Oh, To Be Rich in Ancient Sicily! 

No one knows for sure who lived in the Villa Romana del Casale.  Some think it might have been the country home of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius; others theorize a provincial governor lived and conducted administrative duties here.

It was constructed in the middle of the 4th century AD, and owes its remarkable preservation to the mudslide that covered the villa in the 12th century.  The building remained hidden until the 1950’s excavations.

Katya, our local expert, explained that we were going to view some of the finest examples of Roman mosaics in all of Europe, with scenes ranging from Homeric escapades to depictions of daily life, at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Katya was excellent, and that was true of all the local guides on our trip.  We learned that our main guide, Daniel, had a choice of 4 or 5 different local guides for each site, and I have to say, he chose very well. Katya was interesting and so informative, a delight to listen to.

We began our tour by the aqueduct, which was the source of water for the baths–starting with the hot bath, and ending with the frigidarium, the cold bath.

The slaves kept the fires going in these ovens so that the baths were at the proper temperature.
I wasn’t taking notes, so don’t hold me to it, but I THINK this was the frigidarium.  Or it was something else.  Whatever.  It was impressive.


The main attraction of the villa is the floor mosaics, and they are absolutely magnificent.

Probably the most famous room, the 10  maidens are exercising, wearing the ancient version of bikinis.  And look, someone appears to have won the swimsuit competition, earning her a crown and a palm leaf to wave around.


Not quite so famous, but certainly as intriguing were these: one  example  of the many scenes of a hunt.

This woman’s clothing indicates she was from the eastern empire, possibly Muslim.  There is another mosaic of a similarly attired woman, being carried off by soldiers.   It isn’t hard to imagine what that mosaic was illustrating.

No commentary necessary for this one.


I particularly liked the depiction of the theater.  Looks like the legend of the Cyclops was being featured.

Those white squares on the mosaic–I thought someone had been littering, but no.  They were placed there intentionally to absorb moisture.


Here’s a close up of Cyclops.  I really DID like that mosaic!  Isn’t it amazing what the craftsmen were able to do with little colored stones?

One last look at the countryside and we’ll be on our way.  Our timing was fantastic.  We were leaving, just as hoards of tourists were arriving!

Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, Sicilian Style

It seems like every tour we’ve been on has had its own version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Sicily is no exception.  In Modica, we careened through the narrow streets in vintage fiats.  No seat belts or other sissy stuff in these cars.  It’s just you,  your driver, and two other passengers sandwiched into these tiny vehicles.  I was wondering whether Mike would be able to get into one of these, and if he did, would he ever be able to get back OUT?


Okay, so now we know the answer to the first half of the question!

I was also glad to see that Jesus was riding along with Mike. In fact, it looks like he’s sitting in Mike’s lap.  Jesus’ name was undoubtedly invoked multiple times during our race through the alleys that the locals mistakenly think of as streets.

A few weeks ago, someone on the OAT forum asked whether WE would be able to drive a Fiat 5000.   After looking at the clearance on either side of the cars, you’ll have your answer.   Unless you have  a death wish, you wouldn’t WANT to!  The streets of Modica are ridiculously narrow, with blind corners, sharp turns, and steep hills.   I was very grateful to have an experienced local behind the wheel.

You definitely had to be there, but these photos will give you an inkling of what it was like!


Being by far the largest woman in the group, I decided to ride with smaller companions.  That scored me a front seat, from which I took those photos.

Here we are: Sue, our driver, me and Ann, still smiling after our ride ended.

The intrepid travelers assembled on the steps of one of Modica’s many churches for a group photo.

The views from the cathedral area were breath taking!


We ended our evening with a visit to a chocolate shop (yes, I made purchases, which could possibly become prizes. My sisters, nieces and cousins know what THAT means!).  As usual, we had an amazing dinner.  As usual, there was far more food than I could possibly eat.

A special treat was an unexpected visit to the local community band’s practice session.  We could hear them from the street, so Daniel (our wonderful guide) got permission for us to go inside.  Check out that young boy.  He was an AMAZING drummer.


They very nicely played John Phillip Souza’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” just for us!  What a wonderful memory.

On the Road to Piazza Armerina 


I know.  You are all just itchin’ to find out how we are getting from point A to point B on this island.  Well, itch no more, because not only will I  TELL you, I’m also giving you the visual.  We have been traveling in comfort on this lovely bus.  There are only 16 of us, plus our guide, so we have LOTS of room to to spread out.  

The view from these huge windows has been amazing.  We definitely chose the right time to visit Sicily–the wild flowers are blooming, everything is lush and green, and the temperature has been perfect! 

We are all so grateful that Marco, our bus driver,  is manouvering along these winding, VERY narrow roads, up and down the hillsides.   All we had to do is sit back, relax and take it all in.  

Once again, we will be time traveling, all the way back to Ancient Greece.  I don’t know why, but I just got a flash back to Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  (“Every dog should have a boy”. God, I loved that show! ) How sad that so much of my knowledge of history, at least what stuck,  came from cartoons and Walt Disney!  But I digress. 

When we arrived at the Valley of the Temples, we were greeted by another Marco, our guide for the site.  An archaeologist,  he came equipped with maps, diagrams, and an abundance of enthusiasm.  

Sadly, the site had been picked clean by those successive waves of conquerors, so it was difficult to extract much information about the lifestyle of the original Greek inhabitants of Akragas (as the area was once known) from artifacts, bones, shards, etc.  

Fortunately, though, eight Greek temples remain at this UNESCO site, all built between 510 and 430 BC.  The best preserved temple, called “Concordia” by the non-archaeologists, (because the archaeologists didn’t have sufficient info to determine the correct names of the temples) was saved from being scavenged by the locals because it was transformed into a church by the Normans.  Walls were built between the pillars, and the entrance was changed, then at some point (and yeah, I forgot what Marco said.  Sorry!) it was all changed back.


From the valley, you can see the modern city of Agrigento, just beyond Greek temple F (the archaeologists’ name for Concordia. ) 

What Marco COULD tell us was that these arches were once the entrance to Greek tombs, that were later repurposed by the Normans for shelter, with the actual grave used as a manger for their animals.  The Greeks dug shallow graves — only about a foot and a half deep– and covered the hole with rocks.  Who knows what the Norman’s did with the remains they found when they moved those rocks! 


My favorite part of the site, however, was this incredible sculpture of Icarus, who fell from the skies because he flew too close to the sun.  Clearly, HE hadn’t been under water for 2,000 years!  Also clear was that he was a modern addition to the site.


After our tour, it was time for lunch at this lovely private home.  


You’d think we would have figured it out by now.  What we THOUGHT was the lunch, was actually just the antipasto, followed by several other courses.  We have concluded that we need to get much better at pacing ourselves!  But if the food wasn’t enough, there was yet another surprise in store for us:  The owner’s grandfather had been a renown craftsman, creating donkey carts that were truly works of art.  

The paintings on the sides of the carts were of historical events, like this one depicting the assassination of Julius Caesar.


Even the spokes on the wheels were intricately carved.  


Here’s our hostess, who also functioned as guide, cook and server.

These magical interludes are a big reason that Mike and I travel with OAT.  We NEVER would have been able to arrange for some of these fascinating encounters on our own!  

By now, we were completely sated with food and culture, ready for our one night stay at Vecchia Masseria in Piazza Amerina.  

And yes, it really WAS that beautiful.  Another agritourismo, in a pastoral setting with delicious,  locally sourced food.  Life is good.