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by Orient-Express
Grand Hotel Timeo, Sicily, Italy

Rise of the Romans

Sicily was the first Roman province: the wheat produced on the island was the backbone of the empire and it enjoyed a flourishing trade in lemons and wines. The Romans’ main artistic legacy can be seen in the complex collection of mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale, outside the town of Piazza Armerina.

This extraordinary complex, comprising four separate groups of buildings and more than 50 rooms and galleries, baths and courtyards, is attributed to Emperor Massimiano Erculeo. Although little remains of the actual buildings, the mosaic floors are some of the finest surviving in the world — which is why this is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Depicting every aspect of daily life in the 3rd century AD, the remarkably detailed artworks portray hunting, mythological and domestic scenes and exotic landscapes. The most reproduced mosaics show 10 young women dressed in strapless two-piece bikinis that would not be out of fashion today. Visiting the once-sumptuous villa, it is easy to spend hours admiring the fascinating, richly coloured details of the mosaics, such as the blood that spills from a deer savaged by a leopard.

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