Today we arrived in Piazza Armerina to see the beautiful Villa del Casale. The air a foggy mist, it wasn't long before a friendly doggo emerged. This doggo was not ordinary and was obviously used to the like of tourists, and soon many a pet was given. After the brief encounter, the cohort got to work investigating what was left of what was once an incredible Roman "domus," or home.
The story of the Villa begins in 1st century, when the Roman empire began in 27 BCE. The building itself was built in the early 4th century. A fascinating maze of mosaics and marble, the Villa serves as an ode to the Greek life, a nod at the luxury and excess that oozed from the civilization. Historians believe that an important family or even an emperor may have owned the home, perhaps due to the tiled depiction of Hercules in the dining room; a godly comparison to a ruler. This villa in particular is the best preserved and contains the most mosaics in the Roman world. Located on a road between Agrigento and Catania, the villa is at the optimal place to serve as a pit stop for weary travelers.
We entered through the back of the home, past the bath rooms. In ancient Rome, bathing was no simple hygienic process. It was a social event, even public at times, including everything from conversation-oriented latrines to rubbing and dressing rooms. Guests would often be invited to bathe before dinner. The bathing rooms used the most innovative forms of technology for that time, with an aqueduct located near the house and a hypocaust system that warmed the floor with steam. This manipulation of natural resources is evidence of the Romans’ ability to control nature, a feat in any period of time.
The architecture of the villa can be condensed into two parts: pars urbana and pars rustica. The latter addresses the agricultural side of the working villa, whereas the former is composed of the leisure and entertainment. The Atrium, or peristyle, is a courtyard or garden of sorts located in the middle of the villa with an open roof. The focal point is a fountain, which serves as further evidence of the Roman specialization in water. This use of space defines the landscape’s role in a villa as a complimentary piece to the luxurious architecture.
The halls that line the atrium are tiled, depicting different beasts. The Great Hall was also tiled with several different animals, and one room is tiled in a hunting scene. The mosaics often serve as clues to the family that may have resided in the villa. A private entrance depicts a wife with children. More often than not, an extended part of the family as well as slaves would have lived in the gargantuan residence.
The most prominent part of today would have to be the social status that lived within the walls of the villa. We learned that despite all conquests, wars and politics, ancient Romans were still just as aware of their social output in history as we are today. Exploring the villa and interpreting its architecture may beg the question: what are we leaving the future to find, and what will they think? A masterpiece of grandiosity and splendor, the villa stands as evidence of a self-conscious lifestyle, perhaps most blatantly lived. What will the discovery of every mall, gas station and modern artwork leave future generations to believe of us, and is it what we want?
After leaving the villa, we stopped in Piazza Armerina for a traditional Italian lunch of several interesting appetizers, sausage and pork chops, potatoes and salad. The food was good, but the company may have been better. We rode on the bus for another few hours until our rainy arrival in Syracuse. As I type this, I can hear the ocean roaring from my window, and I’m pretty sure I heard it tell me to go eat dinner. Here’s to many more safe and exciting explorations to come!