A groundhog moment……frustrating, soul destroying, bringing out a short but vicious stream of invective from within; words I didn’t know I actually knew. As quickly as the embarrassing shameful outburst occurred, it was over and apologies proffered. Not that we were going anywhere, for we were resoundingly wedged. Couldn’t move forward, couldn’t reverse backwards. Stuck!
Moral of the day? Don't rely on the Satnav and get the very, very, best detailed map you can find. Welcome to the wonderful but terribly confusing medieval streets of Piazza Armerina in central highland Sicily.
With no disrespect to the place, we hadn’t intended on visiting its central piazza or getting lost in its myriad of narrow cobbled streets; we certainly didn’t intend on escaping from said confusion only to find ourselves re-routed back into the very streets we had escaped, not once, but twice more! Truth be known, we lost just over an hour driving a 2 km course – three times! A sinister ‘groundhog day’ experience.
On the second occasion down the 'barely a car width' street, enclosed by tall old medieval terraced housing, we had worked out the need to pull in the wing mirrors giving us an inch grace either side. We had learned by the third time not to flinch or give an inch to oncoming small vegetable selling open backed, flat-bed, fiat vans either!
I have no idea how the car changed gears on the second and third tour, given I felt I had already stripped the clutch reversing back up said medieval narrow streets on the first encounter! Residents must have been laughing themselves silly taking bets on which nationality these idiot tourists were........clearly British - we kept persisting!
With fairness, once we had managed to find the correct turning out of the square, the town’s medieval splendour unfolded before us but by then we were rather ungraciously non-accepting of this splendid treat! Our primary destination had been the Roman Villa and the stunning mosaics. We had left ever so early our hotel in Ragusa Ibla some 140 km back south to ensure that we got there before crowds developed, for this is a stunning UNESCO world heritage site.
Getting caught up in nearby Piazza Amerina, well, it was frustrating to say the least..................
Villa del Romana La Casale is set in what would have been a verdant green, peaceful idyllic valley, surrounded by high hills with a small river running below it in roman times.
There are insufficient superlatives to describe this place, if like me you are into Roman history. If you aren't well it's just some walls and mosaics!
But believe me it is worth a visit because when you transport yourself back in time and picture what it must have been like, stunning does not do it justice. This beats what I have seen in Pompeii in sheer grandeur and scale.
The Basilicata alone where the Dominus received his guests was huge with a large dome at one end and a throne on which he would have sat. The floor was entirely marble slab mosaics so intricately cut. The walls were marble from floor to half way up and then lavishly painted murals. It would have struck visitors with awe, wonder, fear, surprise, delight and certainly announced the wealth and patronage of the host.
62 rooms, 4100 square metres, 120 million small mosaic tesserae, taking a team of North African craftsmen an estimated 21,000 hours, based on an average mosaic worker taking six days to complete one square metre of flooring.
This was the dwelling of the refined upper class, grown rich from agricultural produce across a twenty thousand hectare estate. The statistics are truly eye watering.
This was once a covered water garden. Central fountains sprayed water delicately over the sides of the courtyard. The water garden marble floor is gently sloping. On it were large tubs containing water loving plants. A low wall around the perimeter created a submerged water garden effect that would have cooled the interior of the this large villa. This was the first thing greeting visitors to this palace.
On all sides of the enclosed water garden, corridors lined with hunting mosaics. The low wall separating garden from corridors, marble lined.
The villa's exact origins are open to debate. Some scholars claim it originates between 4th and 5th century AD and belonged to the Roman Senator Rufio Albio, Consul in 335AD. Other scholars see it differently, dating from between the 3rd and 4th century AD and it being the imperial residence of Emperor Maximian Herculius who came here for his game hunting and partying. Now a little known fact I feel but as a very part time stand in history teacher whose favourite topic is the 'Romans', I believe duty bound to share with you, is that he was one of two Caesars, part of the concept of Tetrarchy, a new form of government in which one Caesar ruled the western empire, whilst the other one ruled the eastern empire. Jointly they would have ruled the entire Roman Empire at that time and to coin a well known phrase from British TV ‘Not a lot of people know that!’
Off the central enclosed water garden courtyard a ring of guest rooms, each with lavish wall murals (few have survived) and intricate mosaic floors
Each mosaic had some form of symbolism, showing of the seasons, aspects of the natural world, all based on estate lands
A Guest room portraying hunting, food gathering and preparation on the estate
The world famous 'bikini girls'
women athletes who performed sporting games for the entertainment of visitors to the villa
Interestingly this mosiac was placed over the top of another more earlier geometric designed floor
Interior small fountains to bring cool, refreshing moist air to the interior during the hot Sicilian summer months
Children jockeys, turkey racing!
Occasional glimpses of what survives of the wall murals. In its time this must have been an extraordinary site
The master's bedroom - his bed was in the small alcove to the rear; the front portion would have been resting, living space for reflection, private entertaining............
I guess its central mosaic design says it all really!
Needless to say, it was the best €10 per person I have spent in a long time! Below are some of the stunning mosaics uncovered and restored. Such a record of how life was like for the wealthy patricians of Roman Society. Enjoy the remaining mosaic images from the forty foot long corridor at the rear of the villa between guest quarters, Basilicata and family rooms..............................
Historians believe this depicts some of the family who owned this villa
Hunting scenes from estate life
scenes from the corridor showing life, roman trade and empire
Historians believe that this is the dominus, the original owner of the villa
The roman empire spread across the Mediterranean. Trade was extensive, even with people from the far east
If you do some detective work with the images, you will be surprised how much you find out about life in the roman empire....maybe some things you didn't know before!!