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Bikini Girl Mosaic, Villa Romana del Casale

Bikini Girl Mosaic, Villa Romana del Casale

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Bikini Girl Mosaic, Villa Romana del Casale - History

The Room with Girls in Bikini is a cubicle in the Villa Romana del Casale. It is located between the peristyle, the Corridor of the Great Hunt and the Hall of Orpheus. Entrance is from the peristyle through an antechamber.

The room is either a cubiculum, a bedroom, or a service room of some kind. There are indications that it might have changed purpose after the villa was build.

The mosaic mosaic shows ten young women, most of them engaged in athletic activities. The composition is divided in two registers. The left-most girl in the upper register has been all but lost. Then follows a girl exercising with hand weights, one just about to throw a discus and two running. Below to the right two girls are playing with multicoloured ball. In the centre the winner of a competition is standing with a palm leaf in her left hand while she is placing a rose crown on her head with the right hand. The next girl is holding an umbrella-like object in her right hand. It could be a symbolic chariot’s wheel. The last girl is entering from the left. She is clad in a golden mantle and carries a palm leaf and a rose crown for the winner.

The mosaic is very well preserved, save for the upper left corner that is completely lost and part of the decorative, geometric border.

Much of the fame of this mosaic is derived from the bikini-like costumes the girls are wearing.

Below the mosaic with the girls in bikini was another mosaic, a part of which can be seen in the upper left corner. It is a geometric mosaic with large eight pointed stars made of two intertwined squares with coloured guilloches. In the centre of the star is a garland with a flower motif in the centre.

The mosaic with the girls is therefore later than most of the other mosaics in the villa. How much later is uncertain, it might only be a few decades. Why a new mosaic was made is also unknown. The room might have been destined for other use, making a geometric mosaic improper, or infiltrations of water might have caused the original mosaic to subside.

The Bikini Girls Of Sicily

I love Sicily. If I could spend every day for the rest of my life exploring Sicily I still wouldn’t get to see it all. I don’t know any other place on earth so layered in history, and so richly textured by centuries of being run by different foreign powers, each one leaving behind elements of architecture and additions to the cuisine.

People are always asking me about things to do in Sicily, so I decided to do some posts about random fascinating things to see and do when you are there.

One completely intriguing spot to visit away from all the tourists is the incredible Villa Romana del Casale.

Located about 5km from a picturesque little town in central Sicily called Piazza Armerina, the villa is not only one
of the very best preserved villas from anywhere in the Roman Empire, it also has much of it’s decoration still intact, most famously the extensive mosaics.

aerial view of Villa Romana del Casale

The villa which is assumed to have been a hunting lodge, was built in the early 4th Century AD. At one time it was thought it had been built for the emperor Maximian, but now it is thoughtt o have been built for a senatorial aristocrat. (At that time marble was the flooring of choice for Roman emperors, and Villa Romana del Casale only has marble for the floor of the basilica, which suggests that the owner did not belong to imperial Roman society.)

It’s hard to believe that the mosaics we value so highly now were at the time considered second rate!

This is the single greatest collection of Roman era mosaics anywhere in the world, and they are essentially completely intact. Covering 38,000 square feet, vibrant and brilliant, they depict mythological scenes, scenes of daily life, and the famous “bikini girls”.

The Bikini Girls are a group of 10 young women dressed in shorts and a bandeau, performing various acts of athleticism such as discus throwing, long jump with weights in their hands, running and playing some form of handball. And you thought the bikini was invented in the 20th century? Not quite – it was alive and well in the early 300’s AD, and probably long before that.

There is a girl wearing a transparent golden dress holding a crown over the head of an athlete, presenting her with a victory palm. Creating a dress and making it look transparent by using little stones and pieces of colored glass is nothing short of miraculous.

The Corridor Of The Hunt is a walkway that runs the width of the villa, and is a mosaic explosion of hunting scenes, featuring animals, fruit and flowers, fish and cupids, everyday scenes and mythology. It takes your breath away.

The floor were probably created by North African craftsmen who were known for their incredible skill with mosaics. The mosaics themselves are still incredibly vivid, especially when you consider the villa was inhabited or in use for 8 centuries (from the 4th century until the 12th century), by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans.

A mosaic scene from the master bedroom

A landslide in the 12th Century almost completely covered the villa, and it was only partly discovered in the 19th Century, but it wasn’t until the 20th Century that excavations revealed the magnitude of what lay beneath and the absolute magnificence of the villa.

Villa Romana del Casale is approximately an hour and a half drive from Catania, 2 hours drive from Siracusa, and 45 minutes drive from Enna.


Check out these amazing videos of Villa Romana del Casale.
Remember all 42 of these floors are made of mosaics, hand-laid by artisans somewhere between 310 and 340 AD, with no machines or modern technology to help them to perfection.

Ancient Rome’s bikinis, in Piazza Armerina

Some say that the Late-Empire mosaics in Villa del Casale – in Piazza Armerina, Sicily – prove that the Romans invented the bikini. The tesserae indeed portray girls in athletics competitions, wearing two-piece suits.

The luxurious, 4th-century Villa del Casale, which extends over approximately 3,500 square meters and was discovered in 1950, is a treasure chest of mosaic art including realistic, mythological, and “genre” scenes – that experts strive to tie into a single, overarching project.

