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A villa is a type of house that was originally an ancient Roman upper-class country house. Since its origins in the Roman villa, the idea and function of a villa has evolved considerably. After the fall of the Roman Republic, villas became small farming compounds, which were increasingly fortified in Late Antiquity, sometimes transferred to the Church for reuse as a monastery.

Roman writers refer with satisfaction to the self-sufficiency of their latifundium villas, where they drank their own wine and pressed their own oil. This was an affectation of urban aristocrats playing at being old-fashioned virtuous Roman farmers, it has been said that the economic independence of later rural villas was a symptom of the increasing economic fragmentation of the Roman Empire.

Then they gradually re-evolved through the Middle Ages into elegant upper-class country homes. In modern parlance, “villa” can refer to various types and sizes of residences, ranging from the suburban semi-detached double villa to residences in the wildland–urban interface.

Archaeologists have meticulously examined numerous Roman villas in England. Like their Italian counterparts, they were complete working agrarian societies of fields and vineyards, perhaps even tileworks or quarries, ranged round a high-status power centre with its baths and gardens. The grand villa at Woodchester preserved its mosaic floors when the Anglo-Saxon parish church was built (not by chance) upon its site.

Two kinds of villa-plan in Roman Britain may be characteristic of Roman villas in general. The more usual plan extended wings of rooms all opening onto a linking portico, which might be extended at right angles, even to enclose a courtyard. The other kind featured an aisled central hall like a basilica, suggesting the villa owner’s magisterial role.

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