Villa Imperiale Del Casale – Piazza Amerina
Open Apr – Sept 8.00am to 6.00pm, rest of the year 8.00am to 5.00pm
The Villa Imperiale, 5.5 km SW of modern town. The villa is the World’s most important Roman building complex dating from the late 3C and the beginning of 4C AD which houses the World’s largest Roman mosaic. Fortuitously preserved under a mudslide from 1161 (mentioned in Norman chronicles) until 1950 it has now been meticulously excavated and displayed.
A marvellously luxurious hunting lodge / country mansion, it was built for one of the wealthiest men in the Roman Empire, almost certainly Maximian (Maximianus Herculeus), co Emperor with Diocletian -as part of a Tetrarchy- between 286 and 305 AD. The Tetrarchy, constituted by Diocletian, consisted of two ‘Emperors’ (of the East and of the West) and two ‘Cesars’ (army generals chosen on their merits). Both Emperors thought themselves divine, Diocletian to be an incarnation of Jupiter, while Maximian one of Hercules (hence the large mosaic of the tasks of Hercules in the villa), both were avid persecutors of Christians.
The floors of almost the entire building (62 rooms, 3,550 sqm) are covered with bright mosaics (30 million mosaic ‘Tesserae’,in 37 colours: 21natural stone and 16 vitreous paste) of excellent quality, stylistically belonging to an early 4th C Roman -African school - there are circus scenes, great vivid hunting scenes, families going to the baths, wild chariot races, extraordinary sea - nymphs and cherubs spearing swordfish and octopus, Hercules fighting the giants, children’s' hunts. By far the best known mosaic is the bikini-clad girls doing gymnastics (it was actually printed by the Sun newspaper a couple of years ago with the headline: "It was not Ursula Andress, Romans wore bikinis first” but the most noteworthy is the 40m long corridor depicting the hunting of exotic beasts for the Circus in Rome, it has to be seen to be believed.