Domvs Romana

10 Mar

Domvs Romana is the aristocratic townhouse of a wealthy Roman of Melite (the ancient name for Malta) that has survived, in part, since the 1st century AD in Rabat, Malta. We visited on a windy day after the tumultuous storm that felled “The Azure Window” a natural stone bridge on the coast of Gozo, Malta’s second largest island. This was the wonder of which the Malteze were most proud. In light of the loss of this natural monument, the unlikely survival of Domvs Rominua was even more extraordinary for us.

Malteze artists were masters of mosaic art as you can see from the stylized portrait above. The shading of the face, the movement of the hair, the gestures of the hands are created by laying hundreds of thousand of tiny mosaic pieces in a soft plaster substrate. This figure is especially notable for the use of worm shape tiles that allow the flowing waves and curl of the hair.

These smaller fragments were part of larger floor mosaics found in tact when the site was excavated in the late 19th century. The tactile nature of the tiles and their geometric rigidity make these portraits even more spectacular viewed live.

The art was informed by the use of figures and forms with symbolic meaning to the Romans.

This floor design is called, “The Drinking Doves.” This is one of the most famous and widely diffused motifs of antiquity. The design was favored by rich and noble Romans. Today you can see The Drinking Doves in Malta, Pompeii, Alexandria and other prominent Roman sites.

The floors borders and backgrounds feature dramatic geometrics that take on three-dimensional effects.

My particular favorite is a floor fragment with a simple black and white fish-scale design.

In addition to the famous mosaics we were able to see glass amphorikos (perfume bottles.) The luminescence of the glass was surprising and unexpected. Who could suppose that the quality of these excellent examples would survive.

Extant pieces of architectural features from the interior of the house were also discovered and curated. (A historical note, the very existence of any of this town house is amazing as a great deal of it was destroyed in the early 20th century in the building of a railroad through Rabat. It is hard to imagine this work of art being pick-axed but so it was.)

The first column with a fluted shaft above is an example of a Doric style column, quite common in houses of the Roman aristocracy. But the second column is more unusual as the design has an Asian character to it with the leaves and vines. It is a tribute to the far reach of the Roman empire at the time the house was built.

This is a marker from a Muslim cemetery found near the Domvs Romana at the time of excavation. The graves, found with the bodies facing Mecca, is proof of the importance of these peoples in the daily life of a Roman town.

7 Responses to “Domvs Romana”

  1. Barbara Werren March 10, 2017 at 10:16 pm #

    Enjoy your blog! The Roman mosaics remind us of the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily, one of the most amazing places we’ve ever seen, with the best Roman Mosaics. If you want to see them, go to our You Tube web page and look for Sicily Part 2. The link is: http://www.youtube.com/users/werrenskis/videos

    • Jill March 11, 2017 at 12:10 am #

      We saw Villa Romana Del Casale when we were on the first leg of our very first Medflies adventure in Sicily. We were staying in Siracusa and heard of this villa with outstanding mosaics at Piazza Armenia. It was an exciting drive among infrequent but determined Sicilian drivers on the rural roads. We both wondered why it was in this location. We found that it used to be on a river (no longer running) trading route. The mosaics are breathtaking and much more extensive that Domvs Romana but somehow these individual mosaic portraits in Rabat really touched me.

      • Barbara Werren March 11, 2017 at 4:00 am #

        Thank you Jill n Dana for your comment about Villa Romana in Sicily!

  2. Marty Farnsworth March 10, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

    This is fantastic, Jill; thank you for sharing it! I appreciate it all the more for having recently seen the wonderful mosaics at Piazza Armerina in Sicily.

    • Jill March 11, 2017 at 12:21 am #

      Hi Marty, (I wanted to make sure you saw this reply from another Mediterranean Flyer, Barbara Warren. I thought you would be interested in our visit to the same Villa.) We saw Villa Romana Del Casale when we were on the first leg of our very first Medflies adventure in Sicily. We were staying in Siracusa and heard of this villa with outstanding mosaics at Piazza Armenia. It was an exciting drive among infrequent but determined Sicilian drivers on the rural roads. We both wondered why it was in this location. We found that it used to be on a river (no longer running) trading route. The mosaics are breathtaking and much more extensive that Domvs Romana but somehow these individual mosaic portraits in Rabat really touched me.

      • Barbara Werren March 11, 2017 at 5:37 pm #

        Glad you shared this! Our visit to Sicily 2 years ago with Overseas Adventure Travel was one of the highlights of our lives, and the Villa Romana by far the most fabulous mosaics we’ve seen anywhere! One small correction…my name is Barbara WErren! (Not Warren, a very common mistake!) Will you be back in Santa Fe this summer? We may do our annual opera sojourn, and is so would like to see you!

      • Jill March 12, 2017 at 12:04 am #

        Is Overseas Adventure Travel Rick Steves? Wonderful that you saw Sicily. So far of all the places we visited it is the only place I would live after Santa Fe. Yes. Get in touch when you are coming to town. We’ll have lunch again.

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