Imperial Rome   :|:   Analysis

The roman Villa del Casale

ref. : en.1753.2018 | 14 November 2018 | by Francis Leveque
mosaïque | Middle of IVe century AD
Sicile ( Italie )
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This villa is one of the largest and most luxurious known in the Roman world. The marine theme is omnipresent but often simplified. It brings a pleasant and exotic theme in this site of the Sicilian hinterland.

The Casale villa is located in southern Sicily, near the town of Piazza Armerina. Its construction began at the end of the third century AD, but it covers another previous villa. Most decors seem to have been made in the years 320-350 AD. Its owner is unknown although it is likely that it belongs to the Senate and perhaps even the imperial family. The luxury of the building suggests that he certainly had an immense fortune.

The villa has thirty rooms decorated with mosaics for a total area of nearly 3500 m². Among its decors are the famous women in bikini but also many characters, geometric decorations, circus games, mythology, scenes of everyday life. The theme of the sea is very present, the owner has had many boats represented on several panels. Most of the walls were painted but the frescoes are almost all lost.

La villa

One entered this sumptuous residence by an external courtyard with portico via a vast and imposing vestibule. The route was obviously designed to impress visitors. The vestibule has a rectangular peristyle (a colonnade porch surrounding an open courtyard) of approximately 30x22m, oriented approximately east-west and has a beautiful fountain along the entire length.

The villa has only one ground floor. The spatial organization radiates around the peristyle. Beyond this peristyle we reach different rooms: the triclinium (dining room) illustrated by the twelve works of Hercules, a palestra, an atrium, many rooms. The baths were supplied with water by an aqueduct and heated by the system of the hypocaust (by the ground).

Patrimoni dell’Unesco - Piazza Armerina

It was damaged, maybe destroyed during the domination of the Vandals and the Visigoths, but the buildings remained in use, at least in part, during the Byzantine and Arab period. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the villa was fortified for defensive purposes by thickening the perimeter walls and closing of the arcades of the aqueduct to the baths.

The site was finally abandoned for good when a landslide covered the villa in the 12th century CE, and remaining inhabitants moved to the current location of Piazza Armerina.
The existence of the villa was almost entirely forgotten. Some of the tallest parts have always been above ground. And the area used for cultivation.

The boats in the villa

Some art historians have noted stylistic differences between the mosaic tile floors. mythological or allegorical scenes, like the poet arion surrounded by sea creatures in the chamber of arion (room 37), are more naturalistic than domestic or genre scenes, like the fishermen in the hall of cupids fishing (room 24). The realization may have been entrusted to different contemporary or successive workshops. In addition, the architectural program shows successive additions as evidenced by the room of the mosaic of women in bikinis that was made over another floor of geometric decorations.

Bibliography :

  • B. Pace, I mosaici di Piazza Armerina, G. Casini, Rome , 1955
  • H.-I. Marrou , Sur deux mosaïques de la villa romaine de Piazza Armerina, vol. 35, Christiana tempora. Mélanges d'histoire, d'archéologie, d'épigraphie et de patristique , Publications de l'École Française de Rome , 1978
  • A. Carandini, A. Ricci, M. De Vos, Filosofiana. La Villa del Casale di Piazza Armerina. Immagine di un aristocratico romano al tempo di Costantino, S.F. Faccovio, Palerme , 1982
  • R. J. A. Wilson, Piazza Armerina, Granada Verlag, Londres , 1983
  • P. C. Baum-vom Felde, Die geometrischen Mosaiken der Villa bei Piazza Armerina, Amburgo , 2003
  • B. Steger, Recherches sur l’iconographie des mosaïques de Piazza Armernai (thèse), Atelier national de reproduction des thèses, Lille , 2006
  • D. Bertolami, La Villa del Casale di Piazza Armerina, in I siti patrimonio dell'umanità, vol. 4, Experiences , 2015