Most travelers pass through Piazza Armerina, on their way to the Roman villa, Villa Romana, at nearby Casale. The hill town, 35km (23miles) south of Enna, warrants a short visit in its own right, too. The 17th century duomo tops the town, and from the piazza the streets wind down the hillside past churches and palaces to the palm shaded Piazza Garibaldi.
The Villa Romana at Casale
The Villa Romana lies 5km (3 miles) southwest of Piazza Armerina, outside the little hamlet of Casale. Co-emperor Maximian, who ruled the waning Roman Empire with Diocletian, is thought to have built this elaborate hunting lodge in the 4th century. Later, the villa was abandoned and eventually buried by landslides, and it wasn’t completely unearthed until 1950. The many layers of mud that lay atop the ruins for centuries helped preserve the exquisite mosaics with which the villa is floored. Craftsmen from North Africa laid the colorful tiles, filling room after room with hunting scenes, a bestiary of exotic animals from the far corners of the empire, mythical heroes and snippets of everyday life, such as a family relaxing in the baths. The villa’s most famous mosaic scenario is the one depicting ten girls, clad in bikinis, competing in a gymnastics competition. Restoration at the site has been ongoing for 10years; expect at least some rooms to be off limit.