In the 1,600-year-old ruins of a sumptuous villa, near Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, archaeologists have uncovered the finest late-Roman mosaics ever found. The villa was destroyed in a landslide 500 years ago. Buried under 16 to 26 feet of earth and rubble, the floors thus far excavated have turned out to be a treasure of stone and glass picture-carpets.

The villa was apparently built by one Ancius Petronius Probus, Rome's proconsul for Sicily in 406 and an ancestor of Pope Gregory the Great. Down the corridors of time, conquering Byzantines, Saracens and Normans trod its glittering floors. About a third of...

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