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Important cities of Sicily

Important cities of Sicily: Piazza armerina

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The history of the town of Piazza (Armerina was added in 1862) began in Norman times, but the area was already inhabited in prehistoric times, as it is demonstrated by the archaeological finds on Monte Navone and, above all, on Montagna di Marzo. The area must have flourished in the Roman era: this can be seen from the splendid Roman Villa Casale, dating from the early 4th century AD, with its world famous mosaics floors. During the centuries it experienced mixed fortunes, but it has often played leading political roles and its cultural and economic life has always been particularly active, so much so that it was described by Emperor Charles V as an “extremely” wealthy town”.

Piazza Armerina (721 mt. asl – population 22,000 ca.) is the ideal place for a relaxing holiday with a touch of culture thrown in. It is a town in which there is a happy compromise between the natural and manmade environment. During the hot summer the climate is made cooler by the 20,000 hectares of luxuriant woodland surrounding the town, making it an ideal holiday location. It is also a historic town and, thanks to its numerous monuments, it is a centre of culture and art with a heritage worth discovering.

The Roman Villa was built by the Romans during the 3rd and 4th century A.C., on a previous rustic construction of the 2nd century A.C. Professor V. Gentile, that performed the archeological excavations in 1950, attributed the construction of the Villa to the Roman emperor Maximianus Herculius an this is still the most accredited theory. The Villa was certainly inhabited until the 13th century when it was destroyed by Guglielmo il Malo, together with a village that is still buried in the surroundings. Afterwards the Villa was covered by debris from Monte Mangone and all traces of it were lost until 17th cenury, when an eminent inhabitant of Piazza Armerina, Chiarandà, wrote:”In the Casale district there are walls and ruins on unknown origin”. During excavations in 19th century, the Triclinium was bought to light. But the actual excavations were performed by Prof. V. Gentili in 1950 and lasted 7 years. About 60 rooms and 350 square meters of mosaics of inestimable value were bought to light.

The villa, due to the sloping nature of the site, is built on 4 levels. The Roman Thermae, on the first level, were provided with water by a complex supply system, composed of two aqueducts: before being delivered to the Frigidarium and the Calidaria, the water was heated in special ovens. The Massage Hall and Gym are also on this level.

On the second level, we find the main entrance composed of 3 arches and a large courtyard, surrounded by Corinthian columns, has a fountain in the middle. On the left side of the Peristilium, there is a group of small rooms, some of which are worthy of mention, the Little Hunt Room (with mosaics depicting hunting scenes), that of the Fishing Cupids and that of the Dancers. On the right side there is, instead, a group of 3 rooms, one of which, known all over the world, has become the symbol of this exceptional monument: the room with girls in bikinis. Along the east side of the Peristilium, we find the grandiose corridor of the Great Hunt, whose mosaics depict scenes of great game hunting: the chase, capture and transport of the beast towards Rome. The scenes depicting Asia and Africa at the two opposite ends of the room, in two apses, are of extreme value.

On the fourth level we find the Triclinium, the family’s private rooms, with the marvellous mosaics of Ulysses and Polyphemus and the Cubicle with the famous erotic scene, and the grandiose Basilica. In the Triclinium, the Dominus (Master), dined with special guests. Here are located the mosaics depicting the twelve Toils of Hercules and in the central apse there is the Gigantomachia, in which are shown five giants that strive to pull out of their bodies the arrows shot by Hercules.

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