The Ancient History of Southwestern Sardinia
Updated: Aug 18, 2022
When I decided to visit southwestern Sardinia, I really didn’t know anything about other than that it was an island off the coast of Italy. I liked the idea that it was Italy…and that it had its own culture entirely. As I started my research, I began to learn some interesting facts about this ancient place, and when I was there, I learned even more.
There’s Evidence of Archaic Structures Everywhere
In the US, I’m pretty proud of my “old” 100-year-old house. But that’s nothing compared to what you find in Europe. In Sardinia, I stumbled upon what was, for me, the oldest structures I’d ever seen. They’re called nuraghi, and there are over 7,000 of them. They were built shaped like beehives, though many have tumbled into themselves.
There are different speculations about their purposes. Some housed communities, like an apartment complex. Others served as watchtowers on hills, where they could be alerted to any strangers arriving in the area.
While there are plenty of nuraghi that are public places you can visit, I was delighted when Gianni, the owner of the agriturismo I stayed at, took me to one I never would have found. It was hidden behind a crumbling house (probably 200 years old). He said the family who had lived in the house had stored their animals in the nuraghe. I marveled at the layers of history folding in upon themselves and tried to imagine this family seeing the stone structure and deciding to make the most out of it.
When I asked Gianni how old the nuraghe was, he shrugged nonchalantly, “Oh, about 4,000 years old.”
I stopped in my tracks. Are you kidding me? Shouldn’t this place be a public monument or something? They shouldn’t let just anyone crawl through its narrow entryway to stand up inside and watch the light filter through!
But with so much ancient history oozing out of every corner, I guess it’s not of interest to anyone other than visitors.
So Many Ancient Civilizations Have Been Here
One day I visited Monte Sirai, an archeological park with ruins of a settlement, necropoli, temple, and tophet (where they put the remains of young or stillborn children). What was interesting was that the area has evidence of Phoenician, Punic, and Roman cultures.
Now, I’ll admit, I can’t tell a Phoenician ruin from a Punic one, but the name of the goddess whose temple I stood in — Ashtart —sounded more Greek than Italian, and that was just one piece of evidence of how far people traveled to settle on Sardinia.
Even the necropoli (where they buried everyone else) showed some marked differences. The Phoenician necropolis consisted of cremated ruins covered with a large slab, while the Punic necropolis (more fascinating and a bit spooky to me) had underground tombs for entire families.
The Romans had a presence in Sardinia, but mostly along the coast. Gianni did inform me when we were hiking to another nuraghe that we were walking on a Roman road. Again, I couldn’t believe how everyday this was for him, while to me it was like I was walking on and in history!
Modern History is Impressive Too
The region I was in is called Carbonia. As you might guess from the name, they once mined for coal. The area used to be a swamp and was reclaimed in the 1930s to take advantage of the coal deposits. These mines, in fact, were the leading source of Italy’s energy for quite a while, though production has ground to a halt since then.
I was disappointed that I didn’t make it to any of the region’s many grottoes. I do love a good stalactite. More reason to visit again.