Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Piazza Armerina and Caltagirone

I guess it's not quite correct to title this post Piazza Armerina and Caltigirone since we only visited the Villa Imperiale del Casale in Piazza Armerina and didn't see the town itself at all. In fact, until just now I had thought Piazza Armerina was the Villa Imperiale del Casale. However, my Michelin Green Guide has set me straight. The villa is just outside Piazza Armerina and the historic center of Piazza Armerina, with its Baroque cathedral, is apparently worth a visit in itself.

Anyhoo... we only saw the villa. The villa is Roman and was built sometime in the late third or early fouth century AD. It was destroyed by fire, flooded in mud and was not unearthed until the late 1800's. What people come here to see are the mosaic floors. Somehow, in spite of the earlier devastation, they were amazingly well preserved. To tour the villa, you walk around on elevated platforms. The whole thing is enclosed in a plexiglass housing.

There are fascinating scenes from everyday life, the hunt and special occasions. I had taken the picture above thinking it showed the preparation of some food following the hunt, but after consulting Michelin I've learned otherwise. It portrays the offering of a sacrifice to the goddess of the hunt, Diana. That's her on top of the pillar on the right, and the guy I thought was cooking on a stove is really burning incense.

The picture above is from the Room of the Ten Girls. Those may look like bikinis, but actually the women are shown in their underwear. Really - that's what they wore while doing gymnastic exercises.

It had been threatening to rain all morning, but fortunately it held off until just after we returned to the car. That first downpour was nothing compared to what we encountered as we arrived in Caltagirone. For a few minutes the rain and hail came down so hard, Chuck had to pull the car over. Later in the afternoon while we were in a shop there was another downpour which created an impressive "river" that flowed down a narrow stairway adjacent to the shop.

Caltagirone is probably the biggest ceramics producer in Sicily. As you drive into and walk around town you see evidence everywhere of what they do. The most dramatic example of this is the huge staircase (Scala di Santa Maria del Monte) in the center of town where each riser is decorated with a different row of tiles. Ceramics shops line both sides of the staircase.

While in Caltagirone we shopped, ate lunch, and shopped some more. I neglected to make any notes about our lunch, so I don't remember where we ate. I do remember I had ravioli (which was fine, but not noteworthy), "Murder She Wrote" (dubbed in Italian) was on the TV, and Bob got food poisoning there.

We left Caltagirone happily burdened with our latest ceramics purchases and headed on to our hotel in Ragusa.

Next time - Ragusa


Anonymous said...

Enjoying your trip around Sicily, and looking forward to your views on Ragusa!

Cathy said...

Hi Ronald - thanks! I'm afraid we didn't really do southeast Sicily justice. We were a week into our trip then and in need of a little relaxation. It is a beautiful area though and we loved our hotel. More later!