Experience firsthand the timeless customs and traditions that make this place magical. From the era of the Nuraghe until now, Sardinia is a treasure trove of riches for your eyes and mind. And the intangible cultural heritage offers unique excitement. Without forgetting festivals and fairs that enliven the island for a party that lasts 12 months out of the year.
Sardinia, a great soul within it, the sea around it
Charm and extraordinary beauty, this land resembles no other place.
It resembles no other place. This is what the first travelers from the past wrote about Sardinia. They recount the emotion of this land that slowly emerges from the sea and the spectacular unspoilt nature that is revealed. A land embraced by an intense light. Towering mountains that slope towards the coast, framing marine scenarios that are always different: cliffs sculpted by the wind, long beaches, bays hidden by the Mediterranean scrub, sand dunes covered with white lilies.
You cannot say you know Sardinia if you do not experience symbiosis with its sea. You can do it with water sports, by taking relaxing walks along the shore, being cradled by the waves, getting benefits from its sun and scuba diving where the blue is deepest. Dives that you will never be able to forget.
The colour of the sea ranges from turquoise to emerald green, the surrounding landscapes seem painted, the rocks are sculpted by the wind and beauty and charm are waiting to be revealed to the world
The Jewel of Emerald Coast.
The one that follows is the story of fifty years of the Emerald Coast, since it was founded in 1962, to nowadays. Here we recall the origins of this myth of tourism, the tale of Prince Karim Aga Khan madly in love with this wild and inaccessible land. So, the ambitious project for the development of this coast and the conquest, later on, of its present, International fame, also earned mostly by the coming of important and famous people of the show business and important industrialist of capitalism world. Half a century later, the myth still survives and remains a pillar of the Sardinian economy and an invaluable, unique reference for those who, looking for a special holidays, searching good quality, love for awild uncontaminated nature in its colors and shapes. That means that, this model of development, at the beginning so discussed and criticized, had its own coherence and has been inspired by principles that remain still valid.
The Emerald Coast is famous for its landscape heritage, unique, white sand beaches, deep coves as wedges placed in the heart of the earth, the seabed crystalline, pink granite rocks processed by the winds of thousand years, landscapes painted by yellow gorse and fragrant juniper. And, that’s why, this place with his nature so generous, drew the attention since the early, of celebrities from all the world: the Big of the jet-set, sport champions, business men, politics and industrial men, have been and are at home in Porto Cervo; they have significantly and deeply helped this lovely place to reach the fame and the reputation that it deserved. A place for holidays where on summer all the world is looking at. Greta Garbo, Margaret of England, Gianni Agnelli, Jacqueline Kennedy, Juan Carlos, Harrison Ford and Sting are just some of the names of the habitué, living that social life, of which also Prince Agha Kan, was one of the protagonist. We can say that, if persons of this rank have made this corner of Sardinia as their second home, it’s also because their need of privacy is understood and favoured. The secret of Costa Smeralda, a mixture of discretion and exhibitionism, elegance and unconventionality, formality and extravagance. The myth has been built by the Prince Karim but also people as Peter Kent, Pedros, a gypsy friend of Amin Aga Khan’s brother. Pedros had opened the first nightclub in the area of the Coast, transgressions and follies until the dawn. «The Prince Aga Khan use to select personally the invitations for the official ceremonies.
Not very far from Poltu Cuatu, in Baja Sardinia, the 6 August 1976, the greek Shipowner Mr Stevros Niarchos wanted to gather all his friends coming from all around the world, in a place excavated in the granitic rock called „Ritual“ a nightclub designed by a trendy and a fanciful architect Mr Andres Fiore. It was one of the most magnificent and crazy nights that the Emerald Coast reminds. Other places of madness nights, over the years, have been: S’ Inferru, undersquare in Porto Cervo, followed by Pepero, Sottovento, Sopravento and at the end The Billionaire, the Creation of the business man called Mr Flavio Briatore, that has conquered in the decade the night life in the Coast.
