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The Silk Route - World Travel: Santu Antine, Sardinia, Italy
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Sardinia: Olbia to Oristano
May 2015

Olbia to Alghero Alghero Grotta di Nettuno Anghelu Ruju Nuraghe Losa
Santa Cristina Oristano Tharros San Salvatore di Sinis Tombe dei Giganti Statue Menhirs
Related pages: Sardinia: Cagliari and the South West
Sardinia: Alghero

Sardinia has beautiful coastlines, crystal-clear seas and fabulous caves at Grotta di Nettuno as well as impressive ancient historic remains from Nuraghic towers, villages and necropoli through Roman trading ports to lovely twelfth century Pisan-style churches.

Olbia to Alghero

Landscape near Calangianus
Landscape near Calangianus.

 

We flew into Olbia but had decided not to spend time in  the city, nor go to the popular Costa Smerelda. We were aiming more for ancient history and good food and wine!

cork oak
A cork oak showing where the cork has been stripped from the lower trunk of the tree.

Our first objective was Alghero by way of lunch at Castelsardo which we intended to reach in a cross-country drive taking in a few interesting things on the way.

La Conca Fraicata
La Conca Fraicata

Travelling through the region of Gallura the road passes through cork forests - cork extraction is an important industry. The landscape here, close to Calangianus, was thickly forested and rocky - quite wild.

We stopped at a roadside rock formation called La Conca Fraicata. A large outcrop had been weathered to form a cave which at one time had been walled-up to create some kind of dwelling or shelter.

San Petro del Crocifisso
San Petro del Crocifisso
San Petro del Crocifisso
San Petro del Crocifisso
San Petro del Crocifisso

 

The twelfth century basilica of San Petro del Crocifisso, also known as San Pietro delle Immagini, stands surrounded by the countryside of Bulzi. The carved wooden group of the Deposition of Christ from the Cross, which gave the church its name is now in the town church.

San Petro del Crocifisso
San Petro del Crocifisso deep in the countryside.
elephant rock
Elephant Rock - another curious rock formation!

Near Castelsardo we came across Elephant Rock - very popular with tourists though the parking is limited.

castelsardo
Castelsardo
castelsardo

We were looking forward to lunch at Med Café which has a view of the town from the south, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable of the whole holiday.

castelsardo
Castelsardo - the volcanic rock is typical of the area.

We were a little early so took a long walk along the promenade overlooking the sea and round to the little harbour.

The town was strategically important in the many conflicts between Genoa, Pisa and Spain for control of the region. The changes in its name reflect the changing supremacy from Castel Genovese through Castle Aragonese to, finally, Castelsardo, bestowed by the Savoyard kings in 1769.

Santissima Trinita di Saccargia
Santissima Trinita di Saccargia

 

Santissima Trinita di Saccargia
Santissima Trinita di Saccargia

After lunch we went on to the lovely church of Santissima Trinita di Saccargia south of Sassari. This is another twelfth century Pisan-style striped church, again standing in countryside.

Inside in the apse behind the altar is a rare example of 11th/12th century frescos - vivid paintings of the life of Christ.

 

Santissima Trinita di Saccargia
Santissima Trinita di Saccargia
Reconstructed capital, Santissima Trinita di Saccargia, and an original below.
castelsardo
Santissima Trinita di Saccargia
Gilded wooden altar.

Originally we'd planned to head straight on to Alghero after Trinita but it wasn't so late so we decided to pay a visit to Nuraghe Santu Antine - the biggest and most impressive in an area with many nuraghe south of Torralba. We were glad we did as it is an amazing place dating back some 3500 years.

Nuraghe Santu Antine
Nuraghe Santu Antine

 

Nuraghe Santu Antine

An information board at the site shows how the nuraghe is thought to have looked.
Nuraghe Santu Antine
Internal courtyard with a well on the left and entrances to staircases and corridors.

The central tower of the complex is thought to have once been 21m high. It rose over three lower towers connected by massive curtain walls.

The tower was constructed as a three storey core, each storey being a single domed room, and an outer stone wall with windows. Between the core and skin a staircase rises. Only two of the three original storeys of the tower survive; each was a windowless domed room.

