|Mosaics of Roman Villa of Casale|
The Villa Romana del Casale is located about 5km outside the town of Piazza Armerina it is the richest, largest and most complex collection of late Roman mosaics in the world. The Villa Romana del Casale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Villa Romana del Casale was constructed on the remains of an older villa in the first quarter of the fourth century, probably as the centre of a huge latifundium covering the entire surrounding area. How long the villa kept this role is not known, maybe for less that 150 years, but the complex remained inhabited and a village grew around it, named Platia, derived from palatium. It was damaged, maybe destroyed during the domination of the Vandals and the Visigoths, but the buildings remained in use, at least in part, during the Byzantine and Arab period. The site was finally abandoned for good when a landslide covered the villa in the 12th century CE, and remaining inhabitants moved to the current location of Piazza Armerina
The existence of the villa was almost entirely forgotten (some of the tallest parts have always been above ground) and the area used for cultivation. Pieces of mosaics and some columns were found early in the 19th century, and some excavations were carried out later in that century, but the first serious excavations were performed by Paolo Orsi in 1929, and later by Giuseppe Cultrera in 1935-39. The latest major excavations were in the period 1950-60 by Gino Vinicio Gentile after which the current cover was build. A few very localised excavations have been performed in the 1970s by Andrea Carandini. .
In late antiquity most of the Sicilian hinterland was partitioned into huge agricultural estates called "latifundia" (sing. "latifundium"). The size of the villa and the amount and quality of the artwork indicate that the villa was the main centre of such a latifundium, whose owner was probably a member of senatorial class if not of the imperial family itself, i.e., the absolute upper class of the Roman Empire.
The villa has served several purposes. The villa contained some rooms that were clearly residential, others that certainly had representative purposes and a number of rooms whose intended use cannot be discerned today, though they are definitely not for production purposes. As such the villa would probably have been the permanent or semi-permanent residence of the owner; it would have been where the owner, in his role as patron, would receive his local clients; and it would have been the administrative centre of the latifundium.
Currently only the manorial parts of the complex have been excavated. The ancillary structures, housing for the slaves, workshops, stables etc, have not yet been located.
The villa was a single-story building, centred around the peristyle, around which almost all the main public and private rooms were organised. Entrance to the peristyle is via the atrium from the W., with the thermal baths to the NW., service rooms and probably guest rooms to the N., private apartments and a huge basilica to the E., and rooms of unknown purpose to the S. Somewhat detached, almost as an afterthought, is the separate area to the S. with the elliptical peristyle, service rooms and a huge triclinium.