Until about fifty years ago, the few families that lived in the countryside near „Monti di Mola“ used to distrust the lands near the sea because inproductive and malarial. Nobody wanted them, and often were considered poor properties and use to ended in heritage as less valuable pieces of family assets. Those coasts, in the first time, refused, from the inhabitants, are now the heart of Costa Smeralda. This apparent paradox would be enough to explain how much » the birth and the development of one of the most famous resorts ” in the world, has contributed on the history of the places. The formal act about the birth of the «Consorzio Costa Smeralda» is dated March 14th, , 1962. Prince Karim Aga Khan, Patrick Guinness, Felix Gray, Andrè Ardoin, John Duncan Miller and René Podbielski meet in Olbia, in Corso Umberto, in the building that will became the first venue of the association, at the presence of Notary Mario Altea from Tempio Puasania, to sign the statute, The desk was full of papers, all the deeds of the sales of about 1800 hectares of land purchased by the promoters of the Consorzio in the area ” Liscia di Vacca ” Razza di Juncu « between the town of Arzachena and Olbia.
Before this of course, a long work of diplomacy, a planning of intent written down, in September 1961 preceded the signing of the Statute, that made possible this unexpected touristic revolution. A long extensive work began, quite casually, in 1958. The English banker Mr John Duncan Miller at the time, vice-president of the World Bank, was visiting Sardinia for one reason: he wanted to check, himself, how was proceeding the campaign against the malaria and the progress of eradication of anopheles, the mosquito, transmitter of the malaria. While sailing along the coasts of the island, the yacht of the British Tycoon stopped near the Cala di Volpe and there it stayed at anchor. Once there, Mr Miller was enchanted by the clear waters of the bay and was convinced about the touristic potential of this corner of Gallura. We can say we have two witnesses of this first approach. At that time, two young boys, Giovan Michele Linaldeddu and Giovanni Azara, still with us, were in those waters, taking a bath the same day, and were invited to go aboard by Mr Miller that through an interpreter asked them information about the landowners and the possibilities that they could accept to sell the lands. The story of this singular interview is documented in the film: «From the Mountain to the Mountains», which tells us the foundation and the development of the Emerald Coast in the late fifties till the beginning of the New Millennium. Mr Miller informed the Prince Karim Aga Khan IV about the wonders of this island. Karim at that time had just become the Imam of the Muslims Ismailiti and, as a descendant of Mohammed, was considered a God on earth by those who believes in this religion. In any case, He decided to get involved on the trade and invested 25 thousands dollars in the Union that became later the Consorzio formed by a group of enterpreneurs. But the Prince believed to have made a very bad deal when, during the winter of 1958, he came to Olbia by the Tirrenia ferry boat and had to travel for 4 hours to mule tracks, impassable paths to arrive to his properties purchased without having seen them before. The place, future touristic resort, was completly without services, no roads, no electricity, no water, and nothing else. And then, the bad season and the rainy day, made «Monti di Mola» wilder and more unconquerable than ever, and the prevalence of these gray days, took away all the beauty of those evocative corners of these charming coasts, described to him as fantastic. Providential was, an improvised cruise in the summer of 1959. The Prince Aga Khan and some friends boarded a yacht in Costa Azzurra, there on holidays, decided to leave for Sardinia. Karim wanted to show to his traveler friends his properties that too quickly he hastily dismissed as a lost deal. The crystalline colors of the water, the white beaches, granitic rocks shaped by the winds as plastic sculptures, pine trees, wild olives and sand dunes, that left the Prince speechless. Following the suggestion of the Architect Mr. Luigi Vietti the Aga Khan believe that that corner of the island could be called Costa Smeralda, inspired by the emerald colors of the water, a transparent sea deeply insinuated in a thousand creeks. The future of tourism of Monti di Mola was certainly, outlined in that time. Until then, the only illustrious tourist that the area had known was the industrialist Giuseppe Kerry Mentasti. In 1953 Mr. Mentasti bought for 3.5 million lires, 43 hectares of the island of Mortorio, transferred to the owner of the San Pellegrino company from the tobacconist of Arzachena Mr Luigino Demuro. Mr Mentasti considered the little island of Mortorio just a summer retreat and did not think at all to cultivate entrepreneurial ambitions. Also because, as already said, the area was really lacking even of the most elementary forms of urbanization and without any networks water. The lack of water in the area was one of the hardest battles for the politician Mr Giovanni Filigheddu: in the fifties, in the Regional Council, Mr Filigheddu expended all his energy and moved all his knowledge possible to press the building of the Dam of Liscia, essential for watering the dry low land of Gallura. A dream that became reality only few years later and was decisive for the wild mountains of Mola that became a welcoming wonderful luxurious touristic destination.
