Once upon a time, four centuries after the birth of Jesus Christ, there lived a rich man. The rumours said that he came from Africa, with the most ingenious and creative mosaic artists and decided to build a magnificent Villa to live in, right at the core of Sicily, an original and unusual way to tell the story of the Roman aristocracy trough the use of 120 million tiles. This is the origin of the Villa Romana del Casale, the jewel of Piazza Armerina, in Enna district, one of the UNESCO Sites since 1997.
Villa del Casale is a rural abode of about 35000 m², with mosaics covering both the floors and the walls. For a very long time, nothing was known about its owner; researches have revealed he was probably a member of the aristocracy. He might have been Massimiliano Erculeo or Valerio Proculo Populonio, governor and consul of Sicily. Moreover, recent excavations have shown that the Villa was probably not an isolated construction, quite the opposite, it was part of an organized settlement, featuring private and public buildings, the function of which is described in the mosaics and the paintings on the walls.
In 2012, after six years of restoration, the Villa was equipped with an innovative, protective ceiling and a lightening system which allows the tourists to visit the Villa even at night, thanks to above-ground scaffoldings from which it is possible to admire the precious mosaics representing mythological scenes and feasts, exotic animals, circus performances and athletics competitions. This ever- changing scenes can easily transport the visitors in the atmosphere of the Roman aristocratic society, while admiring the three entrance arches decorated with fountains, the Hall of the Ten Maidens, the “Great Hunt” corridor or the triclinium where Romans used to eat, together with the service rooms and the baths; the owner’s northern apartments, decorated with Ulysses and Polyphemus mosaic and the southern apartments, with mosaic representing Arion’s myth, the enchanting Room of Cupid and Psyche, are an open window on a time went by, on its colours and traditions. The huge secular Basilica was the administrative hub of the Villa, where the dominus (the owner) received his peers, resolved problems, or concluded his businesses.
The most famous Hall of the Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina is undoubtedly the Ten Maidens (or, informally, the “bikini girls”) room, where the mosaic represents ten girls dressed with costumes strongly reminding of our modern bikini, probably acting in a play dedicated to the Goddess Teti.
The roman Villa del Casale is totally embedded in a natural context full of suggestive sights.
The area is surrounded by the green Parco della Ronza; not far from the Villa there is the peaceful Reserve of Pergusa, with the last natural lake today surviving in Sicily, and therefore of fundamental geologic and environmental importance. The archaeological and cultural path goes on with two indispensable steps: ten kms away from Piazza Armerina the archaeological area of Morgantina and its famous Goddess (whose Greek statue was stolen and then sold to the Paul Ghetty Museum in Malibù and only recently given back to its proper location) await the tourists inside the Aidone museum for those who want to be enchanted by its unchanging beauty.