Roman Villa of Hypnos in Montenegro
Montenegro is a beautiful little country with a rich history, and amazing architecture all over its cities. Its medieval-looking places fascinate a visitor and its great mountains surround you no matter where you go. Though, among all the other amazing things and historical treasures, Montenegro has the remains of Roman settlements, because for centuries the territory of the country was a part of the ancient empire. One of such stunning archeological sites is the Villa of Hypnos, or Villa Urbana as it is called these days, which is located in little town of Risan, near the Bay of Kotor.
Risan, or as Ancient Romans called it – Rhison, is a little town in the bay, very calm and with a relaxed lifestyle. In Ancient Roman times the city was known for its herbs and medications which it was exporting to the other parts of the empire, and aside from that Rhison had the official status of a Roman municipum, which gave its citizens the same rights as Roman citizens. During the times when the villa was built the city had about 10,000 inhabitants and the Villa of Hypnos most likely wasn’t the only one of its kind in the area.
The Villa of Hypnos was supposedly built in the 2nd century AD. It had seven beautifully decorated rooms for the owners, including the bedroom, a guest room and even a room for military meetings, spreading around an area of about 790m2. The other three small rooms, very simple in appearance, found in the building were supposedly for servants. Although archeologists still argue if it was a villa belonging to one family, or some kind of an ancient Roman inn, this Roman building still amazes people with its decorations and its beauty. The villa’s most notable and precious part is its beautiful ancient mosaics, which decorate the floors of what used to be the rooms when the building was still standing. These mosaics were first mentioned in the 18th century, although their “official” discovery happened in 1930 by the director of the local museum and at that time it contained only five mosaics, instead of the seven which we can see in modern days. The last two mosaics were found very recently and after proper preparation and restoration they are opened for the public now. The restoration of the mosaics that were first found lasted for two years, since 1957 to 1959, while some of the last ones are still being restored today. The villa’s construction wasn’t any different from the buildings of its time, and aside from the many rooms it had an atrium, a small garden in the center of the house which also served for the collection of rain water and which remains can still be seen in the ruins today; the corridor around the atrium leads to the other rooms and the remains of the back yard were also found.
The mosaics of the rooms contain different elements and figures, letting archeologists guess what purpose they could serve. One of the mosaics has squid-like figures and the depiction of vines, which lets historians suppose that the room it is in was used for dining, as food was such an important part of Roman life that they would honor it in their mosaics. Another room’s mosaic depicts something that looks like an ancient weapon from Crete: a labrys, the double-headed axe, which makes one think the room served military gatherings and soldiers’ meetings. The most fascinating room in the mansion has a beautiful, colorful mosaic of Hypnos—the Roman god of sleep, which is where the villa gets its name. The mosaic is made in colored stones, which was considered a much more refined and expensive work than the black and white mosaics which are present in every other room of the villa, and is surrounded with beautiful ornaments and patterns. This room was most likely a bedroom, for aside from the picture of the resting god, its floor has a plain, non-decorated part where the bed of the owner could be located. The mosaic of Hypnos, along with other depictions of the god, is considered a great rarity in the world, and this one is the only one known in the Balkan region.
How to get there
The villa is not hard to find. You can take a bus to Risan from the city of Kotor, or any other city in that area. After you arrive at the bus station you have to walk left along the road until you actually see the ruins, or at least the sign that points you at where they are. In the local language the signs will read “Rimski mozaici,” so you can follow them to the ruins. The entrance fee costs 2 euros (in 2015) and along with your ticket you get some papers with the description of the mosaic rooms and their meaning.