Lying 178 km from the nearest mainland, slightly closer to Tunisia than Italy, no other island is as marooned in the Mediterranean as Sardinia — a fact that has shaped the island’s character and brought a history of guests with the changing tides. While the Sardinians, or Sardi, have adopted the Italian tongue of their latest landlords, they cling fiercely to Sardo, their native language, and are recognised as a distinct ethnic group from their mainland counterparts. In effect, Sardinia is a sort of Italian Hawaii. It boasts the Romanesque churches, tile mosaics, medieval castles and fine wines associated with Italy, but also pulsates with an undiscovered and unscripted spirit that the mainland lost long ago.
Domus de Janas
Throughout all of the island of Sardinia are collections of caves carved into the sides of hills and mountains. Over 3000 domus de janas have been recorded and registered so far. Domus de janas translates directly to fairy houses, though the true meaning of the Sardinian word jana is endlessly complex. These fairies could be young or old, good or bad. They were often ravishing and always quick tempered. They could be drawn down to the village by the sound of music and dancing, but there was always the risk of them entrancing the young men and seducing them away to their own world. Many stories about the janas include fire; they would continuously beg villagers for fire or ask men to control it to prove their power. Denying a jana her request ended in ruin, with some families convinced that even today they are paying penance for a snub made by an unwise ancestor.
The hillside, now known as Montessu, is covered with around forty domus de janas. It is an enormous, ancient necropolis from 6000 years ago. The tombs were carved into the natural amphitheater that overlooks the valleys, for Montessu sits over both Villaperuccio and the ruins of ancient settlements nearby. There are caves decorated with various prehistoric symbols representing the afterlife — spirals and bulls and small sculptures of the Dea Madre (the Mother Goddess). Of these small terra-cotta representations, only one was still in place in the late 70’s, when the area was turned into an archaeological site, however there are many empty carved recesses where they would have been placed.
There is a large sanctuary that seems to have been used as a sort of reception room for the family members of the deceased, and signs of outdoor plazas where the bodies would have been laid prior to burial. It seems as though they were never fully abandoned; the better-preserved graves contained burials as recent as 1900 BC and artifacts have been found that suggest some were then transformed into houses, before becoming hideouts for shepherds and playgrounds for their children. The park now has paved roads, marked hiking trails and guided tours. However, the archaeologist Remo Forresu, who was responsible for the excavations at Montessu, says it is clear that half of the hillside is still covered in the oldest of the tombs which have never been discovered or opened, and most likely never will be under the current economic conditions. There is a long list of archaeologists, he says, that would line up to continue the dig, if only the region were willing and able to dedicate the necessary funds.
Sadly, for the first time in their history, the tombs of Montessu have now been abandoned.
