About Piazza Armerina
Piazza Armerina is a pretty and historic town nestled into the heart of Sicily. Whilst it it is most famous for the truly astonishing classical mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale, it is a great town to wander round, taking in its beautiful old buildings and winding streets.
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The town itself nestles on hills and was built in two parts – first by the Saracens in the 10th century and then developed to the southeast in the 15th and then again the 17th centuries. There are many wonderful buildings to see including the 18th century Duomo, which dominates the town standing majestically on top of a hill, the elegant town hall and grand old palazzi such as the Palazzo Trigona. For those who enjoy wandering through small streets and finding hidden places, try the 13th century area round the Via Monte near the duomo.
Villa Romana del Casale
This stunning Roman complex is the main reason most people visit Piazza Armerina and it is certainly worth putting near the top of any Sicilian tourist itinerary. Indeed it is seen as so important it is an Unesco World Heritage Site due to its containing the most complex and large collection of Roman mosaics in the world – there are 3535 square metres of them. Built in the early 4th century AD, the buildings were covered by a mudslide in the 12th century and though sporadic attempts were made over the centuries to uncover them, it wasnt really until the 1950s that a concerted excavation effort began, which even with the vast amount now on display, is still not completed.
It is a huge complex so well worth setting aside an entire day to explore. I would recommend getting there early in the day (it opens at 10am, sometimes earlier at busy times – check the website for the latest details), especially in summer when tourist numbers are phenomenal and the temperature under the glass protective roofs above the mosaics heats up to uncomfortably high temperatures. The walkways around the villa are also very narrow, so the whole experience is much more comfortable at less-crowded times. That all said the experience is not to be missed – you will never see anything else like these mosaics. Very naturalistic in style they give an insight into Roman life rarely glimpsed in other places. Perhaps most notable and charming are the famous bikini girls mosaics, depicting everyday scenes of Roman female athletes in the gym. There are also amazing scenes of animals and strange creatures, hunting and circus scenes, conjuring up a past magical world breathtaking in its detail and complexity. Apart from the mosaics the villa also gives a wonderful insight into the layout of a grand Roman house – the different rooms and their uses – and how rich Romans actually lived.
For non-drivers, it may be worth visiting Piazza Armerina on one of the coach trips advertised in tourist resorts in this part of Sicily. During the summer there are public buses from the town to the villa, but off season you may have to walk the 3 miles or get a taxi. This is when hiring a car in Sicily can be very useful. To get to the town of Piazza Armerina itself you can get a bus from Enna (the closest town at 40 minutes away), Siracusa and Catania. As with most of central Sicily if you brave the car hire option, you will have a lot more freedom to really explore all the wonderful sites of this region and take in the lovely rugged countryside.
Text and photographs by Alice Maddicott
Piazza Armerina accommodation
There’s not a wide range of tourist accommodation in central Sicily; tourism is very much concentrated around the coast. If you are planning to spend a night or two in this area, however, there are several good options in and around Piazza Armerina, mostly small B&Bs. If you have a hire car you may find it preferable to stay in a hotel in the countryside nearby.
In the town of Piazza Armerina, by the Duomo, the Suite D’Autore Art Design Gallery combines stylish guest rooms with striking designs and works of art on display. Principe Giardinelli, with its comfortable rooms, is one of the most popular B&Bs in town, along with the charming Giardino delle Zagare, which has a small green garden for sitting and relaxing.
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