Wrapping up this short Sicily series with Piazza Armerina. If you have missed the previous posts, you can catch up here.
After exploring Palermo in the northwest and Ortigia in the southeast, we headed to the province of Enna in the centre of Sicily.
The medieval town of Piazza Armerina developed around the 11th century, during the Norman conquest of Sicily. However, the city of Piazza (as it was called till the mid-19th century) has a history that goes back to the Roman times, as is evidenced by the impressive Villa Romana del Casale.
We arrived by bus from Ortigia. (A note about travelling around Sicily - unlike the northern and central parts of Italy, where trains are the best mode of getting around, in the south they are not so reliable or well-connected. Buses are the best way of travelling within Sicily, unless of course you rent a car.)
What to See
Piazza Armerina's historical town centre is quite compact and most of the important sights are within walking distance. Lose the map and just wander around the alleys...
... admiring some pretty Baroque and Renaissance townhouses...
... bumping into locals...
... and eventually you will arrive at the majestic 18th-century Duomo di Piazza Armerina.
The Cathedral was built on the remains of a 15th-century church, and the Gothic style windows inside the current cathedral are originals from the old church.
Some more ambling will bring you to the 14th-century Aragonese Castle, a squat square-shaped fort with square towers.
There are more churches to see in Piazza Armerina, and some lovely palazzos, not to mention the Renaissance building of Garibaldi Theatre.
A bit further outside the town stands a (purportedly) 18th-century public laundry with 18 stone basins, covered with a pavilion roof.
Next to the laundry is the public water fountain, still gushing out potable water from the river Gela. The spouts arise from the mouths of four fierce-looking sandstone masks, which are said to be the likenesses of Bourbon kings.
Villa Romana del Casale
The jewel in Piazza Armerina's crown is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Villa Romana del Casale (Roman Country Villa), a 4th-century villa and estate. The villa is located 6 kilometres outside Piazza Armerina - there are regular buses ferrying visitors during the summer months, otherwise you can rent a car to take you there.
The villa was built as an agricultural estate and a village grew around it, till it was abandoned in the 12th century after a landslide buried the entire area. In the mid 20th-century archaeological excavations unearthed remains of the villa, and along with it, the richest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world.
We visited the villa expecting to see a few mosaics amongst the ruins. We were completely unprepared for the sheer magnitude, variety and artistry of the mosaics. Entire floors are covered with mosaics depicting everything from hunting expeditions to children's pastimes.
The huge villa is divided into large rooms, each with a different function, and decorated accordingly. So the main rooms have rich, coloured mosaics, while the kitchen and servants' area are slightly less decorative.
Some mosaics depict the daily life of Roman aristocracy while others show scenes from mythology.
My favourite mosaic was 'the bikini girls', which depicts sporty young women lifting weights, throwing the discus, running etc. Feminism was alive & well back then, it seems!
Where to stay
We booked a room at La Casa Del Marchese (the Marquis' house), a 15th-century former stately home called Palazzo Demani dei Trigona di Canicarao. We found the home via Visiting Sicily (read more about them in my previous post on Palermo). Our hostess, Iva picked us up from the bus station, along with her journalist friend Roberta, who was our translator, as Iva doesn't speak much English.
The house is located in the centre of the old town, and most of the attractions are at a walking distance. The entrance is through a pretty private garden, and the 'lobby' is very tastefully done up. In fact that's true of the entire house, which is recently renovated.
There's a large living room, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and 1 atelier (perfect for artists and creative folks). There's a lovely terrace as well. We were the only guests (summer is very touristy, autumn is a better time to visit Piazza Armerina), and pretty much had the run of the house. Little personal touches around the house, lots of Sicilian art and a warm hostess - our one-night stay at La Casa Del Marchese was a lovely way to end our Sicilian sojourn.
Iva had also generously arranged for a dinner for us, with lots of Sicilian specialities such as Moscato and Corte della Seta wines, piacentino cheese from Enna (a rare cheese produced only in Sicily, with a striking yellow colour, and studded with whole black peppercorns), muffaletta sandwiches made with a round sesame bread, local spicy salame, ricotta stuffed breads, frutta di martorana (a typical Sicilian dessert of colourful marzipan shaped into fruits), local honey, arancina and more.
|With Iva (L) and Roberta (R)|
There was entirely too much food, and we ended up having lots of those goodies for breakfast too :)
If you visit Piazza Armerina (and I think you should!), stop by at La Casa Del Marchese for a taste of warm Sicilian hospitality.
Disclosure: We got a 50% discount on our stay at La Casa del Marchese courtesy Visiting Sicily.