Castelsardo & Pink Flamingos
One of the loveliest towns in Italy is a medieval fortress surrounded by nature and steeped in history, religious traditions and ancient crafts. It sits perched on a promontory in Anglona, in the centre of the Asinara Gulf in north-western Sardinia. It may have been the legendary Tibula of Roman times, but by the Middle Ages it was already an impenetrable centuries-old fortress protected by thick walls and 17 towers, until the advent of modern weaponry. The original nucleus of Castelsardo grew up around the castle of the Dorias, which tradition dates to 1102, although it was probably constructed in the late XIII century.
In the early XVI century the castle was renamed Castillo Aragonés and became the seat of the bishopric until the Cathedral of Sant’Antonio Abate was built in 1586. This amazing building has a bell tower perched over the sea, is graced with a gleaming ceramic dome and houses crypts in the basement, which in turn are home to the Maestro di Castelsardo museum. During the reign of the Savoy dynasty, the town was given the name it has today. It belongs to the Most Beautiful Towns of Italy Association and its noble fortifications — the bastions and steep stairs — remain intact. The Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art is located in the underground spaces of the Cathedral, the crypts of the ancient Romanesque church over which the later church of Sant’Antonio Abate was erected.
These spaces were restored to create the rooms of the museum, which conserves a number of the liturgical furnishings of the Cathedral. This «Treasure of the Cathedral» is an integral part of the history of the Diocese of Ampurias: liturgical objects in silver, Baroque altar crosses, incense burners, reliquaries and ceremonial vestments, mitres and candelabras. Other fine pieces include wooden statues from the Lombard-Emilian school, such as the Madonna di Salasgiu and the statue of the patron saint. The museum exhibits the other paintings by the Master of Castelsardo: San Michele, the Four Apostles and the Trinity, which were part of the original retablo along with the current altarpiece of the cathedral. These panels are all painted on a gold background, and the unmistakable style of the Master can be seen in the details, such as the contrast between the disposition of masses in the faces of the subjects and the decorative parts in relief.
Although summer is the obvious time to visit, early spring is also wonderful as wildflowers brighten the verdant landscape and flocks of migrating birds swarm to the lagoons. The queen of the show is the gorgeous pink flamingo. Sardinia is a rest area in its migration between Europe and Africa — usually with his head under the water in search of tiny crustaceans on which they feed, or, especially in the evening, while they rise in the evening realizing magnificent choreography in the sky.
It is said that the flamingo has inspired the myth of the flaming-flaming phoenix: the ancient symbol of transformation and resurrection, the phoenix that at the end of its life is consumed by fire and then reborn, magically from its ashes. This enchanting bird has fascinated, over time, many artists, poets and writers, just think of the Grazia Deledda — Sardinian novelist who was influenced by the verismo (q.v.; «realism») school in Italian literature. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926.
«Birds never seen, with their iridescent wings, rise up from the pond, as they gushed from the water, drawing in the sky a kind of rainbow: perhaps a mirage». This is how Grazia Deledda describes them in her book «Cosima», precisely in the words of the protagonist. The Spaniards have chosen for them the name of «flamenco» to remember the dance that these birds do by moving their wings elegantly, while with their heads immersed in the water they are looking for food. «Is mangonis» also called «Genti arrubia» — as they call them in Sardinian language — have now found their ideal home in Sardinia so much so that the flamingos have become one of the symbols of the island.
Don’t miss out on the breathtaking landscapes with the flight of the pink flamingos over the lagoon: they will leave you dumbfounded and will deserve your very first photographs
Museum of Archaeology of Cagliari
National Museum of Archaeology of Cagliari. The most prestigious Sardinian archaeological museum was founded in 1802 as Cabinet of Archaeology and Natural History on the initiative of the intellectual Lodovico Baille from Cagliari, who was very fond of Sardinian memories. It was originally in the Royal Palace and then it was transferred to the building of the University of Cagliari in 1856, when the king Carlo Felice donated the collections to the University.
