make a booking

& events

San Gandolfo Festival
The 7th Wednesday after Easter and the 3rd week end in September
find out more >

The Most Holy Crucifix
Starts May 1st
find out more >

La Sagra delle Nocciole (The Hazelnut Festival)
Always in August usually after the 15th, a moveable date

Lo Sfoglio
Late August

Santa Lucia
December 13


Associated Links


Sicily's "Bikini Girls"

Posted by Suzanne on 27 Feb 2015

The Girls in Bikinis:

At first glance, the ten barely clad mosaic girls, on the floor of an ancient Roman villa in southern Sicily, do look like young women in bikinis: blonde, almost bare skinned, long-limbed and agile.

And since the 1950’s, these poised women have been known as the ‘Bikini Girls’ of the ancient Roman world; they possess an appeal.

Their mosaic story, from the 4th century world of a far corner of the Roman Empire in southern Sicily, has for decades, been a draw card for visitors wanting to see some of the world’s most splendid mosaics: 3,500 square meters of intricate African crafted mosaics on the floors of a once grand 4th century imperial country villa, Villa Romana del Casale (the Roman Villa of Casale).

Just west of Piazza Armerina, nestled in a 'deep wooded valley', the Roman Villa has been UNESCO protected since 1997.


They Caused a Stir:

When the site was fully excavated in the 1950’s the ‘Bikini Girls’ reportedly caused a stir. Was it simply because they were scantily clad and unexpected?

Is their strange appeal that they seem familiar- competing in activities we know so well in the 21st century looking like modern bikini clad girls, yet belonging to an ancient world?

According to the writer, Richard Hodges, in an entertaining and indepth 2013 piece for Current World Archaeology, there was once a sign at this UNESCO World Heritage site urging visitors, “to hasten to feast their eyes on these shameless hussies.”

Richard Hodges words, are used cleverly by him, to capture a 4th century morally declining Roman Empire; actually the ‘Bikini Girls’ were not ‘hussies’ at all, but athletes!


Their Athletic Prowess:

It is now accepted by scholars (and Richard Hodges) that they are ten trim athletes taking part in a serious athletic competition: hurling discus, playing volley ball, lifting dumbbells, sprinting and crowning the victor.

Competitions that were, by the 4th century, according to distinguished Italian archaeologist Patrizio Pensabene in an article for the Penn. Museum, held in grand private houses of the wealthy. So not an unusual thing back then.


The Much Needed New Roof:

When I last saw the ten ‘Bikini Girls’ in 2006, I sweltered under Franco Minissi 1950’s Perspex roof (seen below) and the intensity of the summer light washed over the mesmerising mosaics.

After a 5 year mosaic restoration and roof project, which started in 2007 – and still incomplete, at the cost of 18 million euro (EU funded), a new wooden roof, designed by Milanese conservation architect, Gionata Rizzi has replaced Minissi’s ‘greenhouse’ roof. And the restoration work of all the mosaics is said to be vibrant.


Returning this Sicilian Summer:

Now, I  have all the reason in the world to go back to Villa Romana del Casale. This year, in the Sicilian Summer, I will head to Piazza Armerina to see the revived ‘Bikini Girls’ and all the 3,500 square meters of mosaics under a beautiful, newly designed wooden roof. It is said it makes the interconnecting rooms of a fabulous 4th century Roman villa a lot, lot cooler.






Note 26/8/2015: Richard Hodges article, "Richard Hodges Travels to Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina" in Current World Archaeology and Patrizio Pensabene and Enrico Gallocchio's, "The Villa del casale of Piazza Armerina" both quoted in the original blog were background reading for this blog. Suzanne

<< Back to list