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Piazza Armerina

Situated deep in the Sicilian hinterland, at 721 metres above sea level, stands Piazza Armerina, one of Sicily’s most frequented tourist spots.


However, it is not the town that most people come to see, but the famous Villa Romana del Casale. Built in the middle of the 4th Century AD as a hunting lodge by a Roman patrician (it is not known for sure who the owner was) the Villa is home to some of the best preserved and extensive examples of Roman mosaics spread over around 3500m.


These extraordinarily vivid mosaics, probably produced by North African artisans, deal with numerous subjects, ranging from Homeric escapades and mythological scenes to portrayals of daily life, including the famous tableau of girls exercising in their “bikinis”.


Top Attractions


Morgantina

A 16km drive northeast of Piazza Armerina (and a 4km downhill drive from the town of Aidone) lie the noteworthy remains of Morgantina, an ancient Greek settlement. The ancient town's centre is the two-storey agora (marketplace), its trapezoidal stairway used as seating during public meetings. The upper level had a market; note the walls that once divided the shops. The lower level was the site of the 1000-capacity theatre, originally built in the 3rd century BC and subsequently altered by the Romans.


Cathedral

You can spot the dramatically sited dome of the huge cathedral from a few kilometres away. It rises majestically from the hilltop and the terraced houses skirt its base in descending tiers. The severe facade dates from 1719, with the dome added in 1768. Inside the airy blue-and-white interior, behind the altar, is a copy of a Byzantine painting, Madonna delle Vittorie (Virgin of the Victories), the original of which was supposedly presented to Count Roger I by Pope Nicholas II.


Museo Archeologico di Aidone

This small archaeological museum in Aidone, a 10km drive northeast of Piazza Armerina, is worth a stop on your way to the nearby Greek ruins at Morgantina. The museum collection includes artefacts from the site, and has displays chronicling life in ancient times. It's also home to the long-lost Dea di Morgantina, an ancient statue of Venus, repatriated to Italy in 2011 from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California.


Pinacoteca Comunale

Piazza Armerina's small, slick public art gallery showcases mostly local artwork from the 15th to 19th centuries, including altarpieces and frescoes from long-gone churches and works by renowned local painter Giuseppe Paladino (1856–1922). Seek out the portrait of 17th-century scholar and Jesuit missionary Prospero Intorcetta. Born in Piazza Armerina and active in China, he was the first European to translate the works of Confucius into Latin.


Parco Minerario Floristella Grottacalda

Around 15km north of Piazza Armerina are the historic remains of sulphur mining that was active in the region until the mid-20th century. It's now pleasantly verdant and forested, but a poignant reminder of the industry's harsh realities are the black-and-white photographs in the park's interesting museum of child miners forced to work in very dangerous conditions. To get the most out of a visit, join a hike or day trip with Cafeci based in nearby Valguarnera.


Casa Museo del Contadino

A labour of love for its founder, Mario Albanese, this small but meticulously detailed ethnographic museum recreates a typical Sicilian peasant house of the 19th century. Mario's knowledge of the museum's artefacts and subject matter is impressive, and he happily offers visitors engrossing, oft-moving insight into the living conditions and sheer ingenuity of the region's rural workers (in Italian and French).


Palazzo Trigona

Flanking the southern end of Piazza Duomo is Palazzo Trigona, a baronial palace once home to the island's powerful Trigona family. Constructed of terracotta brick and local sandstone, the palace was built between the late 17th- and mid-18th centuries. These days it's home to the town's archaeological museum, though this was closed indefinitely on our last visit.


This statue depicts Baron Marco Trigona, the man who financed construction of Piazza Armerina's cathedral.

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