The Roman Villa of Casale is a late antique building, popularly called a villa despite not having the characteristics of an out-of-town Roman villa but rather of an imperial urban palace, whose remains are located about four kilometers from Piazza Armerina, in Sicily. Since 1997 it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The first museum design was owed to the architect Francesco Cappellani. In 2008 it was visited by 311.081 people
The excavations of the Roman Villa
The discovery of the Roman Villa of Casale is due to Gino Vinicio Gentili, who in 1950 undertook the exploration following the reports of the locals. Basing itself mainly on the style of mosaics, the discoverer dated the installation of the sumptuous house – built on an older farm – not before the middle of the 4th century AD Subsequently the same scholar assigned the villa to the tetrarchic age (285-305). According to Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli the villa dates back to the first twenty-five years of the fourth century AD The examinations on the walls have dated the villa and the mosaics themselves to a succession of times that goes from around 320 to 370.
The environments of the Villa
Among the remains of the villa there are four separate stages:
- monumental entrance with three arches with a horseshoe courtyard (rooms 1-2);
- central body of the villa, organized around a quadrangular peristyle courtyard, with a garden with a mixtilinear basin in the center (rooms 8-39);
- large trichora preceded by an ovoid peristyle surrounded in turn by another group of rooms (rooms 47-55)
- thermal complex, with access from the northwestern corner of the quadrangular peristyle (rooms 40-46).
Architectural features of Roman Villa of Casale
Each of the four cores of the villa is arranged according to its own directional axis. However, all the axes converge at the center of the quadrangular peristyle pool. Despite the apparent planimetric asymmetries, the villa would therefore be the result of an organic and unitary project which, starting from the current models in the private building of the time (peristyle villa with apsed hall and three-room hall), introduced a series of variations in degree to give originality and extraordinary monumentality to the entire complex. The unity of the construction is also demonstrated by the functionality of the internal routes and the division between public and private parts.
Construction times were initially evaluated over a period of fifty to eighty years, and then reduced to around five to ten years. Today we tend to believe in a short duration of the works.
The function of the rooms is almost always suggested by allusions in floor mosaics. The division into three distinct nuclei, also from the point of view of the axes, and materially divided allowed separate uses, without the risk of confusion or indiscretions. The great functionality was linked to an exasperated search for perspective effects and floor plans with curved lines (especially in the thermal baths and in the south triclinium).
The vestibule-court-narthex-apsidal apse succession, already in use during the aulic architecture of the lower Empire (like the basilica Palatina of Constantine in Trier), with a remarkable interchangeability will be resumed as a plant of Christian basilicas (ancient basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican) and, later, of Arab mosques.
The villa “in padiglioni” or “in nuclei” is not an isolated typology in Piazza Armerina, but, besides being documented in another Sicilian villa near Noto, it has precise correspondences in African villas and owes its original model to the villa Adriana of Tivoli.