The nuraghe had a system of wells - an important resource in a defensive structure. Enclosed staircases and corridors lead from the internal courtyard to other parts of the complex.

We scrambled through a number of these, the view from the top of the tower is quite impressive with other Nuraghe visible in the fields.

Nuraghe Santu Antine
An internal well.
Nuraghe Santu Antine
Internal corridor.

 

Nuraghe Santu Antine
This internal staircase leads to the top of the curtain walls.
Nuraghe Santu Antine
Steps in the central tower.
Nuraghe Santu Antine
Nuraghe Santu Antine

Clustered around the base of the nuraghe are circular and rectangular structures. The circular ones are a Bronze Age Nuraghic village, the rectangular are later Roman constructions. I would imagine the village would function exactly as a medieval village surrounding a castle in England i.e. in times of trouble the villagers would retreat inside the castle walls.

 

Nuraghe Santu Antine

 

Alghero

 

Alghero

Alghero is not just a tourist town but a thriving fishing port too. It was founded in the early twelfth century by the Genoese Doria family but was taken over by Pedro IV of Aragon in 1353, hence the strong Spanish/Catalan influence.

Alghero
Alghero
Alghero
Alghero
Masses of pink flowers on the cliffs south of the town.

 

The walled town still retains defensive towers dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century when the Catalans were still in charge. The landward-facing walls were destroyed in the nineteenth century.

Alghero
Alghero
The tower is part of Alghero's 16th century cathedral.
Alghero
Alghero
Alghero
There are fine views of Capo Caccia from Alghero's sea wall.

There are plenty of places to eat in Alghero, I think our best meal was at Kings on the sea front. Excellent linguine with Imperial prawns and sea bream in crumbled potato and bread crust while watching the sun setting over Capo Caccia.

Alghero
Kings: linguine with Imperial prawns.
Alghero
Kings: a great sea bream.

 

Alghero
Igloo Gelateria

 

Followed by ice creams from Igloo Gelateria. The shop is nearby and the ice cream is absolutely fantastic, especially the licorice but during the course of our stay we also had lemon, chocolate and mint - all superb!

 

Grotta di Nettuno

Sardinia
The plants on the cliff tops were very colourful.
Sardinia
Steps down to the Caves of Neptune.
Sardinia

 

 

The Caves of Neptune are west along the coast from Alghero at the base of the Capo Caccia cliffs. Many people visit by boat but we preferred the flexibility of driving to the entrance on the cliff top, even though this means a walk down and back up 654 steps!

We were glad we did as, though the weather was fine, there was a high swell on the sea and the 10 a.m. boat was unable to dock at the cave mouth. We were the only ones on the tour of the cave system.

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The dock for boats visiting the caves.
Sardinia

There are some great sea/cliff views from the steps too.

The caves were discovered by fishermen in the eighteenth century and those now open to the public are part of a much larger cave system, some only accessible through very narrow passages.

Sardinia

Thousands of beautiful formations of stalagmites and stalactites make an impressively beautiful sight.

Sardinia

The caves are particularly beautiful where there is a lake creating perfect reflections.

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Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia
Thousands of slender stalactites cover one section of ceiling.

 

Anghelu Ruju

Anghelu Ruju Sardinia
Traces of bull's head decoration can still be seen around this entrance.

North of Alghero and surrounded by vineyards Anghelu Ruju is a pre-Nuraghic tomb complex hacked out of the bedrock. Some finely carved entrances can still be seen with bull's head decoration.

Anghelu Ruju Sardinia
Anghelu Ruju Sardinia

Each tomb contained several chambers - one has 11 - accommodating more than one burial, maybe family members. The chambers were arranged around a central space where perhaps offerings were made, or off an underground corridor, or simply linked in a linear fashion. New tombs were probably cut from the rock as they were required. Some of the tombs had funeral beds incorporated, also carved from the rock, possibly imitating the houses of the living. Steps, columns and paving were also incorporated in the tombs.

Anghelu Ruju Sardinia
Anghelu Ruju Sardinia

The necropolis dates back to around 3300 B.C. when the late Neolithic Ozieri people occupied the area. Finds in some of the tombs date to the later Beaker people around 2000 B.C. The whole complex speaks of a well-developed respect for the dead, perhaps even of ancestor worship.

