A mosaic journey across southern Sicily

An early departure from Agrigento was necessary to pack in a day of mosaic and ceramic wonder. We drove past fields of almond trees, artichoke, honeydew melon and prickly pears on our way to the Villa Romana del Casale.

The impressive Villa is near the center of Sicily and was discovered/uncovered in the 1930s. Built in the early part of the fourth century, the mosaics are astonishing and the villa is sprawling. Each room’s floor is decorated with scenes and intricate patterns. A central mosaic runs the length of the main hallway, about 60 meters, and depicts the capture of wild animals and their journey by ship to Rome. Another well-preserved floor shows women participating in sports wearing bikini-style athletic clothing, as beach volleyball players currently wear. The original intensity of the colors must have been remarkable considering that even faded, they are spectacular.A medieval town located near the Villa is Piazza Armerina. We took a detour to drive up the winding mountain road to see the town which was settled/conquered by the Catalán from Spain. There is a statue of a conquistador outside the cathedral and a church on every corner. The location is what is most special. It is at the top of a mountain and overlooks the surrounding valleys.As we entered the town of Caltagirone, famed for the ceramic tiled 142-step staircase, we stopped first at a family-run ceramic studio. We met four generations of tile makers and painters. We were given a tour of the facility and spent a little time chatting with the artist-sons who carry on the family tradition. The Caltagirone style uses only three colors of glazes; yellow, green and blue. The sons have broken with tradition and now use many more glazes in their works.It was time to see the extraordinary tiled staircase. There really are 142 steps. From the bottom, it just looks like a very long staircase, nothing exciting. However, as you approach, the tile faces are clear, each step is long and deeper than feels normal. Most incredibly, each of the steps offer a completely different set of tile designs with no repeats. Along the walk up there are ceramic shops, a few galleries and some snack places, too. At the top is the Santa Marina del Monte Church(m (it was closed) and an impressive view of the town.Caltagirone is beautiful with tiles and ceramics everywhere. We headed back down and enjoyed some iced cappuccinos before heading to our final destination of the day.The waves were crashing against the sea wall as we entered Siracusa-Ortigia. The island side of Siracusa is charming. We walked around the pedestrian area and we caught a glimpse of a wedding. We stopped to people watch at the Duomo piazza, we sipped beverages and recapped our day one mosaic piece at a time.

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