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Sicily – A Road Paved With Exceptional Craftsmanship

As previously mentioned, the Swedish Avenue trip to Sicily would let us among other things explore the craftsmanship of its people. Fortunate to be enormously culturally rich, which is a rarity in today’s world, Sicily let us dig deeper to find all sources of art, architecture and craft.

Let me begin by introducing you to a craft of the ancient world by presenting to you the Villa Romana del Casale. The Villa Romana del Casale is a Roman villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century AD and located about 3 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. It contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world, and not to our surprise has been designated as one of 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

Roman mosaics are constructed from geometrical blocks called tesserae, placed together to create the shapes of figures, motifs and patterns. Materials for tesserae were obtained from local sources of natural stone, with the additions of cut brick, tile and pottery creating colored shades of, predominantly, blue, black, red, white and yellow. Polychrome patterns were most common, but monochrome examples are known. Marble and glass were occasionally used as tesserae, as were small pebbles, and precious metals like gold. Mosaic decoration was not just confined to floors but featured on walls and vaults as well. Traces of guidelines have been found beneath some mosaics, either scored into or painted onto the mortar bedding. The design might also be pegged out in string, or mounted in a wooden frame.
The collapse of buildings in antiquity can, paradoxically, both irrevocably destroy mosaics or protect and preserve them. (Source: Wikipedia)

It is of exceptional value that the mosaics of this building have been preserved almost to its original shape. They tell the story for the ensuing ages of what life might have been like when the villa was inhabited. Different mosaics let us guess the different functions of the many rooms. This way we find the more simple motifs to be in the rooms of the slaves and the more complex ones to show us spaces that were either inhabited by the master and other members of the family or spaces that were built for the many occasions, like receiving of guests, dinner spaces, thermal baths, gym spaces, etc.

Each mosaic tells a story and it is hard to tell which one is more beautiful than the other. Art historians have been emphasizing on two motifs though. One, “The Little Hunt”, and two “The Bikini Girls”.
“The Little Hunt” scene shows a hunt, with hunters using dogs and capturing a variety of game.
“The Bikini Girls” were found in the room dubbed the “Chamber of the Ten Maidens” (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze in Italian) in 1959-60. The maidens appear in a mosaic artwork which scholars named Coronation of the Winner. The young women perform sports including weight-lifting, discus throwing, running and ball-games. A woman in a toga is depicted with a crown in her hand and one of the maidens holds a palm frond.

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To cut the story short, why I have been writing about the mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale so extensively, is to stress the importance of artisan work. Thanks to it, we are able to see the history, our history that showcases the progress and prosperity of the human kind.

Fast forward to today…

Cefalù, a small beautiful town on the Tyrrhenian Sea, just 70 km away from Palermo. No doubt it is a major tourist attraction, which makes it harder to spot among all the tourist items on sale, real artisan work. But we were lucky to find just one of them.

L’artigiano Freak.

The idea comes from two Neapolitan brothers, Francesco and Mirko Menna, who founded L’artigiano Freak, a brand that reinterprets the Neapolitan tailoring school of leather goods and combines the lively patterns presented on coffee bags from all over the world.
High emphasis is on tradition, expressed through manufacturing, only made in Italy, and innovation, with the rediscovery of organic materials, allowing to create original and unique pieces.
First they opened a lab in the native town of the brothers, Naples, followed by their first shop in the island of Lampedusa and finally a store in Cefalù, where we met Francesco, one of the Menna brothers.
Talking to Francesco, it only affirmed how important craftsmanship is in today’s world, where tradition and uniqueness are highly valued and are finding their way back to its customers.
Today L’artigiano Freak makes fashion and accessories that combine taste for tradition and attention to detail.

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It is needless to say, that our Italy trip has been so enriching for Swedish Avenue. Inspired by the beauty of this country, our brain is full of new ideas that we hope to realize in the upcoming months.

Stay tuned and follow our development on our website, through our blog and of course on Facebook and Instagram.

Baci, Swedish Avenue

Swedish Avenue August 6, 2016