Sean\’s Sicily

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Posts Tagged ‘villa del casale

La Villa del Casale

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On the way back from Catania, Sonia and I decided to take a side-trip to Piazza Amerina, a small mountain village in the middle of nowhere, and a long way from any autostrada. I wasn’t entirely clear on the reasons for doing so except that I’d been complaining that all I’ve seen between Palermo and Catania was, in fact, autostrada 🙂 Sometimes when my mental translations have fallen behind and I subconciously skip a few sentances in order to catch up, which normally works fine when someone is banging on about the weather, football, etc. but sometimes (especially with Sonia) I miss crucial parts of the conversation or decisions and then have to ask “uh, why are we going to Piazza Amerina again?

So for all the misunderstood conversations I’ve had with you, Sorry, Sonia! 🙂

Anyway, in Piazza Amerina there is a Roman villa ‘La Villa del Casale’, a Unesco world heritage site with very famous mosaics. Actually not a villa in the proper sense (or at least not as I understand it) but more of an administration building with attached apartments for the local Tribune (or whatever the local boss was called in Roman times).

The entire experience is an excellent example of much that is wrong in Sicily, and how the little people either get screwed or get a great big chunk of pie, depending entirely on who they know and if the people they know are in political power or not.

In the case of la villa del Casale, the ones who are getting screwed are the tourists and the local vendors that one finds at tourist attractions all over the world. We found the stalls all closed up with signs saying “Closed by Court Injunction” and the vendors outside the entrance to the Villa, sheltering in the shade, peacefully protesting. The story, as Sonia found out, was that their stalls had been shut on public safety grounds, to open the road for heavy equipment that was going to be used to carry out some work on the villa. Some 3 months later, not a single piece of heavy equipment (we’re talking about big earthmovers, cranes etc) had come down the road, and the works that were being carried out were accessed from a different road across the valley. But still the local mayor (linked to Forza Italia) refused to allow the stalls to reopen.

The alleged actual reason (alluded to in typical Sicilian fashion) was that the local government had given permission for a new restuarant/shop to be built right on the doorstep of the villa complex, and once this was completed, the competiting vendors were shut down to force the tourists to dine at this one place, and to buy their touristy junk from this one place.

No-one wants to suggest that the owners of the new place has paid kickbacks or is linked to the local administration, of course. Oh no, I quite emphatically want to say that there are NO SUSPICIONS AT ALL that the mayor or those close to him have been paid off to nobble the competition. Right, got that? All clear? The vendors have been shut down for 3 months for public safety. Good…

Of course, that begs the question that if the vendors have been shut down for public safety – I remind you, to make way for great big dangerous earth-moving equipment which would probably crush Joe Public under their huge tires without noticing – why are the same endangered public forced to park their cars on that very same road and walk down it to the villa (but only after paying 1 euro to the Parcheggiatore for the privilege of parking their cars on a public road)?

Did I mention yet the Eur90million that the local administration got for improving the site? Basic things like running water, public toilets, a bit of paint for the rusting greenhouse-type thing that’s covering the villa? Which instead is being spent on a series of concerts and events? Again, I wish to make clear that there’s no suggestion at all that the money’s been used for these activities in order to facilitate kickbacks to the local administration, or that the people organising the events are linked to the local mayor in any way. It could be argued that a large series of small payments offers more scope for skimming than a small series of large payments, as well as directinng more work/jobs/contracts/money towards friends and family, but that’s just unjust paranoia, and I’m ashamed for even thinking it.

And so, despite the money, despite the steep Eur6 entrance fee, despite the bus-loads of tourists, the site still lacks running water, toilet facilities, or any kind of interpretive centre to explain the significance of the place. Sure, they’re a couple of sunburned posters, and the odd room has a leaflet, but really (and I’m an archaeology enthusiast) I came away with the impression “Some nice mosiacs…”

In case anyone thinks I’m being anti-Sicilian, Sonia’s take on the whole thing is here

Written by seancasaidhe

August 29, 2007 at 10:27 pm