Located 6km (3 1/2 miles) from Piazza Armerina, this magnificent villa is one of the largest dwellings of its kind to have survived from the days of the Romans. Its 40 rooms are carpeted with 11,340 sq m (122,063 sq ft.) of some of the greatest, most magnificent mosaics in western Europe. Note: be forewarned that opening times can change without notice due to ongoing restoration; call or check the website first before making the trek out.
It is obvious that a wealthy patrician built this mansion, and some scholars have even suggested that it was the hunting lodge of Maximanus, the co-emperor of Diocletian. The exact date of the villa's construction is hard to ascertain, however -- perhaps the end of the 3rd century A.D. or the beginning of the 4th century. The complex was destroyed by fire in the 12th century and over the years was buried in mudslides. Parts of the villa were unearthed in 1881.
Many of the mansion's walls are still standing, but most visitors come to take in the mosaics on the floors and the surviving wall paintings. Many of the mosaic scenes are mythological. Since this was a hunting lodge, most of the tableaux involve the pursuit of wild animals.
Rooms branch out from a central courtyard, or peristyle. Among the discernible rooms still left are the Terme, or steam baths, which supplied water and also heated the villa with steam circulating through cavities in the floors and walls. In the Sala delle Unizioni (Room of Unguents), slaves are depicted massaging the bodies of their masters.
The Peristylium, directly east of the peristyle, contains the splendid Peristylium mosaic, which you can see on every side of the portico. It's a romp of birds, plants, wild animals, and domesticated creatures such as horses. Adjoining it is the Salone del Circo (Room of the Circus), the narthex (portico) of the Terme. Its name comes from the scenes of the Roman circus depicted in its mosaics. The chariot race at Rome's Circus Maximus can clearly be seen.
Directly south of the peristyle is the Sala della Piccola Caccia (Room of the Small Hunt), with mosaics depicting everything from a sacrifice to the goddess of the hunt, Diana, to the netting of a wild boar.
To the immediate west of the peristyle is the Ambulacro della Grande Caccia (Corridor of the Great Hunt), measuring 60m (197 ft.). The mosaics discovered here are among the most splendid from the ancient world. One of the most dramatic scenes depicts wild animals, ranging from rhino to elephant, being loaded onto a ship.
In a salon at the northwest corner of the peristyle is the most amusing room of all: Sala delle Dieci Ragazze (Room of the 10 Girls). Wearing strapless two-piece bikinis, the young women are dressed for gymnastic exercises; one even has a stitched knee. Their outfits would be appropriate for a beach in the 21st century.
Directly north of the peristyle is the Triclinium, a large central space that spills into a trio of wide apses. This was probably the dining area, and it's known for its magnificent rendition of the Labors of Hercules. In the central apse, the mosaics depict "The Battle of the Giants," five mammoth creatures in their death throes after being attacked by the poisoned arrows of Hercules.
Among the final salons is the Vestibolo del Piccolo Circo (Vestibule of the Small Circus), depicting circus scenes such as chariot racing; and the Atrio degli Amorini Pescatori, with mosaics illustrating fishing scenes.
Cubicolo della Scene Erotica features a polygonal medallion depicting a panting young man locked in a tight embrace with a scantily clad seductress. Yes, there is a gratuitous bottom shot.