Splendors of Sicily – Mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale

We make our way past fields of brilliant flowers (brilliant yellow rapeseed) to the center of Sicily to the town of Piazza Armerina. In the countryside is the famous Villa Romana del Casale which was covered for hundreds of years under mud and earth from a landslide- thus preserving inside the most precious examples of mosaic floors from the Roman era. The image above shows figures at the entrance to the villa welcoming visitors.

Artist’s impression of what the villa looked like in the 4th century AD

We meet our incredible guide, Onofrio, as we arrive. He is a former teacher, and he truly knows how to hold the interest of we eager students, as he shares his passion and excitement for the things we are seeing.

Onofrio introduces us to ancient history with humor and passion

We pass the thermal spa on our way to the entrance. With particular attention to the interests of our group, he points out the massage room where is depicted nude massage and various treatments such as body scraping for cleaning the skin.

Mosaic floor in the massage room of the Roman SPA

To visit this palace in those days would have been an introduction to all the strange and interesting creatures from the whole world. There are rooms full of these patterns where an exotic animal is featured as the central image of a section of flooring.

Wild animal in a section of floor

Several thousand feet of flooring are devoted to various scenes of hunting and fishing.

Hunting scene
Fishing scene
Dramatic scene where a man has been gored by a boar. Another man is spearing it while another tries to crush its skull with a rock, and a fourth man looks on in shock and horror as dogs also try to bring it down.

One of the largest and most interesting scenes depicts expeditions to Africa and India to capture wild creatures to ship back to Rome to be used for entertainment in the Colosseum.

Loading an exotic bird onto a ship for transport to Rome
Loading an elephant captured in India
Capturing a gnu! Who knew?
In the women’s gymnasium are seen bikini-clad figures practicing various sports. The girl in the lower center has won the crown and laurel.
Another room with various hunting scenes. Notice the lines coming off the feet? It is an early attempt of creating shadows and perspective.
In the Basillica, or throne room, is a mosaic depicting mythical beings. The central figure seen here is an hermaphrodite, with breasts and male genitalia.

In all, it is a highlight of our tour thus far. We continue on to the city of Ragusa for overnight. Several of us go to the old town for dinner and a wander through cathedral square, which we will tour tomorrow.

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