Anghelu Ruju Sardinia

 

Nuraghe Losa

Coast near Bosa

The drive down the coast to Bosa is lovely through a rugged landscape bordered by cliffs and coves along the coast.

Coast near Bosa
Nuraghe Losa
Nuraghe Losa
Nuraghe Losa
Nuraghe Losa
South western corner of Nuraghe Losa.

A settlement has existed at Bosa since Roman times but it still seems quite isolated. It is overlooked by the ruined Castello Malaspina, named for the Ligurian family that resettled the town in the twelfth century after it had been devastated by attacking barbarians and Moors.

We didn't linger in the town, instead making our way cross-country to Nuraghe Losa.

Nuraghe Losa
The enclosing wall at the main entrance.

An long outer wall enclosed a Nuraghic village and the nuraghe itself. The wall had two entrances through towers and secondary entrances through gaps in the wall. Archaeological finds date the settlement to the nuraghic period from the 14th to the 7th century B.C. up to the Punic-Roman times of 4th century B.C. to 4th century A.D. and right on up to the 7th century medieval period.

Nuraghe Losa
Eastern corner of Nuraghe Losa.
Nuraghe Losa
North-east face of Nuraghe Losa. On the right is the North Tower with its own entrance.

The nuraghe is composed of  a tower of tholos chambers connected by an interior staircase, one on top of another, and a three-sided (trilobate) bastion with a tower ar each of the corners connected by slightly concave walls. It's actually a very beautifully constructed building.

Nuraghe Losa
The circular building in front of the south facing wall.


Nuraghe Losa
Main entrance leading to the central chamber.

The orange lichen covering some of the stones adds to the effect.

The walls, roughly 25m long, face roughly south, west and north-east and the stones used to build them are graded from larger at the bottom to smaller higher up.

 

Nuraghe Losa
South-facing wall with the main entrance - on the right is the large circular building.

Nuraghe Losa
Interior corridor.

 

Nuraghe Losa

The main entrance is in the south face and directly in front of it is a large circular building, perhaps to deter a direct frontal attack.

From the main entrance short corridors lead to the east and south-west towers and the central chamber and an internal staircase leads to the upper central chamber and the roof of the bastion.

Nuraghe Losa
Nuraghe Losa
North Tower
A wall with the remains of two towers lies outside the north and western part of the nuraghe. This appears to be a defensive structure.

The north tower has its own entrance through the bastion and is not connected to the central chamber. An independent staircase leads to the top of the nuraghe.

The provision of two independent access points to the roof, a difficult-to-access main entrance plus a wall with slits and towers on the north and west of the nuraghe all point to a defensive structure. This must have been the last line of defense for the settlement, though there's not much room for villagers to shelter.

 

 

 

Santa Cristina

Santa Cristina sacred well
The sacred well at Santa Cristina.

North of Oristano there is a small Nuraghic complex at Santa Cristina but the main draw is the underground well and shrine. Dating from the 13th century B.C. it is in a state of near-perfect preservation surrounded by olive trees.

The well is enclosed by a keyhole-shaped wall open at the base, the whole surrounded by another wall with a single entrance .

Santa Cristina sacred well
The unique trapezoidal stairway.

 

Directly through the entrance would have been an area for votive offerings. On the oppostite side the impressive staircase leads down to the well and tholos.

Santa Cristina sacred well
The well and tholos.

The tholos is also typical of many towers in the Nuraghic settlements and is a domed room, the dome being a false cupola formed from concentric circles of stone, one on top of another and overlapping inwards so that they form progressively smaller circles. In the well room the tholos was not completed in order to leave an open shaft to the sky via a central 35cm diameter opening 7m below the surface.

At equinox in March and September sunlight streams down the stairwell to illuminate the well.

Santa Cristina sacred well
The remains of a round meeting house and similar smaller structure.
Santa Cristina sacred well
The remains of sleeping quarters for pilgrims.

 

 

Around the sacred well building are the remains of a 10m diameter circular meeting room, complete with stone benches lining the wall, and sleeping quarters for pilgrims.

