"Piazza Amerina - A floor fit for an emperor" Top 5 Page for this destination Sicilia Things to Do Tip by TheWanderingCamel
Sicilia Things to Do: 200 reviews and 512 photos
Deep in a valley a few kilometres outside the hilltop town of Piazza Amerina, right in the middle of Sicily, is where you'll find the most important Roman site on the island. No-one knows who commissioned the work, the Emperor Maximian is the favoured choice, but whoever it was, he certainly spared no expense when it came to choosing his floor coverings. Virtually every room in the Villa Imperiale del Casale is covered with mosaics of the highest quality and workmanship. Over 3000 square metres of them cover the floors in rooms and corridors of every shape and size.
Virtually every aspect of Roman life is depicted here - scenes of quiet domesticity, the drama of the circus, rural pursuits such as hunting, fishing and the grape harvest, gods and heroes, feasts and fights. A formal frieze of incredibly lifelike animal heads runs around all four sides of the great peristilium. Most dramatic of all is the 60 metre long corridor of the Great Hunt - a truly fabulous scene of the hunt and capture of wild animals for the games the Romans loved so much - lions, elephants, rhinos and hippos, wonderful leopards and panthers and a brilliantly rendered tiger. The vigour with which both men and beasts are portrayed is remarkable.
History records this marvellous place, built in the early years of the 4th century, survived well into the 12th century until a massive landslip buried it beneath 10 metres of mud. Although rediscovered in the late 18th century, it wasn't excavated until the 1950s. Wonderfully preserved by the mud that covered them, the mosaics had survived virtually intact and in remarkable condition. It's something of a pity then that the edifice that has been constructed around the mosaics is so unsatisfactory.
The steel-framed perspex-roofed, glass-walled structure heats up like an oven under Sicily's remorseless summer sun, and the lack of ventilation coupled with hordes of tourists passing through turns it into a veritable sauna. Highly unpleasant for visitors and worryingly damaging to the mosaics. To add to the woes of visitors, the combination of bright sunlight and steel framing casts a grid of deep shadows over whole sections of the mosaics -these show up even darker in photos than they do in reality, making photography a disappointing exercise.
Major reconstruction work has turned the villa into something of a building site this year (2008), with large areas blocked off, and just to top it off, the decision was taken recently to close the villa one day a week - the day we turned up for our first visit! So, although the guide books say it's open every day - now it's closed on Mondays. Given the detour we (and others, looking as disconsolate as us) took to get there, we were not impressed!
We did return, and were glad we did - the mosaics are fantastic, and we did have a wonderful meal at the nearby La Ruota restaurant. Piazza Amerina is an attractive town, with some fine buildings and great views. My advice though would be to
a) check that the site is open
b) get there as early in the morning as you possibly can to avoid both the crowds and the heat, and
c) and this could be difficult - choose an overcast day to avoid those intrusive shadows.
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