Archaeologist Andrea Carandini has commented, “the overall interpretation of the mosaic complex revolves around the victory of men over passions and brute force, thanks to music (Orpheus versus earthly beasts, Arion over the marine ones), shrewdness (Ulysses and Polyphemus, Eros and Pan), and strength (hunters and they prays, Jove and other giants, Bacchus and Lycurgus, Hercules and the Bistones, etc.). Thus, both athletics competitions and Hercules’s labors […] ultimately hint to the supremacy of ‘virtus’ and ‘felicitas’ over chaos and evil powers” (“Filosofiana. La Villa di Piazza Armerina”, Flaccovio, Palermo 1982).

Structure and multiple functions of the villa

Just like it appears nowadays, the entire property was built in four main sections, comprising the monumental entrance with its thermal baths, a peristyle courtyard with living area and guest rooms, the private apartments of the owner connected to the large basilica (public hall), the triclinium (dining area) and the adjacent elliptical courtyard.

Judging by its united structure set around the central courtyard, the villa was probably used for several purposes: some rooms were residential while others appear to be for official purposes. Although the function of some other rooms is still uncertain, it’s highly believed that the villa’s owner used them to entertain the locals and clients.

Overall, the entire complex is absolutely unique especially considering its well-preservation despite all these centuries. A systematic conservation and restoration programme has been carried out in the last years, of course, but the original beauty and richness of this place has remained intact over time – something that definitely astounded me as I walked through the rooms of the villa, cherishing every single detail I came across.


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

The « skier », a youth in motion (not skiing)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

A big cat attacks a hunter on the Great Hunt mosaic

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

A ship on the Great Hunt mosaic

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

A hunter on the Great Hunt mosaic

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

Hunters on the Great Hunt mosaic

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

Young boys hunting a rabbit, Child Hunters Mosaic

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale

Polyphemus receiving a cup of wine from Ulysses. Anteroom (37) of the north apartment.

The Name of the Villa

The excavations of the villa have unearthed no information about the identity of the villa or its owner. Travel guides from antiquity, the Itinerarium Antonini, gives the third last mansio (station for rest and change of horses) on the Catania-Agrigento road as Philosophiana, located 45 roman miles before Agrigento. This falls in the region of the villa.

About 5km to the south of the villa is the more modest location of Sofiana, where Roman remains are clearly associated with the latifundium Philosophiana. The very name “Sofiana” appears derived from the ancient name of the site. Sofiana is the most likely candidate for the mansio on the main roman road. The stations on the road were normally named after the latifundium on whose territory they were located, so the latifundium of the villa was probably named Philosophiana.

First Patent

American socialite Mary “Polly” Phelps Jacob patented the 𠇋rassiere” on November 3, 1914, the year World War I broke out in Europe. Filing for the patent under the pseudonym �resse Crosby,” she𠆝 come up with the concept while dressing for a ball, when her uncomfortable corset poked through her dress, prompting her and her maid to sew together two handkerchiefs to offer more flexible support.

Her business never quite took off (though she𠆝 go on to shake up the publishing world in Paris, printing the work of authors like Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin, and James Joyce), and she sold her patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for a paltry $1,500. By the time the United States joined World War I in 1917, the influence of European fashions and the changing role of women helped open the floodgates for women to ditch their corsets and embrace the bra.


Five km from Piazza Armerina, near Enna, in the inland part of Sicily, the Roman villa del Casale is a luxury leisure building built around 320 in the centre of a large latifundium, in the place of a previous villa. Its plan, which seems to have been predetermined, provided for public and private spaces it was later modified, perhaps following an earthquake in 363, until the end of the same century. Access to the building was through a monumental entrance, similar to a triumphal arch, with a horseshoe-shaped courtyard leading into the central body of the villa, arranged around a garden-peristyle, the centre of which was occupied by a mixtilinear basin, the true fulcrum of the complex. From there, a long corridor, called of the Great Hunt, gave access, in its centre, to a basilica hall and to the private apartments of the villa, as well as to a large elliptical peristyle. The villa also included a large thermal complex, accessible from the monumental entrance, composed of a traditional sequence of rooms – apoditerium, calidarium, apsidal tepidarium and octagonal frigidarium. As a whole, the building had about thirty rooms decorated with paintings and, for a total surface area of about 3,500 m2, polychrome mosaic floors, dating back to between 370 and 400, which present a very rich iconography: hunting scenes, circus games, mythological tales, scenes from everyday life, sports exercises (“maidens in bikinis”), agricultural works. Their realization is attributed to artists coming from Africa. Despite the extraordinary luxury of the villa, it was not an imperial residence, but that of a member of the pagan senatorial aristocracy – maybe, among other numerous hypotheses, the governor of Sicily in the Constantinian age, Lucius Aradius Valerius Proculus, consul in 340, who had organised memorable games in Rome, possibly evoked in the mosaic floors of the villa. A village called Platia, from the Latin Palatium, developed on the site of the villa and remained occupied, at least partially, in the Byzantine and Arabic ages, until the middle of the 12th century.

La Martorana (Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio)

Roger II receiving the crown directly from Christ (and not the Pope). Mosaic in the Martorana church in Palermo. The mosaic carries an inscription Rogerios Rex in Greek letters.

This ivory fragment can be seen in The Pushkin Museum, Moscow. “The mosaic portraits of the kings crowned directly by Christ in George of Antioch’s church of Santa Maria dell’Ammariglio, and later at Monreale, had specific and very old Byzantine precedents that were both visual and conceptual in this instance, a depiction in ivory of Christ’s coronation of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (d. 959).” (Alex Metcalfe: The Muslims of medieval Italy, p. 237)

Photo: Wiener, J. B. (2017, November 13). Constantine VII & Christ. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/image/7624/ (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Watch the video: Travel Before Covid 19 Villa Romana del Casale and Famous Bikini Girls Mosaic Art and Music (August 2022).