. There also isn’t a central page to look up connections for all of them. Finally, there isn’t a single place to buy bus tickets. It may even happen that some places will only sell you long distance tickets of the bus company that you want to buy regional tickets for.
I came by bus from Agrigento via Gela. In Agrigento, the bus station is easy to find. The tickets are sold in a small booth near the bus parking lot. In Gela, the bus station is near the train station. Tickets are sold in a bar in front of the bus station. They open late, though, and there are several other bars that offer bus tickets. But not the ones I wanted. Just ask around. From Gela, you should also be able to head direction Ragusa (Val di Noto). Gela itself is unmemorable.
The bus station in Piazza Armerina is north of the old town. At the gas station, they sell the bus tickets. After my visit, I left from there by bus to Catania.
From Piazza Armerina, it’s a one-hour walk. Unfortunately, there is no sidewalk, so you have to walk along the roadside. If the locals wanted to improve tourism, providing a dedicated hiking trail would be a good option.
While You Are There
I enjoyed Piazza Armerina very much. Most of Sicily is too touristy, and I was longing for one of those quiet Italian old towns somewhere off the standard tourist itinerary. Piazza Armerina very much fulfilled this expectation, being a fortified hill town with a hilltop church. Not WHS material, but pleasant. During my stay, they also had a weird folksy parade. As usual though, the town would profit greatly from kicking out the cars.
March 2019 - Day 8 of our Sicily trip. After spending the night on a nice Agriturismo near Piazza Armerina, we visited the Villa Casale in the morning.
Yet, there were only few ourists at that time. The whether was crappy, but most of the sight are roofed so the visit was nice anyway. The Villa reminds rather of a construction site than a Museum. You walk 2-3 meters above the mosacis and can see every sinle one. Some of them are in very good shape, others look demolished. Some mosaics look a bit like someone made a joke and depicted todays art in roman style moasaics, especially when looking at the bikini girls or even some nude scenes. Also the way the animals are depicted, is just incredible. Definietly worth a visit, but could be a bit more visitors friendly.
I visited this WHS in May 2015 as a detour from Agrigento on my way to the Val di Noto baroque towns. The Sicilian countryside panoramas on the way to the site itself were already breathtaking but the quantity, the variety, the condition and the details of everyday life in Ancient Roman times depicted on the mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina were mindboggling. The only place that sprung to mind while visiting this site was Aquileia as there are some similarities between some of the mosaics but this is by far the largest in the world. My favourite mosaics were the mosaic of the two fishing vessels hauling up their net fully loaded with different fish species and crustaceans and the famous mosaic of the female athletes nicknamed the bikini girls. The female athletes perform sports including weight-lifting, discus throwing, running and ball-games. Not far from the Villa Romana del Casale is another Roman Villa called Villa Romana del Tellaro which is worth visiting while you're in the area.
The Villa del Casale is now fully opened and can be visited. I visited it yesterday and I had the place mostly to myself except for a few people scattered here and there. The site now provides a very good idea as to its vastness and the importance of its Master. The visitor can have a glimpse of what it must have been in its full splendor when it served as a sort of buen retiro or as a status symbol for its owner. The decorations which cover most of the 3500 square meter of marble or 37674 ft² provide a very vivid picture of what life in 4th AD Sicily might have been for the privileged few who lived there and the people who were serving under the Villa's Master, who seemed to also enjoy entertain his important guests there. The location is very evocative also as it pertaing its surroundings, the lush nature, and the gentle landscape.
What's stunning is the clearly perceived richness of its rooms, the sauna, the calidarium and frigidarium, the side rooms, the vast halls, the corridors covered in vividly colored mosaics relaying the stories of the ancient gods: Hercules, Odysseus, Poliphemus, not to mention the many men, women, children decorating the floor in hundreds of scenes. The site is now fully accessible, and it costs 10 euros to visit it. The restoration work very efficiently delivers the idea of how stunning this place once was, and still is.
Well worth the visit. I visited the site in September 2012. All of the villa now accessible after the removal of the awful plastic glass structure which caused so much damage and has been replaced with wood and copper roof open on all sides to allow air flow around and through the site Damage caused to the mosaics has and still is being replaced using the original methods. Well worth the visit, I do not know about entry costs as over 65 get entry free. More archaeological digs are planned for the future as apparently there might well be more undiscovered building in the village close by the Villa.
I really love the art there. However, it's really a pity that we could only visit 3 rooms, while you have to pay still 5 euro per person(Fortunately, the Bikini girls is included). According to the people there, they need 2 more years to finish all of the rebuild. Thus, if you have more time, i would strongly recommend to go there later.
Visit time: 7, April, 2011
very disappointing that so little of the site is currently open.They only seem to be working on one building at present yet have ripped out the walkways and closed most of the site much earlier than necessary.With a little planning they could easily work in stages and keep most of the site open.What you can see is fantastic but its very frustrating to see tantalizing distant glimpses of so much more in the closed areas.I will return one day when its fully open but unless they get their act together I suspect this may be years away.
we have been there on the 6-6-09 and were realy impressed by the neglegance and disorder of the site . we were told that vast amounts of money were pured into but it seem to us all that it migrated to unknown hand and localities - shame on those responsible
The site of the Villa Casale is amazing. No one seems sure of who it was built for but it had to be someone of great importance. The date is possibly the 3rd-4th centuries AD. The site is covered by a greenhouse of acrylic panels. There are many, many rooms with completely intact floor mosaics in situ. I have never seen anything like it elsewhere, especially at this scale.
This Roman Villa lies near Piazza Armerina, in Central Sicily. It's a fine location for a countryside villa. I was expecting crowds but was lucky enough to be able to slowly do the rounds almost on my own. The villa is really large, and the mosaics are everywhere.
The 'Bikini Girls' - women athletes - are a set of ten mosaics in two rows in very good condition. The girls are performing exercises, from weightlifting to a ball game. One of them is about to be awarded the palm of victory. Other highlights include the Corridor of the Great Hunt, a long passageway covered with an elaborate hunting scene, and the Triclinium where mythical scenes are depicted including a bloody Battle of the Giants.
As mentioned in the ICOMOS report and various guidebooks, the mosaics are shielded under plexiglass covers. This has the effect of a greenhouse, possibly damaging the mosaics. One of the side effects also is that it creates rasters of shade on the mosaics, making it difficult to get sharp photographs.
This is a wonderful trip from anywhere on the island of Sicilia. In the summer it is usually very hot, especially with the sun beating down on the protective roofs that cover the mosaic floors. The entire site is worth a half-day visit, especially the room of the dodieci fatiche d'Ercole (the 12 labors of Hercules) and the long main corridor that shows the many daily chores (hunting, fishing, etc) that were performed daily. Excavations continue through today, with only 1/3 of the site being excavated thusfar. The craftsmanship of the slaves (presumably from nearby Africa) in this Villa is not to be missed.
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Previously on T List as Piazza Armerina (1984)
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