The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 14

18th May 2015

5.30 am

Oh sweet baby Jesus, that alarm is early. My bus to Piazza Armerina leaves in one hour. Thankfully I deliberately sacrificed a nicer hotel for a spartan one situated a short walk from the bus terminals. This gives me ample time to puke in the bathroom sink, apparently. Terrified that I’ve caught some horrible disease from my mosquito bites the day before my flight home, I nevertheless decide to drag myself to the bus terminal and force myself to Piazza Armerina, refusing to spend another afternoon cooped up in the hotel watching Grey’s Anatomy dubbed into Italian like I did yesterday afternoon. It will be worth it. I hope. And the weather seems to have cleared up, the storm clouds having spent themselves out overnight.

The journey from Catania to Piazza Armerina takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. Arrival at Piazza Aremina can be confusing, especially as everyone else on the bus was a Sicilian using the service to commute. Don’t expect an announcement that you’ve arrived at the right place and don’t assume that the stop is at a terminal. I miss my stop and have to walk back to it, if you’re going to Armerina as a tourist, get off at the large square that has a yellow petrol station.

From there you can catch a minibus service that shuttles you to arguably the only reason to visit at all, the Villa Romana del Casale.

The villa is late 3rdC AD and evidently belonged to someone with wealth and status. Landslides covered up the entire complex in the 12thC and it wasn’t rediscovered until the 1920s. What archaeologists found was a collection of mosaics so beautiful and masterfully created that they’ve become world famous.

When I visit, only the triclinium seems to be closed off. Not bad considering how many things I’ve been blocked from so far on the trip…

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The octagonal frigidarium, the cold pool of the private baths

The octagonal frigidarium, the cold pool of the private baths

Slaves depicted on the floor of the massage room where they would have worked.

Slaves depicted on the floor of the massage room where they would have worked.

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The Palaestra. The floor is designed to show a chariot race featuring the four teams competing in the Circus Maximus

The peristyle

The peristyle

The highly decorated floors of the porticoes around the peristyle

The highly decorated floors of the porticoes around the peristyle

Mosaic floor of the 'Room of the Dance' - a guest bedroom

Mosaic floor of the ‘Room of the Dance’ – a guest bedroom

The Room of the Fishing Cupids - part of the guest wing

The Room of the Fishing Cupids – part of the guest wing

The Diaeta of the Small Game Hunt - a south facing winter living room

The Diaeta of the Small Game Hunt – a south facing winter living room

Detail of the Small Game Hunt depicting a wild boar. I adore the expression of the man at the top...

Detail of the Small Game Hunt depicting a wild boar. I adore the expression of the man at the top…

The Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt separates the peristyle from the Basilica and the private quarters of the owners

The Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt separates the peristyle from the Basilica and the private quarters of the owners. It depicts exotic animals from all over the empire being captured and transported to Ostia

Ostriches being loaded onto a ship at Carthage

Ostriches being loaded onto a ship at Carthage

A rhino being captured on the Nile Delta

A rhino being captured on the Nile Delta

An  elephant being loaded onto a ship at Alexandria

An elephant being loaded onto a ship at Alexandria

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A tiger and a gryphon are caught in India

A tiger and a gryphon are caught in India

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The Vestibule of the Little Circus - an amusing image of chariot racing, only with birds instead of horses. The four factions are represented by child charioteers

The Vestibule of the Little Circus – an amusing image of chariot racing, only with birds instead of horses. The four factions are represented by child charioteers

A semicircular atrium with an impluvium for collecting rainwater

A semicircular atrium with an impluvium for collecting rainwater

The portico around the semicircular atrium depicts cupids fishing

The portico around the semicircular atrium depicts cupids fishing

Vestibule of Eros and Pan

Vestibule of Eros and Pan

The Diaeta of Arion - the private living room of the mistress of the house features a beautifully intricate depiction of the myth of Arion. Arion was a bard from Lesbos who, whilst travelling by sea, was robbed and beaten by the sailors. They granted him one last wish and Arion asked to play his lyre one last time. The music he produced was so beautiful that dolphins were attracted to the noise. Arion threw himself into the sea where the dolphins saved him and took him to safety on the Peloponnese.

The Diaeta of Arion – the private living room of the mistress of the house features a beautifully intricate depiction of the myth of Arion. Arion was a bard from Lesbos who, whilst travelling by sea, was robbed and beaten by the sailors. They granted him one last wish and Arion asked to play his lyre one last time. The music he produced was so beautiful that dolphins were attracted to the noise. Arion threw himself into the sea where the dolphins saved him and took him to safety on the Peloponnese.

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Arion doing his thang

Arion doing his thang

This vestibule depicts Ulysses (the Latin name for Odysseus,) offering the cyclops Polyphemus wine. Once drunk, Ulysses  will blind Polyphemus in retribution for devouring some of his shipmates.

This vestibule depicts Ulysses (the Latin name for Odysseus,) offering the cyclops Polyphemus wine. Once drunk, Ulysses will blind Polyphemus in retribution for devouring some of his shipmates.

The Basilica, the largest room in the house, is where the master would conduct official business

The Basilica, the largest room in the house, is where the master would conduct official business

Cubicle with an erotic scene

Cubicle with an erotic scene

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The villa has a shop and cafeteria area, it’s well worth buying the hefty guidebook by Luciano Catullo to help you make sense of the villa and the mosaics. Otherwise there is a little collection of stalls and food trucks by the coach car park for small, cheap souvenirs and panini.

If, like me, you’re travelling independently, the shuttlebus back to Piazza Armerina will pick you up at the same bus stop as you were dropped off. A nice little touch is that it also has a little stop outside the cathedral of Piazza Armerina for your daily dose of Baroque.

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