From just about anywhere in Sicily, you can take a bus to the delightful medieval town of Piazza Armerina, a somewhat bewildering maze of narrow, steep streets which suddenly arrive at disturbingly sharp 90 degree bends.
Piazza Armerina is one of the “Lombardic” communes, settled during the 11th century Norman domination in Sicily. So the dialect is different here. The Sicilian language itself is not Italian, but a separate language with eleven dialects of its own. I’ve met some older Sicilians who don’t speak Italian at all!
But whatever language they were speaking, there were plenty of people around Piazza before the Normans, this area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The town was certainly flourishing during Roman occupation, which is why I’m here. To see the notable Villa Romana del Casale.
There’s a beautiful Duomo in Piazza, a massive Baroque style church which could hold 4 times the town’s population. Why is this so big?
I stayed a few nights in the centre of town at La Volpe e l’Uva (The Fox and Grapes), how could I resist that name?
This turned out to be an excellent choice. Perfect for walking up and down, and up and down again, to visit the Duomo and the lovely theatre. The little piazze are enchanting, fronted by an assortment of Renaissance and Baroque era palazzi rubbing shoulders with dozens of little bars and eating spots.
My main reason for staying here was to give myself plenty of time to wander around the Villa Romana del Casale, one of the highlights of Sicily. I’m sure that’s why everyone comes here, the town is geared to cater to visitors.
The Villa is a huge place, so different from the urban dwellings which I saw in Pompeii. The entrance is impressive enough and there are numerous rooms of various dimensions, some quite large. You can still see water pipes.
The Villa is known for the richest, largest, most complex and startlingly beautiful collection of late Roman mosaics in the world.
The rooms are covered by huge canopies to protect the elaborate mosaics although the mosaic in the triclinium could have done with a little more protection. I was happy to pay an entrance fee towards the upkeep of these treasures.
The most well known mosaic is the so-called Bikini Girls
The famous bikini ladies aren’t bathing beauties of course, they’re athletes, but names stick.
I need another full day to appreciate all of these mosaics. So many!
It’s 5 km back to Piazza Armerina and too far for me to walk these days, so I caught the bus back in search of some early dinner at Gianna’s, a tiny friendly place with simple plastic tables and chairs hidden around a corner. Gianna makes a hearty frocia.
Frocia is a thick Sicilian omelette with any vegetables you choose. I like mine plain, or with a little onion, garlic and tomato.