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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Roman Mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily, Italy

Sicily's Villa Romana del Casale is a remnant of a time when Rome dominated Sicily, and the economy was booming with exports of wheat and olives.  The villa is about the size of Bill Gate's house, around 30,000 square feet, with about 40 rooms.  A wealthy merchant built it to serve as his residence, but also as the thermal baths for the whole town. It's an amazing place to visit because almost every room has an elaborate, well-preserved Roman mosaic floor.

[See my two previous trip reports on Sicily here and here.]

In this small portion of a single giant mosaic (over two hundred feet long and fifteen feet across) we see the capture of wildebeest-like creature.  The subject of the whole mosaic is various big game captures for exhibition fights in a Roman arena.  In terms of scale, all of the mosaics contain approximately life-sized figures.  The segment below is about seven feet from top to bottom.


Note the interesting detail that they placed a wooden plank over the horns of the animal to prevent injuries to the handlers.

Things didn't always go smoothly...


The mosaics are amazingly well-preserved because the entire villa was engulfed by a mudslide around the year 1200 AD.  The The villa had been built in the early 4th century AD, and was rediscovered in the early 1900's.  The villa is near the town of Piazza Armerina.

In this segment of the same mosaic, an antelope and an ostrich are loaded onto a Roman ship.  I think it's cool how the color of the anchor changes to indicate that part of it is submerged.  Also, the clothes the people wear, and even the hull of the ship, were elaborately decorated.


From this section of the same mosaic, we can see that these Roman ships had both sails and oars.


Seeing this extreme luxury in an obscure, hilly region of Sicily, far from the coast, makes me wonder how many more piazzas like this were, or are, scattered among the hills of Sicily.

Again, in the same monumental game hunt mosaic, we see something that looks like a combination of a hippo and a rhinoceros being captured, while a dog splashes in the water. As in earlier parts of the mosaic, the submerged parts of the dog and rhino are colored grey.


Continuing along the same long mosaic, we come to this scene of a tiger mother (we can tell she is a mother by her nipples) looking at a reflective glass sphere in which shes sees a miniature reflection of herself.  The mother believes that she is seeing a tiger cub in the sphere.  The Romans used this tactic to distract a mother tiger while they captured her cubs.


This one seems to show the mother Tiger captured.


The mosaic below shows a successful fishing expedition.  I believe tuna are the large fish in the boat, but there are several other species depicted in detail, as well as a squid.  I can't decide what the spotted thing is supposed to be - maybe a type of ray?  It looks like the shore is bordered by some luxurious buildings.


I'll bring this post to an end with the bikinis of Villa Romana del Casale.  The entire floor of this room is covered in these larger-than-life-sized women participating in a tournament.


The winner receives a laurel branch on the left.



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