Villa Romana del Casale was built as a country villa or hunting lodge for an important but unknown Roman. The villa was built in the first part of the C4th, on top of an earlier villa inhabited from C1st to late C3rd. The villa was at the centre of a huge rural estate, or latifundium. This was a high status building even by Roman standards, although no one knows who the owner was. It would have belonged to the absolute upper crust of Roman society. At the very least the owner may have been a member of the senatorial class if not the imperial family. There is a suggestions that it could have been the home of either Lucius Aradius Valerius Proculus, Governor of Sicily between 327 and 331 and Consul in 340. Another suggestion is that it was the country retreat of Marcus Aurelius Maximus, Co-emperor with Diocletian between 286-305AD.
After the fall of Rome, the villa continued in use until the site was abandoned when it was covered by a massive mud slide in 1194. The survivors moved to the nearby settlement of Piazza Armerina. The site was almost entirely forgotten and the area was cultivated. In the C19th some mosaics and columns were found. The first official excavations took place in 1929 with a major excavation in 1950-60. Excavations are still on going and it is estimated about 70% of the site is waiting to be excavated.
To date about 50 rooms have been uncovered and this is one of the largest and best preserve villas to be found anywhere in the Roman Empire. It has the largest collection of mosaics in the world as well as remains of wall paintings. Much of the villa is protected by glass roofs and there are raised walkways around the site.
It is an impressive site, built round a central peristyle.. On one side is the Basillica with the baths off the opposite side. The family rooms, guest rooms and servants quarters are down either side.
The most impressive feature are the mosaics which have survived in remarkable condition. Those in the servant quarters are simple geometric patterns. The family and guest rooms have images of flowers, animals, gods etc. Particularly notable are those in the Hall of the Great Hunt which depict hunting scenes with armed hunters capturing wild animals (tigers, ostriches, elephants, antelopes and even rhinoceroses) which are then loaded onto galleys or ox carts to be taken back to Rome
The famous ‘bikini girls’ in the private quarters has female gymnasts undertaking different sports including throwing the discus, running and ball games. A girl in a toga is offering the victors crown and palm to the winner.
This is a huge site and needs several hours to fully appreciate it. There are signs explaining the different rooms and the mosaics. I began by joining the guided tour with our guide but soon gave up. The villa can get very crowded and walkways are narrow, I found it difficult to keep up and hear what he was saying. I wandered at my own speed enjoying the wonderful mosaics and taking pictures.
There are LOTS more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_four/index.html