 

Santa Cristina sacred well
Nuraghe Santa Cristina

A short walk away the Nuraghe of Santa Cristina is a single tower of about 13 metres in diameter. Nearby lie the remains of a Bronze Age village with buildings from various later periods. All are in a woodland setting, very welcome shade on a hot day.

The highly rated restaurant here was closed (Monday) so we had to settle for a pork sandwich at a motorway station which wasn't bad.

 

Oristano

Piazza Eleonora, Oristano
Piazza Eleonora D'Arborea, Oristano.
Eleonora became regent in 1383. Her greatest achievement was the formulation of a legal code, symbolised in the statue in the piazza.
 Oristano
Tower of Marianus II
13th century north city gate.

 Oristano
Sardinian prince with dagger and herringbone design cloak. Bronze.
8th cent. B.C. Terralba.


Though human occupation at Oristano can be dated back to 6000 B.C. the first record of it as an urban centre is in the 8th century A.D. when the first Arab invasions took place.

 Oristano
Tactile Gallery

Oristano began to thrive in the fourteenth century under the so-called Judices, or Kings, of Arborea and in 1479 it was declared a royal city. 150 years later it was sacked by the French.

It's an easy city to explore without there being a great deal to see. We popped into the historical museum which has some very nice items, some thousands of years old, and a really impressive tactile gallery for the blind and visually impaired.

 

 Oristano
Head of a Sardinian priestess with sombrero-shaped hat (?). Bronze. 8th cent. B.C. Terralba.
 Oristano
Mother goddess, sandstone.
Late Neolithic, c. 3500-3000B.C. Simaxis.
 Oristano
Franciscan protomartyrs Accursio, Pietro, Adiuto, Ottone and Berardo - some gruesome forms of martyrdom with sharp implements!

The sombrero-style hat on one 8th century B.C. bronze is surprising and lovely.

 Oristano
The 14th century onion-domed tower of the cathedral.
 Oristano
Marble lions fighting dragons in the cathedral.
 Oristano

 

Tharros

San Giovanni di Sinis at Tharros
San Giovanni di Sinis

San Giovanni di Sinis at Tharros
San Giovanni di Sinis at Tharros
Baptismal font with carving of a fish.

Just before the entrance to the trading port of Tharros lies a fifth century church, San Giovanni di Sinis, possibly Sardinia's oldest.

The exterior looks vaguely Byzantine; the interior dates from the 9th-11th centuries and is a very simple Romanesque style.

Tharros
The Sinus peninsula and the 16th century Torre di San Giovanni watchtower which has a bird's eye view of the ruins at Tharros on the other side.
model of Tharros
A model of 4th century A.D. Tharros in Oristano museum.
model of Tharros
A model of 4th century A.D. Tharros in Oristano museum.

Tharros is well-placed on the Sinis peninsula and flourished as a trading port from 800 B.C. under Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans before declining after coming under Moorish attack.

Tharros
Terracota Carthaginian mask intended to ward off evil. First half of the 6th century B.C., Phoenician northern necropolis, Tharros. Oristano museum.

Tharros
Head of a man with a short beard. 6th century B.C. Tharros. Oristano museum.
Tharros
Egyptian amulet representing the god Thot, inventor of writing, in the form of a baboon. 7th century B.C., Tharros. Oristano museum.
Tharros
Tharros

The diversity of objects found at Tharros, now in the museum at Oristano, testify to the extent of its trade around the shores of the Mediterranean.

Today there is very little remaining of Tharros, the most prominent feature is two white Corinthian columns, all that is left of a 1st century B.C. Roman temple.

It is in a lovely location, though with virtually no shade, so a little uncomfortable on a blazing hot day! The waters here are absolutely beautiful - crystal clear - and it's a popular spot with locals as well as tourists.

Tharros
Over 2000 years old only a fragment of this portrait of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, has survived. Found at Tharros, now in the museum at Oristano.
Tharros
Tharros
Route of Cardo Maximus leading down the hill to the city.
Tharros

 

Tharros

Two broad roads, the Decumanus Maximus and the Cardo Maximus, were paved with great slabs of stone and are a typical Roman town planning feature.

