sicily | piazza armerina | villa romana del casale

 you may be familiar with the famous mosaic tile floor of ten female athletes, nicknamed the ‘bikini girls’, from the villa romana del casale, a 4th century roman villa located near piazza armerina in central sicily.*

mosaic tile floor | room of girls in bikinis (sala ragazze in bikini) | room 30
villa romana del casale | 4th century | piazza armerina, sicily

photo credit wtfarthistory.com

the villa romana del casale is the most impressive archaeological site that my husband, bob, and i have ever visited.

unesco describes the mosaics from the villa romana del casale as:

‘the finest mosaics in situ anywhere in the roman world.’

the mosaics are exceptional not only for their quality, but also for their quantity.  a spectacular mosaic tile floor, called the ambulatory of the great hunt, covers the 200 foot (60 meter) long passageway that connects the reception, private, and utility areas of the villa romana del casale.  the mosaics depict the capture and transport of ferocious and exotic animals to rome for the hunts that preceded gladiator events.

mosaic tile floor | hall of the great hunt (corridoio della grande caccia) | room 28
villa romana del casale | 4th century | piazza armerina, sicily

photo credits unesco and lisa walsh | innerspace

the mosaics are so exceptional, and the villa romana del casale is so large, that some scholars speculate that it could have been an imperial commission.**  so far, 46 rooms, totaling 43000 square feet (4000 square meters), have been excavated.

the prevalent opinion among scholars and art historians is that the villa romana del casale was built during the 4th century, between 327 and 357.***  and, that both the building and the decoration, which also includes interior and exterior frescos, are from the late roman period.

yet, 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).  could they have been designed by the same people?

 mosaic tile floor | chamber of arion (diaeta di arione) | room 37

villa romana del casale | 4th century | piazza armerina, sicily

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

mosaic tile floor | atrium of cupids fishing (atrio delgi amorini pescatori) | room 24

villa romana del casale | 4th century | piazza armerina, sicily

 photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

in addition, the mosaic tile floors in the triclinium (room 36) look different than the floors in the rest of the residence.  could they have been installed later?  maybe.

some scholars argue that the villa could have been constructed in phases:  1.  the rectangular peristyle (rooms 11-31, 35, 37-46)  2.  the bath complex (rooms 3-10)  3.  the entrance (rooms 1-2) and the oval peristyle (rooms 32-34, 36)****

floor plan | villa romana del casale | 4th century | piazza armerina, sicily

photo credit lasiciliainrete.it

could that explain why the ‘bikini girls’ were installed over a geometric patterned mosaic tile floor?  the room of girls in bikinis (room 30) is located adjacent to the oval peristyle.  could the ‘bikini girls’ have been part of the final expansion?

geometric mosaic tile floor | under the room of girls in bikinis (sala ragazze in bikini) | room 30
villa romana del casale | 4th century | piazza armerina, sicily

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

as an interior designer, i am less interested in the ‘bikini girls’ and more interested in the geometric patterns.  the geometric patterns are a textile designer’s dream!

cubicle of fruit (cubicolo della frutta) | room 45


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duralee|highland court | lalique rayon/silk fabric | 800249H-720


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martyn lawrence bullard | mamounia linen fabric | MLB2314

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photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, duralee|highland court and martyn lawrence bullard
cubicle of cupid and psyche (cubicolo della scena erotica) | room 46

 

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did you notice the fresco remnants on the wall?

holland & sherry | ringlet linen/wool fabric | DE11843

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kelly wearstler|groundworks | ombre maze viscose/linen fabric | GWF-2806.416

medallions

 

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 photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace,holland & sherry and kelly wearstler|groundworks

the field patterns and borders in the utility rooms are as interesting as the mosaic tile floors in the master’s apartments.

utility room (sala mosaico a ottagoni) | room 26

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photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

utility room (sala mosaico a quadrati) | room 27

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photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

what textiles (or trim) could you design from the mosaic patterns?

footnotes

*sicily became the first roman province in 227 BCE, and remained part of the roman empire until 395 CE.

**some scholars think that the villa romana del casale was commissioned by emperor maximanus (r. 286-305) or his son, maxentius (r. 306-312), between 290 and 312.  villaromanadelcasale.it

***the gymnasium mosaics (room 15), which feature the circus maximus in rome, could indicate that the villa romana del casale was built between 327 and 357.  emperor augustus (r. 31 BCE-14 CE) installed an obelisk in the center of the circus maximus in 10 CE.  in 327, the obelisk was moved to the perimeter of the circus maximus to make room for a larger obelisk, which was installed by emperor constantius II (r. 337-361) in 357.  the villa romana del casale gymnasium mosaics only have one obelisk, which is located on the perimeter of the circus maximus.  so, some scholars believe that the villa romana del casale was built between 327 and 357 CE.  villaromanadelcasale.it

****the floor plan of the villa romana del casale is unusual because the orientation of the the rectangular peristyle (rooms 11-31, 35, 37-46) and the oval peristyle (rooms 32-34, 36) are not axial.  a coin, dating to 355-361, was found in the west wall of the foundation of the oval peristyle.  so, some scholars believe that that the oval peristyle was built later than the rectangular peristyle or the bath complex.  villaromanadelcasale.it

click here or here for more information about the villa romana del casale.

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