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Villa del Tellaro

Eliseo Lupo
April 18, 2021
Neapolis
April 21, 2021
© Regione Siciliana Ph. Giuseppe Mineo

The Roman Villa del Tellaro

 
The southern panorama of the Val di Noto, in the province of Siracusa, is very different compared to the area of the towns in the north of the province. Here time seems to have stopped: in fact, after leaving behind the motorway junction that leads to Pachino-Portopalo, you can dive into a rural environment, made up of reeds, wetlands that anticipate the Vendicari Nature Reserve, cultivated fields and greenhouses. The only buildings present are the “masserie”, ancient and modern farmhouses, testament of how man was able to use this valley for his sustenance.
Right under one of these “masserie”, the remains of a Roman Villa of the late Imperial period were found: the materials discovered during the excavation included some coins which permitted the dating of its construction to the second half of the 4th century CE.
The Roman Villa del Tellaro ©Regione Siciliana Ph. Giuseppe Mineo
 
Studied by Giuseppe Voza between the 70s and 80s of the last century, the building is laid out around a columned peristyle of a near square shape, but it appears to be more developed on the northern side, at least according to what has been found to date. Although nearly nothing is left of the walls, of particular interest are the floors, decorated with polychrome mosaics: the peristyle is paved with a medal-like motiv, surrounded by laurel crowns; in another area to the north of the peristyle a hunting scene can be observed, placed on four registers and bordered by a line of meanders and frames filled with birds; important mosaics with mythological scenes are preserved in another two areas to the north of the peristyle.
We discuss this site with Rosa Lanteri, archeologist of the great Parco Archeologico di Siracusa, which also includes this area.
 
Why should a visitor decide to visit this site over all the others in the province of Siracusa? What does it tell us?
Firstly because the Roman Villa del Tellaro is the only villa of late antiquity (IV-V century) in the province of Siracusa almost completely brought to light, and its splendid polychrome mosaics are second to none of the known coeval villas. It is also easy to reach along the main tourist routes, and is a few kilometers from Noto and near the Vendicari Nature Reserve.
The villa tells of families of the Sicilian and Roman aristocracy who owned large estates and lived in luxurious homes that had every sort of comfort. In some cases, their stay in Sicily may have been as a stopping place on the journey towards other lands owned in North Africa. In fact the researchers have attributed the creation of the mosaics of the Villa del Tellaro to African masters, demonstrating the close contacts of the time between Sicily and North Africa.


 
The great “hunt mosaic” illustrates a slice of life and of the “otia” to which the aristocracy was dedicated: their hunting expeditions were followed by a banquet, with the slaves running to fill a glass or to pour water to wash their hands, while other slaves were skinning and cooking the catch. But the Villa tells us also of the cultural level of its owners, as the themes represented in the mosaics are a testimony of their education. For example, in the northern wing in the first room to the east facing the corridor, the mosaic represents the Ransom of Hector’s body, with the weighing of the corpse on one plate of the scales and golden objects on the other. This version of the facts does not appear in Book XXIV of the Iliad but was probably represented in a lost play by Aeschylus “The Phrygians”. So the owner was a cultured client, who didn’t choose the better known scene. Another element to note is that the names of the characters identified in the scene (Odysseus, Achilles, the Trojans and Priamus are preserved) are in Greek, testimony to the survival of the Greek language in Sicily even centuries after the Roman conquest.

Satyr and maenad © Ph. P. Peluso
Corridor mosaic © Ph. P. Peluso
 
What is its historic importance? How was it discovered?
We have to start with the fact that the modern “masseria” lies exactly over the Roman Villa. Even the inside courtyard of the “masseria” coincides exactly with the villa’s peristyle. The repetition of the choice of location, other than the possibility of reusing existing structures, was due to the fact that both structures were placed on a slightly higher part of terrain which permitted them to dominate the surrounding countryside. The discovery was made during the 1970s as some unusual movement was noticed during the night around the then abandoned “masseria”. Thanks to the intervention of the Guardia di Finanza, the illegal excavations were stopped. The complex phase of expropriation of the site began and was followed by an archeological dig led by Giuseppe Voza, then “Soprintendente ai Beni Culturali di Siracusa”, followed by the restoration of the mosaics and the creation of the museum on site.
Can the visit to the Villa del Tellaro make the visitor share the emotions that you felt as a researcher?
Reading the comments that the tourists leave in the visitor book, what recurs frequently is their surprise at finding this unexpected hidden gem. And then, obviously, the emotions aroused by the beauty of the mosaics and their chromatic effects, the vivacity of the scenes, the sense of movement and vitality that the figures transmit.
 
 
Are there episodes, facts, curiosities that can attract our readers?
To shed light on the Roman Villa, the northern part of the “masseria” was partly demolished. A witness, passionate about archeology, remembers that in the 1950s he only needed to move the hay with a foot to see the mosaics that were used as pavement of the barn on which cows carelessly trod!
Which other similarly attractive sites connected to this can a visitor see in Sicily or other areas?
Certainly whoever is interested in Roman Villas must not miss the incredible Roman Villa of Piazza Armerina, but also the lesser known one of Patti Marina, also discovered and brought to light by Giuseppe Voza during the same period as the Villa del Tellaro.
La Villa del Tellaro è un sito del Parco archeologico e paesaggistico di Siracusa, Eloro, Villa del Tellaro e Akrai. Foto su concessione dell’Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana con divieto di duplicazione, anche parziale, con qualsiasi mezzo.
 
NICOLETTA LONGO

After studying and a brief, intense experience in the field of Archeology, she later decided to choose teaching as a profession. Alongside her passion for music and for comics, she continues to love archeology, art and her home territory, and dedicates her free time to cultural associations and writing for SiracusaCulture.
English translation: Marco Messina