Tharros had all the facilities of a typical prosperous Roman city including three sets of baths, an amphitheatre and an impressive water delivery system.

Tharros

 

San Salvatore di Sinis

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Sardinia
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San Salvatore
The sacred well in San Salvatore.
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San Salvatore
Pilgrims' lodgings around San Salvatore.

 

San Salvatore di Sinis, north of Tharros, is the location of the sixteenth century church of San Salvatore. The church is open for only nine days of the year between August and September when pilgrims stay in the lodgings around the church. It has the feel of a Wild West town and was used as a location in several spaghetti westerns.

The church is also open to visitors at other odd times, we arrived too early one afternoon and spent the time a little way up the coast on a rocky shore above crystalline waters chilling out for an hour or so.

Back at the church the guide was a little late - when he finally arrived we realised he was one of the men we'd seen having an extended lunch in a nearby bar! Nice to see the relaxed way of life is still going strong.

San Salvatore
San Salvatore
San Salvatore
There are quite a few graffiti of sea vessels.
San Salvatore

 

The church was built on top of an ancient pagan sanctuary, in Nuraghic times dedicated to a water cult.

Beneath the present-day church dark, damp fourth century chambers house a square sacred well and a number of faded frescoes and graffiti created over the centuries and showing a range of influences from Carthaginian to Roman, Greek and Arab.

San Salvatore

 

The wonder of these drawings are that they are a direct link to fairly ordinary people, giving an insight into ancient thoughts and, perhaps, aspirations.

 

Tombe dei Giganti - Tombs of the Giants

Tomba di Giganti di Santu Bainzu
Model of a Giant's Tomb, Cagliari Archaeological Museum. A different entrance style but showing the curved walls of the facade and general structure.

The so-called "Tombs of the Giants" are megalithic graves usually formed from a massive stone stele acting as a facade leading to a series of chambers. In front of the stele would have been an area for offerings defined by curved lines of upright stones left and right of the stele.

Both of the tombs that we went to see are deep in the countryside. Near to the Santu Bainzu tomb are the remains of the tower of the Toscono nuraghic village.

Tomba di Giganti di Santu Bainzu
Tomba di Giganti di Santu Bainzu.

 

Tomba di Giganti di Santu Bainzu
Tomba di Giganti di Santu Bainzu.
The facade of the tomb - behind are the remains of the burial chambers, 3.24m high and 2.02m wide.

The Imbertighe tomb is in a better state of preservation, more of the stone walls embracing the area in front of the facade remain. The facade stele is in much better condition with clear delineation of the original chiselled panels on the front face.

Tomba di Giganti di Imbertighe
Tomba di Giganti di Imbertighe

 

Tomba di Giganti di Imbertighe
Tomba di Giganti di Imbertighe
Tomba di Giganti di Imbertighe
Tomba di Giganti di Imbertighe


Toscono
Nuraghic tower, Toscono.

 

Statue Menhirs

Laconi
Archaeological Museum of Statue Menhirs

I'm fascinated by menhirs! We'd come across many in Corsica so made a special trip to Laconi to see the museum. Sadly, only a couple of dozen menhirs remain in situ and none of these are engraved.

The museum building itself, one of the buildings which together once formed the Palazzo Aymerich, is now the civic town hall, and is easy to find on the main road through the town.

Laconi
Mysterious menhirs: two male and a female in the centre. A horizontal dagger in the mid-section of male menhirs is a symbol of masculinity while the female displays two small breasts.

The statue-menhirs date from around 2700 to 2400 B.C., centuries before the rise of the Nuraghic civilisation.

Laconi
Paule Luturru, Samugheo.
Laconi
Bau Carradore II, Laconi.

 

Laconi
Arasseda VII, Allai.

Male statue menhirs often include an engraving very similar to the "falling" or "diving god" symbols that  we had come across in South America, in particular at Coba and Tulum. The information boards here interpret this a a representation of the human soul diving to the underworld.

 

Laconi
Barrili I, Laconi.
Laconi

The male outnumber the female menhirs 10 to 1. The female menhirs are smaller and characterised by two small breast shapes.