Travelling inland along quiet roads after my exploration of Mt Etna and East Coast, my next stop was Piazza Armerina, almost in the centre of Sicily, and the Villa del Casale with its extensive and beautiful collection of mosaics.
The scenic, hilly countryside in the central area of Sicily is dotted with villages and towns, many built on hill tops like Piazza Armerina, which now straddles three hills at a height of about 800 metres. Its 17th-Century cathedral is prominent from all sides.
Just outside the town is the Roman Villa del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even though I had researched this site, I was still surprised by the number of rooms and mosaics within the villa. The mosaics are well preserved because they were covered by a mudslide in the 12th-Century and not discovered till 1881. Their quality and variety is extraordinary, from hunting scenes and battles to everyday activities, including the famous sporting girls with their bikini-like attire.
The great advantage about being ‘out of season’ was that there only two or three other people in the whole of the villa, so we could stop and examine the mosaics at will without crowds of tourists pushing you along. Once again entry was free of charge for EU Seniors 65 and above.
Before heading south to the coast at Agrigento, I deviated north to the ridge top town of Enna which has superb panoramic views over much of central Sicily.
The town of Agrigento is again built on a ridge following the abandonment of the old town in the Valley of the Temples under threat of Saracen invasion in the 7th-Century. Agrigento has some interesting features including a medieval quarter with Arab and Norman influences and there is a pleasant beach area.
However the highlight of the area is the Valley of the Temples. It takes a good three hours (and some energy) to explore this extensive UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There is much to see and marvel at, but I found of most interest the well preserved Temple of Concord, dating from 430 BC, and the Temple of Juno perched on top of the hill. Other key points of interest are the well-preserved street layout in the Hellenistic-Roman Quarter and the telamon, the gigantic figure of a man, which would have been used to support the weight of the Temple of Jupiter.
The final post for my Sicily Touring Holiday covers the Western Sicily – Marsala, Erice and Segesta.