Noble Sicilian warmth at Villa Trigona

LUMINOSITY ITALIA

By the late 16th century, the Trigona family could count itself among the very elite of Sicilian nobility. Its forebears had arrived from Swabia and France following the 11th century Norman conquest of the island, then thrived so well that Barone Marco Trigone could pay to found the exquisite Cathedral of Maria Santissima delle Vittorie in the town of Piazza Armerina.

Today the family continues to flourish while opening its country home to discerning visitors. Villa Trigona, just 2 kilometers from the cathedral of Piazza Armerina in Enna Province, offers the opportunity to feel true Sicilian hospitality with two suites and 14 rooms available for guests to enjoy the warmth of the land and its people. Members of the Trigona family, including the family matriarch and her daughter, welcome visitors to stay at the property with them.
 Villa Trigona, Sicily
The villa’s courtyard and family crest. Work began on the building in the early 1800s.

“You can come and breathe the history of our family,” says Emanuel Maltese Trigona, heir to the long lineage. “Not only the painting gallery of our ancestors, but also the furnishings, some of it dating from the 1800s.” Now renovated to meet modern standards, the villa is also replete with furniture and heirlooms from the early 1900s and Liberty period, as well as more contemporary pieces.

It also offers several living rooms, a room with fireplace, a small international library and a room for listening to music. All accommodations are air conditioned with private bathrooms.

The 4-star rural inn is a place of fond memories for Emanuel. “I had many happy summers here as a child with my grandparents,” he recalls. “We do this today not as a commercial operation, but as an act of love. People are guests of our family.”

The Trigonas provide home-cooked Sicilian fare at lunch and dinner exclusively for guests. Breakfast is an abundant buffet of local foods and renowned island pastries, including a great number of delectable home-baked cakes, little coconut biscuits and marmalades produced by the Trigonas themselves. As well, first-rate local ingredients underpin the menu of international breakfast items ranging from granola to bircher muesli, honey, yogurt, bacon with scrambled eggs, a variety of cheeses and salami. Local women prepare meals according to time-honored Sicilian recipes, complete with homemade cakes and fresh bread.

The food is as seductive as the surroundings. Guests can explore the surrounding countryside or wonder in the architecture of nearby Piazza Armerina. They can also enjoy the swimming pool, area for archery, a bocce court, a sports field, table tennis and board games.
 Villa Trigona, Sicily
A hearty breakfast made with local ingredients in the quiet of rural Sicily.

“Our motto is ‘Yes, we welcome friends,’” says Emanuel. Up to 30 guests at a time can enjoy the family atmosphere.

Construction on the villa began in the early 1800s and was later enlarged to become a comfortable retreat for the noble family. It still carries the family crest, an eagle with crown and shield, along with centuries-old fountains and stonework.

Ancient lands, compelling sites

Among the compelling surrounding sites is the town of Piazza Armerina, which stands some 721 meters above sea level atop one of Sicily’s most spectacular views. Half medieval and half baroque, the town and its 17th-century Duomo founded by the Trigona family draw travelers from across the world. In August the lively Palio dei Normanni festival attracts many visitors.

Nearby is an outstanding UNESCO World Heritage site just 5 km to the southwest: Villa Romana del Casale, a supreme example of a luxury Roman villa that graphically illustrates the predominant social and economic structure of its age. Its early 4th century mosaics are exceptional for their artistic quality, inventiveness and number.

Some of Villa Romana del Casale’s most famous mosaics depict the peristyle and great hunt. The stunning works also include the famed “Bikini Girls,” a depiction of a group of young women wearing bandeau tops, bikini bottoms and even anklets that would look perfectly at home on the beaches of Southern California today. Yet it was ancient Sicily instead and the so-called bikini girls are ante litteram, Roman gymnasts. Wearing what appears to be the very first version of the bikini, they are performing in an athletic contest and look very fit. The incredible scene is known as the “Coronation of the Winner”. Scholars now agree that the scene depicts an athletic competition, as attested to in four sources, while previous theories favored a beauty contest. Certainly, the sponsorship of female athletic contests would have been associated with only the absolute upper class of the Roman Empire.
 Villa Trigona, Sicily
Piazza Armerina and its 17th-century Duomo founded by the Trigona family.

In this beautiful Sicilian villa, girls in subligar, as the Latin called women’s briefs, participated in number of activities such as long jumping with weights in their hands, playing handball, running and throwing the discus.

What remains of this sumptuous villa shows the sophistication and civilization of the rich in Roman times. Covering 4,000 square meters, it was built on a series of terraces with three major axes that offer the visitor spectacular views of the detailed mosaic floors. Scenes from hunting, mythological tales, domestic life and exotic landscapes all exhibit astonishingly realistic attention to detail. Artists from North Africa were employed to complete the works.

Several theories have been advanced about the probable identity of the luxuriant villa’s first owner. Many scholars assert it was Maximianus Herculeus, Diocletian’s co-Emperor from AD 286 to 305. The theory is supported by the presence of ivy leaves in many of the mosaics, a decorative elements often associated with Maximilianus. His son and successor Maxentius continued the decoration, with Constantine taking over upon Maxentius’s death in 312.

The vast patrician villa was a single-story building centered on the peristyle, around which almost all the main public halls, private quarters, baths and courtyards were organized.

Entrance to the peristyle is via the atrium from the west, with thermal baths to the northwest, and service rooms and probable guest rooms to the north. The baths comprised the calidarium, a large hot room with pools of water to humidify the atmosphere, the lukewarm tepidarium, a large meeting place known as the frigidarium and a natatio, an open-air swimming pool.

Here in his villa in the countryside a man could pursue the otium, a pause with the ease and leisure of inactivity and sheer indolence. He could read a book on the ancients and sleep or rest as his mood dictated while enjoying the fresh food of Sicily in great abundance. The owner was free from negotium, or public affairs and business.

The pursuit of otium was a way of life for the leisured Roman classes and gave birth to the classic Roman villa. The Villa Romana del Casale is one of the best examples in the ancient Roman world due to its beauty and complexity.

Sicilians were providers of grain for the ancient Romans. Over the centuries the Piazza Armerina well represented the Sicilian granary, of which la masseria, a fortified large farm, is its symbol.
 Villa Trigona, Sicily
The so-called “Bikini Girls”, 4th-century mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale.

Emanuel Maltese Trigona highlights another interesting attraction near Piazza Armerina: the archeological site of Morgantina where a statue of Demeter was stolen in the late 1970s and sold to the Getty Museum. It has been returned and is now housed in its own museum in the little town of Aidone. The statue of Demeter together with a statue of Kore are two 6th-century B.C. sculptures known as the “acroliths”, wooden statues with Thasian marble heads, hands and feet that have haunting smiles. The cult of Demeter as an agrarian goddess and mistress of the afterlife was extremely developed in Sicily.