It is along the sunny Statale 106, the state route which runs along the Calabrian Ionian coast, that the Roman Villa of Casignana can be found, located in Contrada Palazzi, an area which is full of invaluable archaeological evidence. Discovered in the vicinity of a small town in the province of Reggio, facing a splendid sea and at some distance from the most crowded tourist destinations, this house is the second archaeological site in the South of Italy (after Piazza Armerina) to be known for the remarkable beauty of its mosaics.
In 1963, thanks to infrastructural works that were being executed, the discovery of the first remains was made and subsequent excavations unearthed the core of a luxurious villa from the 1st Century b.C. Built in an area that was already inhabited during the Greek period, as it was a crucial communication route between Rhegion and Locri Epizefiri, this residence was widely expanded over the years of the Roman domination, until it was abandoned in the 5th Century.
The whole complex, which is now open to visitors, covers an area of about 8.000 square metres, stretching out on both sides of the state route as it spans from the seaside to the beginning of the path to the mountain. The discovered rooms are about twenty, placed around a central courtyard; as of today, the identified spaces are the thermal baths, a garden decorated with a monumental fountain, the latrines, the residence area and a few other facilities.
The thermal apparatus, divided into two contiguous sections with the canonic partition between cold and hot areas (frigidarium, tepidarium, calidarium) is the room which presents the best conservation status. Rich in figures and geometric patterns, the polychrome mosaics which set the Villa of Casignana apart from other sites can be found in this section. Particularly: the Room of the Nereids, decorated with a white- and green-tiled floor mosaic representing a marine thiasos and showing the four feminine figures astride monsters in the shapes of a lion, a tiger, a horse and a bull; the Room of the four seasons, of which only two images have been found – spring and autumn – along with a decoration on the floor which depicts an inebriated Bacchus supported by a young satyr in the act of helping him pour wine into an amphora. Two semi-circular avant-corps can be observed at the two bottoms of the long and wide corridor: probably two towers, erected for the purpose of fortifying the residence. The unearthed evidence, the precious marbles, painted stuccos and mosaics in multi-coloured molten glass suggest lavishly decorated interiors and make it a particularly rich and historically significant site.
The area is under the supervision of the Township of Casignana and the Archaeological Heritage Office of Calabria. Over time, the confining land has been acquired in its entirety, in order to carry out more excavations and retrieve the rest of a patrimony which still seems to reserve surprises (first of all, the necropolises).
The site has been endowed with all the necessary facilities: a building dedicated to education activities, offices, a sewage draining system and video surveillance. The most important work, crucial for the conservation and fruition of the villa, was the covering of all the spaces in the immediate vicinity of the State Street 106. Thanks to it, a series of raised itineraries have been realized, enabling visitors to see the villa and admire its precious decorations at a very close distance. Furthermore, a tunnel has been built which connects the core in the mountain area with the seaside complex.