Villa Romana del Casale & Piazza Amerina
This morning, I picked up a car to drive to the Roman ruins of Villa Romana del Casale. From there, I drove to the nearby Piazza Amerina, where I’m overnighting.
The rental car god smiled upon me. I got a car equipped with Apple CarPlay.
Despite the mishaps and Apple Map’s apparent desire to kill me during my Greece trip, I decided to give Apple Maps another chance. It didn’t try to kill me this time. Maybe it just couldn’t find any good opportunities today.
What I like about Apple Maps is I can say, “Hey, Siri. Plot a route to such and such a place,” and Siri does it. Although, I do have to be more specific than “such and such a place.” Siri doesn’t read minds. At least, not yet.
The point is, if I’m driving and I have to or want to change destinations, I can do that entirely by voice. I think I can get Google Maps to do that, but only by pressing a microphone icon on the screen. If there’s a way to do it solely by voice, I don’t know it. And trying to find a microphone icon on the screen situated off to the side on the dash while driving is not a recommended course of action for as nervous a driver as I am.
I am thankful that Apple Maps spared my life today, but I did have a qualm with it. It provides good advance warning of turns, but when it gets close, it says “turn here” well before the turn. That’s usually not a problem. It’s close enough that there typically isn’t another possible turn between where Apple Maps says “turn here” and the turn I’m supposed to take. Plus, the display shows an accurate countdown of the metres to the correct turn.
But, just for example, if, say, there are two turns close together and I don’t look at the display, it’s possible that I could take the first one when I’m supposed to take the second. Yes, that is a very specific example, isn’t it?
The drive from Agrigento to Villa Romana del Casale involved a lot of roundabouts. Of course, that’s not Apple Maps’ fault, but I hate roundabouts. Apple Maps says something to the effect of, “At the roundabout, take the second exit, toward Wheresittown.”
The problem is, I never saw any names on any of the signs on the roundabouts with the destinations Apple Maps told me, so I had to count exits. That’s fine unless, for example, say, one of the streets connected to the roundabout is one-way onto the roundabout. If I don’t notice that, I might, say, count it as an exit and then turn off one exit too soon. Again, yes, that’s a rather specific example.
Also, Apple Maps doesn’t know about, for example, say, streets that are temporarily closed. Then again, one cannot expect it to know about all short-term closures. I doubt Google Maps would do any better in those situations.
The upshot is it took me a little longer to get to Villa Romana del Casale than expected, about two hours instead of one and a half.
Villa Romana del Casale
I read in a tour book that Villa Romana del Casale is “one of the world’s finest remnants of the Roman Empire.” I don’t know enough about remnants of the Roman Empire to confirm or refute that. But I’ve seen a few Roman ruins in my travels. And Villa Romana del Casale probably has the most complete set of in situ mosaic floors I remember ever seeing. Most of the walls, although not their decorative coverings, are also intact.
The original roof isn’t there. Instead, there is now a more modern roof overtop the site. I imagine that’s to protect the walls and, particularly, the mosaic floors from further damage from the elements. Or to protect the paying customers from further damage from the elements. Or both. Whatever.
Nobody knows who owned the villa, but whoever it was must have been quite wealthy and/or powerful. It contains many rooms, including residential rooms, administrative areas, conference rooms, sports rooms (including a gymnasium), baths, various support facilities, and a basilica.
I don’t know if the currently standing walls in the villa still stand at the full height they rose to back in the day, but they are tall enough that they might. The walls are built mostly with irregularly shaped, large stones joined with mortar. In a couple of rooms, regular-shaped cuboid* stone bricks top the walls. I assume those formed the top of the original wall. Since the height of the existing walls are fairly consistent from room-to-room, except in the basilica, which is taller, I’m going to guess that’s the original height.
(*Cuboid meaning a three-dimensional rectangle, but not, in this case, a three-dimensional square. The cuboid stones looked about the size and shape of bricks typically used in North American brick homes.)
Tile Mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale
The Villa Romana del Casale is probably best know for the tile mosaics on its floors. They decorate the floors of every room I saw inside the villa, except one. A sign by that room said that it originally had tile mosaics, but they disappeared.
The tile mosaics vary from very close to complete in some rooms, to missing large sections in others. Designs include pictures of people, sporting events, hunting events, mythological creatures, or geometric shapes. Most of the designs are quite elaborate. Some tell stories.
Some rooms have a few small portions of frescos, mostly near the base of the walls. Higher up, the frescos are no longer there except for a few small fragments. Placards (in both Italian and English) in the villa say there used to be more frescos on the walls.
