Roman mosaics in Villa Romana del Casale

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Roman bikini girls playing ball

Roman girls playing ball game from the Roman mosaic ‘Coronation of the Winner’ in Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina, Sicily, Italy

The picture shows two young women of ancient Rome playing a ball game, part of several mosaics discovered in the Villa Romana del Casale, an ancient imperial villa and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located near the town of Piazza Armerina in Sicily, Italy. The villa currently has the unique distinction of being the largest collection of the most artistic Roman mosaics in the world.

The picture is part of the famous ‘Bikini Girls’ mosaics art titled ‘Coronation of the Winner’, featuring young beautiful Roman women wearing bikinis in two rows of pictures, not exactly swimwear but workout sportswear, and exercising and engaged in a competition. They perform sports and games including playing ball-games, weight-lifting, discus throwing, and athletics. In the bottom row of mosaics, a female games official wearing a toga is shown coming forward to crown the winner, and also to award her the palm of victory and a wreath.

Discovered during the archaeological excavation of the villa in 1959-60 by the Italian archaeologist Gino Vinicio Gentili (1914-2006), the mosaics in the room named The Hall of Ten Girls (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze) was informally called ‘the Bikini Girls’ showing two rows of Roman girls dressed in bikinis (undergarments). The mosaics are an important discovery not only from the point of view of arts in Ancient Rome, but it also shows the extensive and significant prevalence of sports and games, as well as the fashion and costumes designing of the times.

Villa Romana del Casale is an imposing and vast Roman villa complex designed for official as well as residential use, complete with office spaces, Roman baths (with tepidariums, frigidariums, etc.) and shows the advanced architectural and engineering skills of the Romans. The palace complex was possibly built between the late 3rd century BC and the early 4th century AD, and later renovated and used by Maximian, the Roman Emperor who ruled from 286 to 305.

The mosaics in the villa are of unique design, materials and artistic excellence comparable to any later periods of art, and they survived in excellent condition despite several centuries of neglect and burial under agricultural lands. The majority of the mosaic panels are polychrome depicting subjects such as mythological scenes, day-to-day life scenes, and special events such as hunting, circus games, royal and ritual feasts, etc.

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