A voyage to Sardinia 2011. Part 2 Sulcis

14/08/2011 15:35:14

A voyage to Sardinia 2011. Part 2 Sulcis

Typical for the southwest of Sardinia are the activities of mining in the Sulcis-Iglesiente and fishing on the islands of San Pietro and Sant'Antioco. Ever since prehistoric times the presence of these natural resources, and the relative fertile but small plains, have favoured human settlement. For the bronze age this can be deduced from the large number of towers, nuraghi, and bronze age settlements, and in the early Iron age from the arrival of the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians in search of raw materials, mainly metal ores. However rich the plains are in evidence of pre- and protohistoric settlement, the mountainranges and valleys have never been densely populated. Now that most mining activity has passed well beyond its glory days the remains of the buildings contribute to the fact that the area, and in particular the coast to the west of Iglesias, can be counted among the most picturesque of Sardinia.

As a suitable accommodation for our stay in the southwest we choose a fairly central location, San Giovanni Suergiu, where a typical agritourism can be found called Agrifoglio. It turned out to be a perfect choice for many reasons; the possibility to come and go freely because the rooms are independent, the choice to either dine at the agritourism or go out to some other place. They serve their own produce, or what is available in the immediate vicinity, a guarantee for the freshness of the products. The agritourism farms the lands of what once belonged to the INPS, the national institute for the pensions, with arable lands, pastures and stables where they can keep sheep, cows, pigs and hens. The farm and agritourism are managed by a cooperative where all members have an equal share in work and profit.
The central position of the agritourism made it easy to plan our days in every direction without having to take the same road every day. The first day we planned for a trip to Sant'Antioco where the festivities in honour of the Saint were taking place. In fact we were lucky that museums and archaeological and historical sites were for free, and we were able to see almost all of it, except for the church of Sant'Antioco itself where the festivities were organized. Particularly interesting was the archaeological museum. We hadn't been there since the nineties, the museum has been newly built with modern displays to show the finds of Sant'Antioco and Monte Sirai, mainly phoenician-punic but also some roman and bronze age artefacts. Behind the museum lies the tophet, visitable only with a guide. After that we visited the punic graves and the Sabaudian fortress Su Pisu on the top of the hill. That evening there was a procession in honour of the saint with many folkloristic groups in traditional costumes, carts drawn by oxen and riders on horseback. Ofcourse the statue of the saint himself closed the procession.
The second day we visited the archaeological site of Monte Sirai. Before the site opened at ten o'clock two buses stopped and a large number of schoolchildren stepped down. This meant there was nobody left to guide us when we entered (we left the kids enter first) so we had to visit the site on our own. The archaeological site consists of an acropolis with punic-roman remains, a punic gravefield with chambers, and a tophet with a smal temple structure. The most important grave could not be visited without a guide so we had to ask someone afterwards to open it for us. The guide was most helpful and I was able to make some pictures on the inside.
We continued our excursion that day to Nebida and Buggerru, along the westcoast northwards. At Nebida we stopped and made a short walk along a panoramic trail around the mountain with a stupendous view of the island Pan di Zucchero. Everywhere abandoned factories remind of the glory time of mining and these have now become part of the scenery. By creating a geominerary park these buildings are kept as part of the historical heritage of Iglesias. Beyond Buggerru it is possible to reach Scivu and then return to the road that runs from Iglesias to Arbus that we travelled a few years ago. However we deiced to return from Buggerru back along the coast and visited shortly the beach of Cala Domestica, a picturesque bay dominated by white sandy dunes and a spanish watchtower.
The necropolis of Montessu
The necropolis of Montessu
To the northeast of San Giovanni Suergiu lies a region rich in prehistoric sites, the most important is the necropolis on the mountain Montessu near Villaperuccio. Here you can find every type of prehistoric grave from the neolithicum until the early iron age. Two of these graves on either end of the site are the most important ones, with a number of symbols in relief representing spirals and bulls with horns, believed to be the two opposites of female (easternmost grave) and male (westernmost grave) deities. Some of the larger graves in the valley have been used as habitation for sheepherds in later times and therefore have undergone modifications like a larger entrance and window openings. From a distance these now have the resemblance of large skulls. The guide told us much about the neolithic graves and how these were used, and the connections with the menhirs and the nuragic village near Villaperuccio, he was a very knowledgeable guide.
After this visit we continued to Santadi where the natural caves of Is Zuddas are. These caves have almost every type of stalagmites and stalagtites you can find in the most fantastic conformations. Some of these stalactites grow in any direction without an apparent reason. We were surrounded by abother group of schoolchildren who could not believe their eyes and one of them even suggested this must have been created by extraterrestrial life.
The last day of our stay at San Giovanni Suergiu the chairman of the cooperative showed us the farm and the lands. He was very proud of the initiave of grafting promoted by their cooperative where pear and apple was grafted on a wild pear (pirastru). In the future the people of the town would benefit from it he told us. As soon as he noticed I was interested in archaeology he took us to the site of a nuraghe, nuragic village and nuragic well on their lands. After that he took us to the necropolis on the other side of San Giovanni Suergiu, in a region called Is Loccis (the holes). The municipality had not yet freed the area from the knee-high vegetation so we had to stroll through the grass to the various graves, which turned out to be as beautiful as the site of Montessu. On top of the hill are the remains of another nuraghe and you could look out as far as the hill of Monte Sirai in the north and to the town of Sant'Antioco in the south. The nuraghe itself was overgrown and almost invisible, as most of these structures are.
On this last afternoon of our stay in the southwest of Sardinia we returned to Sant'Antioco to visit the basilica and the ethnografic museum. We found the doors of the basilica closed so we wandered a little back to the place where we had seen a big sign reading Museum of the Byssus. Byssus is a fabric woven from thin hairs cut from a shellfish, the pinna nobilis. This species is protected and the lady that runs the museum is the only person allowed to gather this byssus, without damaging the shellfish. Her work made of byssus can be found in the most prestigious museums of the world.
After the visit at the museum of Byssus we found the basilica open. Under the basilica there are extended catacombs in part obtained by reusing the punic grave chambers of Sulki (ancient Sant'Antioco). It was not permitted to take pictures there (it's a cemetery), but it was worthwhile the effort to return to Sant'Antioco to see this. The basilica itself is hidden behind the old municipality that was built in front of it. The ethnografic museum on the other hand is a cute museum with many objects used in daily life by the Sardinians until some decades ago (or even now are still being used). Much of it has been donated by the people of Sant'Antioco and the museum puts everything they have on display.
After this second visit to Sant'Antioco we passed by Tratalias, the old village that had been abandoned in favour of a newer location. At Tratalias there is an important medieval church similar to that of San Pietro di Sorres. In all we have seen a lot of southwest Sardinia and we didn't even see everything, such as the famous coalmines of Carbonia or the beaches of Porto Pino or the great nuraghe of Seruci. There is still something left on our list to return there and to visit.

A voyage to Sardinia 2011. Part 2 Sulcis

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