View From On High
Above, I said that the existing walls are high enough that they might be the original height. That’s the height from which I viewed the rooms and the tile mosaics on their floors. There are modern-day walkways on top of the walls. Visitors to the Villa Romana del Casale traverse the villa on those walkways.
The walkways are wider than the width of the walls. And they have thick wooden handrails atop about waist-high walls. For most of the way, those waist-high walls are opaque, although there are glass panels, where appropriate. That was sufficient to keep my acrophobia in check.
Statues in the Basilica of Villa Romana del Casale
Inside the villa’s basilica stand two large statues. They look like they could have been from Roman times and are worse for wear as a result of their age. One lacks its head and arms. The other lacks just its arms.
I said they look like they could have been pulled out of some ruins, but they weren’t. When I got up closer, I read the sign near them. It said that an artist named Igor Mitoraj made them. He sculpted one in 1996 and the other in 1998. I bet he unveiled them on April 1st. Okay, you got me, Igor. You got me.
Piazza Amerina is about a fifteen minute drive from Villa Romana del Casale. I booked a hotel there so I wouldn’t have to drive too much any one day of this trip.
When I read that “Piazza Amerina” is a location for hotels near Villa Romana del Casale, I thought, “Piazza, that means public square in English, right?” I figured it would be a few hotels and restaurants clustered around a public square. It didn’t sound too exciting, but—I know this will come as a surprise—I’m not an exciting guy.
I was wrong. Not about “piazza” translating to “public square” in English. I was right about that. Also, not about me not being an exciting guy. I’m right about that too. But Piazza Amerina is more than just a public square. (Although it has a few small ones.) It’s a whole, fair-sized medieval hill town.
(Full disclosure, I knew that it was more than just a public square with some buildings around it before I came here. But that was my thought when I first read the name.)
I mean medieval in a temporal, not pejorative sense. Most of the buildings in the town date from the Middle Ages (but not all; see below).
It’s amazing. Narrow cobblestone streets, stairways, and lanes plot seemingly random routes through the town. The buildings are mostly of stone and mortar construction. And, being a hill town, some of the views are spectacular, including from my hotel room.
Speaking of those roads. Keep in mind, the town was laid out in the Middle Ages. It’s designers didn’t have cars in mind. Driving here is, to stretch sarcasm almost to the breaking point, fun.
There aren’t a lot of tourist attractions here, and some of those that do exist close Mondays. Guess what day this is? For a clue to that, remember this is me writing. Luck and I don’t have a close personal relationship.
To be honest, I wasn’t terribly disappointed about attractions being closed. I thoroughly enjoyed just walking around this medieval town.
That being said, not everything was closed. The town’s cathedral and a small next-door museum were open today. I visited both.
Actually, the cathedral isn’t one of the medieval buildings.
According to wikipedia, it was constructed in 17th and early 18th centuries on the foundations of a 15th century church. So, its foundations might just barely squeak in as medieval, but not the building.
Remember yesterday when I said I thought the cathedral in Agrigento overreached in calling itself a Cathedral. The Piazza Amerina Cathedral doesn’t. It’s certainly not the largest or most dazzling cathedral I’ve ever seen. But it does qualify as a cathedral in the Joel Klebanoff Ecclesiastical Architecture Taxonomy. And, let me just say, that when they become acquainted with it, some of the most senior of theology, architecture, and art history scholars, along with all of the lesser lights in those fields will mock my taxonomy viciously and roundly.
(In case you’re wondering, to the best of my recollection, the largest cathedral I’ve seen is the Duomo di Milan. And, without any doubt whatsoever, to my tastes, the most dazzling is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It’s not even close.)
The museum I went into tells the story of the history and protohistory of the region, including the Villa Romana del Casale. It uses text (in Italian and English), short videos triggered by someone walking by them (Italian audio, English subtitles), and artifacts to tell that story.
The museum is quite small, so it doesn’t come close to telling that complete story. Enough said.
By the way, the building the museum is in also doesn’t date from the Middle Ages, but I don’t know its vintage.
Oh, and the streets of Piazza Amerina? They’re particularly delightful at night.
Oh, my goodness! Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! Stunning Roman artifacts and to die for picturesque town. This is probably my favourite so far this trip, but I am not there, am I? You are. Aren’t you glad you drove there? Can’t wait to see what you get into tomorrow. Drive safely. Tell Siri I am counting on her. And I know her number.