In 1904 the museum had a new building in Piazza Indipendenza: it was planned by Dionigi Scano, and the curator of the exhibition was the famous archaeologist Antonio Taramelli, superintendent from 1901 to 1931. After many donations and a large number of materials coming from the excavations, in 1993 the museum was transferred to its final location in the Cittadella dei Musei, in a building planned by the architects Piero Gazzola and Libero Cecchini in the area of the eighteenth- century Regio Arsenale.
The exhibits on display give a fascinating outlook on Sardinia’s ancient history. It displays archaeological finds dating as far back as the Pre-Nuragic era (6000 BC) and the Nuragic period, with a large number of small bronze statues representing, amongst others, warriors, divinities, animals, men and women. Also the later phases of the Phoenician and Punic colonization in Sardinia, between 8th and 3rd centuries BC are well represented. In 2014 the Giants of Mont’e Prama were moved here. These massive limestone sculptures (10th-8th century BC) originally discovered in 1974, were unearthed along the Sinis peninsula and will remain on display in Cagliari before finally being transferred to the City Museum of Cabras. Four of the statues will remain on permanent display in Cagliari.
According to a reading of the Mayan Calendar, 12/12/12 was supposed to be the date of the end of the world. Amongst those who chose to believe this prophecy, some must have decided to await that moment right here, at the altar of Monte d’Accoddi. As we approach, it comes into view: a long 40 m ramp brings us to the top of the monument, a trapezoid building of some 6 m of residual height, while originally it maybe rose to 8 m. A second altar structure once probably stood right above the present one. This in turn supported a third altar chamber, with walls and floor decorated in red ochre. All that remains of it are the floor and about 70 cm of wall.
Experts disagree as to the original shape of this monument. Some think it was a stepped pyramid-shaped building. Others believe it was a single-storey building. Its life can be divided into two main phases. The first, that of the ‘red temple’ dates from some time round 3000 BC. The second, dated about 2700 BC, saw the ‘red temple’ incorporated in a new structure and the raising of the floor level. To the east of the ramp lies a large flat stone with seven holes which was presumably a table for offerings or perhaps for sacrifices. To the west a menhir more than 4 m in height. Nearby lies a large limestone rock shaped into a spheroid, more than 4 m in circumference: it was maybe used for rites associated with the cult of the sun. The site also has the remains of an Ozieri culture (beaker culture) village, which matches the first phase of the sanctuary’s life.
Santissima Trinità di Saccargia
The proud majesty and captivating bicolour appearance of the most famous Romanesque-Pisan church in Sardinia, surrounded by an aura of legend, will remain impressed on your mind. The black and white striped tower soars above the church and ruined cloister of Santissima Trinità di Saccargia, the finest example of Pisan architecture in Sardinia. Inside, if you’re lucky enough to find it open, are 13th-century frescoes.
According to legend, the Giudice Constantino di Mariano and his wife camped the night here and received a vision telling them that they were going to have their first longed-for child. The Giudice, delighted by the news, built the church and a neighbouring monastery, which the pope subsequently gave to the Camaldolite monks. Little remains of the monastery, although the church with its basalt walls is still in use.
According to Sardinian legend, after God created the Earth, he gathered all the leftover pieces from everywhere else, threw them in the sea and stepped on them to create Sardinia — or, as the Greeks called it, Ichnusa, meaning «footprint». Since then, the island has been walked on by anyone who has ever sailed through the Mediterranean. Invaded in name but never conquered in spirit, Sardinia has managed the clever trick of absorbing a cultural buffet of influences while holding its head high with independent pride.
Situated on the north west coast, it has the romantic charm of the river cities and a lot of traditions still alive. The historic district of the city worthwhile to visit, made by colorful houses that climb the hill on the side. The top of the hill is dominated by the Malaspina Castle, so called by the Tuscan family who built it up in the XII century. The marquis Malaspina, originally from Lunigiana, an area between Tuscany and Liguria, arrived in Bosa in the 12th century and immediately set about building a fortress to defend the city from frequent Saracen pirate incursions.
