Villa Silene (Villa Sileen)
Villa Silene (Sileen)
The small villa of Silene is located very close to the archaeological city of Leptis Magna. Its name is often written in various forms, including Seleen, Selin, Silin, Silini, or Seline. But we will assume the correct spelling to be Silene, in relation to the myth of Silene. The villa dates back to the Byzantine period.
The Myth of Silene
In mythical iconography silenes appeared as round, balding and bearded human beings, as opposed to satyrs, the well-formed and beardless young males with pointed ears. The conflict between the Sun-god Apollo and the silene Marsyas, as it occurred in Herodotus' description of Xerxes' march across Phrygia, states that the skin of Marsyas was flayed off him and hung up by Apollo; the reasons for which become apparent in another myth in which the goddess Athena became unhappy about the size of her puffed-up cheeks as they appeared in her reflection in the pond when she was playing the flute, which she then cursed and threw away.
Is this a possible silene from the Villa Silene or just an amphora-helmeted pygmy?
When unsuspected Marsyas picked up the cursed flute and became a skillful player he unbelievably, and some would say foolishly, decided to challenge the powerful Apollo. The contest was widely depicted on vases dating from 430 BC, and was attended by a number of gods, goddesses, muses, satyrs and the like including the goddess Athena Herself. Clever Apollo went on to turn his instrument upside down in the second round of the contest, which his opponent could not imitate, and so foolish Marsyas was bitterly flayed.
A Scene of a Triton & a Nymph
The Villa's Location & Owner
Villa Silene is a private house of a wealthy owner or family from Leptis Magna, spectacularly built on a Mediterranean cliff overlooking the magnificent White Sea. It is difficult to say at this stage who exactly owned the villa but experts suggest that it could have belonged to a rich merchant from the nearby Berber Leptis Magna, which then was one of the biggest commercial centres in the Mediterranean.
An example of the lavish mosaic floors the villa has. Restoring this villa to its original state or building a completely new replica would be an amazing mosaic museum the muses would love to have.
Description of The Villa
The villa was discovered buried beneath the sand just over 50 years ago. After excavating the villa in 1974 archaeologists were amazed to find a private compound in excellent condition and with well-preserved rooms and mosaic floors. Likewise the nearby best preserved Roman city in the world, namely Leptis Magna, Villa Silene quickly became a perfect example of what an ancient luxury house would have looked like. The villa has a big garden, a library with shelves built in the walls, and a private bath complex.
Although currently it is closed for restoration work we can arrange short visits to some of the outdoor floors and sections on request. The house, with its unique domed roof, is widely recognised as one of the must-see places in Libya, as well as a perfect example of the stunning display of Libyan classical art; largely due to its lavish decorations, wall frescos and intricate mosaic designs across the villa's corridors and floors, including those of animals, like quacking ducks, crocodiles and leaping leopards, plants, human beings, men holding spears, hunting scenes, mythical characters, and impressive geometrical designs and mathematical forms. Many of the designs document scenes from everyday life, like the well-preserved chariot racing mosaic, and from popular mythology as those of gods, cupids, sea nymphs and cherubs. Villa Silene and Qasr Libya are the best mosaic sites so far found in Libya.
The Villa's private Bath
The villa is joined to a well-preserved bath, with a number of bathrooms, each equipped with a plunge pool and well decorated with sea-related themes. To have your own private bath building attached to your house in those days has been compared to having your own private jet plane these days. The walls of and the entrance to the bath, just like those of a modern millionaire's mansion, are made of marble.
The Villa's Private Garden
As a must-have-feature of any ancient villa the garden extends from one end of the house to the other, overlooking the sea. The garden appears to have been well designed and divided into several herb and flower beds, separated by mosaic borders, decorated with plants, flowers and animals.