Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on Sicily while we await the Master's Return

It's looking a little neglected over here at Nourishing Obscurity where there are usually at least four or five posts a day. I don't know what happened to all the other guest posters, as there is a long list of others besides me but they are all keeping quiet.

So I'll keep you entertained with a little more about Sicily, well a very special place in Sicily and perhaps James will get to see it while he is there. It's not so far from Modica as I recall. It's La Villa Romana del Casale, situated 5 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina in central Sicily.

Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is visited annually by more than half a million people. What draws these tourists there are the more than forty rooms with 12,500 square feet of mosaic pavement, the best collection of Roman mosaics in existence today.

A mosaic from the Corridor of the Great Hunt

I was fortunate enough to visit this wonderful spot in 2000, as a side trip from my stay in Taormina. A group of about fifteen of us took a tour arranged by the language school where I was studying and we had an excellent Italian guide, with the tour being in Italian of course. It seems that so many of the guides I have had on trips to Italy have been architects. I don't know if there is an over supply of architects in Italy and they cannot find work in their field, but they certainly make splendid guides.

Catwalks are used to traverse the mosaics and you can see the overhead
protective cover. Our excellent architect guide is in the blue shirt

The villa, which was the house of a large surrounding estate, was constructed over an older villa around 320 AD. While there is much controversy about who the owner was, he was certainly a man of wealth and power. From the mosaics we can see that he had connections in Africa, he loved hunting as well as music and poetry and that he was probably a pagan. The villa was thought to be destroyed by invaders about 150 years later although some buildings continued to be used until the twelfth century when there was a fire. The site was abandoned and finally the whole was covered by mud landslides. It is this fact that enabled the mosaics to survive and be so well preserved today.

Another part of the Great Hunt mosaic

At the end of the nineteenth century preliminary excavations were made of the site but most of the work was done during three periods in the twentieth century. The major excavations were done between 1950-60, when a cover was built over the whole to protect the mosaics.

The furnaces where the wood was burned to heat the water both
for the baths and the heating system of the villa itself

The extensive mosaics of the villa were probably done in the early fourth century by North African artists, for the materials are considered African in origin. A very detailed account of the mosaics is given here where the workmanship is discussed as well as the mosaics of each room. Of course when we talk about a room, we are basically talking about the floor because most of the walls, although there, are damaged, however some frescoes and wall paintings and niches for statues still exist.

A different style of mosaic, with a central so-called "erotic" image, in the
antechamber to the main bedroom in the private quarters

Visitors to the villa walk on catwalks built on the old walls which you can see in my photo. It is not easy to photograph the mosaics since you stand high above them. In addition they look rather dull because they are open to the air and covered in dust, although in fact when cleaned they have good colour on the whole.

The famous Bikini Girls mosaic

Of course the most widely known of the mosaics is the Bikini Girls Mosaic seen above. It is situated in the Sala delle Dieci Ragazze, The Room of the 10 Girls. But another mosaic floor, in the Ambulacro della Grande Caccia, The Corridor of the Great Hunt, measuring 60m or 197 ft in length by 5 m or 16ft in width, is surely more splendid. The mosaics depicted there are among the most impressive from the ancient world, showing the hunting and capture of wild animals and their transportation to Rome for use in the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. I'm afraid my scanned photos do not do justice to this amazing place. Please click on them for a slight improvement.

I would consider my visit to this villa one of the highlights of my stay in Sicily and recommend it highly should you go there. As the Italians say, Vale la pena. It's worth the trouble.

Originally posted at Nobody Important. I apologize if you've read it before.


CherryPie said...

They must have been lovely to see, it very much reminds me of my visit to the mosaics in Cyprus which I enjoyed very much!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

So sorry not to get back to the blog yet, Cherie - amazing things going on here, including a chipped tooth. More soon.

Lord James Bigglesworth said...

Actually, it's not Welshcakes, it's me but we have technical difficulties ...

Lord James Bigglesworth said...

Top stuff, JMB - we're really enjoying it!!!

Nunyaa said...

Nice memories JMB, great photos too.

jmb said...

This is an amazing place Cherie, the house itself is a ruin but the floors are incredible and it's in the middle of nowhere.

I thought you would be back almost at once James but since it was so quiet here I thought this might be of interest to your readers.

Thanks Nunyaa, the photos are scanned from prints so could be better but they give the idea of how wonderful it is.

CherryPie said...

Sounds like you are having a great deal of fun in Sicily :-)

Made me smile you posting as Welshcakes ;-)

jams o donnell said...

Great post. I am a sucker for anything Roman!