The castle, which passed into the hands of the district of Arborea in the 14th century, underwent a series of refurbishments until finally expanding to reach 300 m in perimeter and is defended by seven towers. The perimeter wall, which offers a splendid view of Bosa, also encloses the Church of Our Lady of Sos Regnos Altos with its precious series of frescoes dating back to the mid-14th century.
The silent voice of the Orgosolo murals
This town in the Barbagia area offers glimpses of an ancient, timeless Sardinia, surrounded by lush and unspoilt nature. In every house, on every wall, there is a mural. With its expressive and evocative images, Orgosolo speaks and creates bonds with inhabitants and visitors.
The story of a people told on the walls…
For their poignancy and immediacy, the Sardinian murals have been used as an effective tool of communication. The Orgosolo painting technique emerged in the twentieth century thanks to the artistic verve of a group of feuding anarchists. The technique was adopted again during period of the Italian Resistance Movement and also spread rapidly to the nearby villages, becoming a total success. Today, this mural tradition characterizes numerous villages in the Barbagia area and has made Orgosolo an internationally famous museum-village.
Hundreds of murals colour the streets of Orgosolo and tell the story of its customs and traditions, its culture and the intimate dissent of the people of Barbagia. The liveliness of the 1960s and 1970s favoured the development of the collective murals, which still describe, in great detail, rural life and the struggles for power, alternating socio-political themes with the portrayal of typical icons of everyday life: women at work, men on horseback and shepherds. The scenario in Orgosolo is ageless and is well worth a visit, at least once during your lifetime.
Don’t miss the real voice of Barbaggia, Canto a Tenores. If ever some sort of music could represent the soul of Sardinia ‘s rugged territories and agro-pastoral landscapes, it is canto a tenore. This traditional singing is one of the oldest-known forms of vocal polyphony. Little is known of the canto’s origins but it’s thought that the voices were originally inspired by the sounds of nature: the contra based on the sheep’s bleat, the bassu on a cow’s moo and the mesu oghe imitates the sounds of the wind blowing. According to some, the leader of the choir, the soloist, sings poems meaning the man who is capable of ruling the nature.
A walk through the streets of the village leaves you engrossed in a silent reading of the emotions frescoed on the walls
Sardinia is one of the most ancient bodies of land in Europe. Many nations have tried to conquer Sardinia since around 6,000 BC, but not many were able to control the island for a long period of time. Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and Catalans, all have ruled (parts of) Sardinia and left their tracks at its sandy beaches. This has not divided Sardinia but has resulted in a culture with a wide variety of flavors, of which ten have been listed below.
Visit one of the 7,000 Nuraghi
Nuraghi are beehive-like stone dwellings from the bronze age, and can only be found on Sardinia. The exact use of these structures is unknown, but many believe that they were either used as religious temples or military strongholds. The most well-known Nuraghe is Nuraxi su Barumini, which has been declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Another one must see is Nuraghe Santu Antine.
This monument begins to speak to us from far off — it is set on a large flat area offering far-reaching views. Other similar monuments are to be seen in the distance. But this nuraghe stands out for its imposing size and refined construction technique. As we gradually approach it we note its details: the regularity of the structure, its architectural strength. It comprises a central main tower encircled by curtain walls with three smaller towers. The structure is built in basalt blocks, irregular and imposing at the base and progressively smaller and more accurately shaped towards the summit. The main tower once had three floors, with covered corridors which originally wound through the three levels (today only two remain, the second only in part) linking among them the three perimeter towers and connected by cross-cutting hallways. The main tower (keep) measures at its base 15.5 m in diameter; its current height is 17.55 m; the chamber on the second floor, of which only the base course is preserved, has in its floor a deep well-shaped storage area. Two true wells can be found in the courtyard and inside one of the towers.
The lifespan of this monument runs from the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age (1500 — 800 BC) but it was also in use in historic times.