The timelessness of Su Casteddu

Ah, Cagliari! (In Sardinian dialect, Su Casteddu)

A city ascending in a choas of golden-hued mansions, domes and facades up to a rocky citadel.

Vespas buzz down tree-fringed boulevards and locals exchange gossip and discuss politics and sports at cafes under graceful arcades.

Sunset is the best time when soft evening light reveals pastel facades and the golden fortress walls shine like a fresco painting.

The university, cathedral, museums and palaces are wedged into a jigsaw of narrow high-walled alleys.

Cagliari may look sleepy from a distance, but up close this town is no cure for insomnia.

Boutiques, bars and cafes are alive with students, hipsters and Bohemians.

Cagliari is an old city, an ancient place, founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC as Krly, later renamed Karalis by the Carthagians in the 5th century BC.

The large Necropolis of Tuxixeddu, one of the largest and most important necropoli in the whole Mediterranean area, bears witness to this.

There you can find ground tombs: regular rectangular hole tombs and enchitrysmos tombs (where the combusted body, usually of a young person, was placed inside an amphora through a side opening and then buried in a hole dug in the ground).

In Tuxixeddu, most tombs are rock-cut excavations: some simple well tombs, (where the corpse was placed directly on the floor or in a hole which was then covered with large slabs), while other well tombs were built with attached rooms. (An access shaft with smooth walls with footholds lead to the burial chamber. The entrance to this room was through a rectangular door that was sealed by a monolithic sandstone plate. Items particularly cherished by the deceased accompanied him or her into the afterlife.)

The two main tombs are the Sid Tomb and the Tomb of the Uraeus.

On the upper walls of the Sid Tomb there is a red, blue and ochre decoration of a bearded man wearing a helmet and carrying a spear, the Punic (Carthagian)-Phoenician warrior god Sid, the father of the gods worshipped in Sardinia.

Along the side walls of the Uraeus tomb is a frieze depicting small palm trees and dark red lotus flowers.

At the front entrance there is a frieze of the winged snake Uraeus bearing a solar disk.

On each side of Uraeus two lotus flowers and two Gorgons protect the deceased.

(In the funerary monument of Atilia Pompilia, carved into the rock of the Necropolis, poems are engraved in Greek and Latin dedicated to his dead wife.)

Climb the Is Centru Scalas (the Hundred Stairs) to the Roman amphitheatre.

It was cut out of solid rock in the 2nd century AD, when it could hold the city’s entire population of 10,000.

Despite its state of decay (much of the site was cannibalised to build churches in the Middle Ages), you can still see the network of underground passages and chambers, including cages and trenches for animals.

An ideal spot for an impromptu rave concert?

Still visible is the Aqueduct to provide scarce water, ancient cisterns of vast extent, ruins of a small circular temple and numerous sepulchres.

Sardinia and Cagliari came under Roman rule in 238 BC and renamed the town Portus Scipio, headquarters for the Roman conquest of Sardinia, chief naval station, the urbs urbinum (capital city) of Sardinia and the residence of the governor.

Christians appeared in Cagliari in the 3rd century and by the end of that century Cagliari had its own Bishop.

They built the Basilica of San Saturnino, the Church of San Lucifero and many other churches over the centuries that followed. (See VIPs of Cagliari.)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Cagliari, along with Sardinia, fell into the hands of the Vandals, but retained its importance throughout the Middle Ages.

First ruled by the Vandals, then by the Byzantine Empire, Cagliari was constantly attacked by Moorish pirates from northern Africa and Spain.

During the 11th century, the Republic of Pisa gained control, renaming the place Castel di Castro, leaving behind the white limestone towers of the Torre di San Pancrazio (Tower of St. Pancrazio) and the Torre dell’Elefante (Elephant Tower) as well as the walls of the city and many other buildings.

During the 14th century, the Crown of Aragon (Spain) conquered Cagliari after battling the Pisans renaming it Castel de Caller, the adminsitrative capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, as part of the Spanish Empire, but due to the increasing importance of the Americas, Sardinia and Cagliari lost importance.

The Spanish built the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria (from which Buenos Aires gets its name) and the Chiesa della Purissima.

Step inside the Sanctuary.

See its small Gothic portal and the wooden statue of the Madonna, which after having been thrown off a Spanish ship somehow landed at the foot of Bonaria Hill, the location of the Monumental Cemetery of Bonaria.

After a brief rule by the Austrian Habsburgs, Sardinia came under the House of Savoy (Italians) in 1718.

In the late 18th century during the Napoleonic Wars, France tried to conquer Cagliari.

A French army landed on Poetto Beach and advanced towards Cagliari, but the French were defeated by Sardinians who had decided to defend themselves against the Revolutionary Army, in hopes of receiving some concessions from the Savoys for their defence of the town.

When the Savoyards refused any concessions to the Sardinians, the inhabitants of Cagliari rose up agianst them and expelled all the representatives of the Savoyards they could find.

This insurgence is celebrated in Cagliari during Sa Die de sa Sardigna (Sardinia Day) on the last weekend of April.

Unfortunately the House of Savoy quickly regained control.

Starting in the 1870s, in the wake of the unification of Italy, Cagliari experienced rapid growth.

Many buildings were erected.

The Promenade Deck and the Terrazza Umberto I were built of white and yellow limestone in a classical style with Corithian columns.

A staircase with two flights provides access from Constitution Square all the way up to the Bastion of Santa Caterina.

The Deck has a covered walkway and leads to an Arc de Triomphe.

The Deck was first used as a banqueting hall, then as a WW1 infirmary, a WW2 shelter for displaced people whose homes had been destroyed by Allied bombs, and now it is a cultural space often reserved for art exhibitions.

One can see all this from the grand old Antico Caffe, which D.H. Lawrence and the 1926 Nobel Prize for Literature winner / Sardinian author Grazia Deledda once frequented.

Locals come to chat over leisurely coffees, frilly crepes and salads on the pavement terrace outside or inside amidst polished wood, marble and brass.

Cagliari is a timeless place worth lingering in.

Have a coffee as you read these words.

Linger awhile with me and my memories…


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