Tharros is the site of a punic-roman town founded in the eighth century BC by the Phoenicians near a Bronze Age settlement and nuraghe. The remains of the town are situated on a peninsula on the north side of the Bay of Oristano. The remains of the town include foundations of temples, roman baths, a roman Castellum Acquae, a phoenician-punic tophet and a artisan quarter. The town became the capital of the Judicate of Arborea until around 1070 AD it was abandoned in favour of Oristano under the pressure of the arab incursions.
The site of Tharros is one of the most fascinating archeological sites in Sardinia, not only because of the archaeological remains of this once florishing town, originated from merging oriental urban and western prehistoric cultures, but also because of the unique position on a narrow peninsula overlooking the bay of Oristano. The name of Tharros is found in a few roman sources and on a milestone of the road that led from Othoca to Cornus.
The road to the entrance of the archaeological site of Tharros runs alongside the hill of the big wall, Su Muru Mannu. Near the top the road enters the archaeological site of the town of Tharros. The first large street on the left runs up to the top of the hill of Su Muru Mannu. When the weather is fair enough you can overlook the houses of the village of San Giovanni down below and behind that the peninsula of Sinis with the lagunes and low hills. In this place archaeologists have found the traces of the first nuragic village of the bronze age.
The panoramic picture is taken standing on the hill of the tower of San Giovanni looking north. On the left the beach of San Giovanni, alongside the road to Tharros and on the right the archaeological site. The map here on the right marks some of the important points of Tharros and Capo San Marco.
The town walls and the tophet. Su Muru Mannu
In the bronze age the hill of Su Muru Mannu was already inhabited, as shown by the remains of a nuragic village that have been found. When the Phoenicians founded Tharros they used the abandoned nuragic village to create an open air sanctuary, the tophet. This is also seen as evidence by archaeologists of the first permanent settlement of Phoenicians. The ash-urns with the remains of cremated children and animals that were offered to the goddess Astarte in the sanctuary have been found placed near the large stones of the nuragic village. Research showed that the oldest remains could be dated back to the eighth century BC. The tophet remained in use until the Roman Republic period. During Punic times many steles have been placed next to or in substitution of the ash urns. Finally the Romans dismantled the tophet, reused the steles for other buildings (still to be seen next to the area) and built an amphitheatre. Of this amphitheatre unfortunately there are no other traces than a large circle of stones on top of the hill.
In Punic times the large walls on the hill that with it's steep side as a natural defence barrier, have been reinforced. The walls, an outer wall and an inner wall, were divided by a deep trench. Probably under Punic rule there was a necessity to defend the town against attacks from the land. A doorway has been constructed at some time that could serve as a passage to attack any enemy in front of the gates of Tharros. Under Roman rule the trench has been used as cemetery as there was no more need for a defensive wall. Still some sarcophages can be seen half buried in the sand.
The cityplanning of Tharros is of Phoenician-Punic origin. Originally the streets were covered with sandstone slabs. In Roman times the roads were improved and covered with basalt slabs on top of the original pavement. In the middle of the roads run the sewers, meant also as drainage in case of rain. Interesting is the large number of doorsteps along the roads, carved in such a way as to slide the doorpanels in a groove and with holes to fit wooden pins for hinges.
The town centre of Tharros
Water was of vital importance to the town and fresh water always a problem. The Phoenicians, and the Punics after them, solved the problem by digging underground waterbassins, called bagnarola. The Romans built an acquaduct terminating in the Castellum Acquae near the centre of the town at the crossing of the main streets. Part of a pavement is still visible, as well as the foundations of the building in typical Roman masonry. Traces of the acquaduct have been found outside the town.
In the centre of the town of Tharros lie the foundations of several temples. The first is the socalled monumental temple with next to it the semitic temple for which the space has been carved mainly in the sandstone. Of the temples itself there is not very much left but some architectural details. On the other side of the road, near the water lies the area of the two columns. Other columns have not been retrieved at Tharros and these have become emblematic for the site. They are ionic columns and one has a capittel on top. Whether this is the original position is not to say. Next to the temples, on either side of the centre there are Roman baths, the largest of which is called Terme di Convento Vecchio. At the far end on the hill of the tower of San Giovanni there is another small temple, Tempietto K, that is unfortunately as yet not approachable for visitors.
The hill of the Spanish tower
Against the slope of the hill of the Spanish tower of San Giovanni many housing structures have been found. One can imagine the large number of shops on the main streets, and the upstairs living quarters, now completely gone. The punic, or North-African building style, is very well visible. Large rectangular stones with inbetween smaller stones to fill up the space, covered with plaster (now completely gone), without the use of cement. Holes in the walls held the beams for upper floors. Roofs were flat and may have been used to gather water from the rain.
In front of the entrance of the archaeological site there are remains of a large bastion, while first it was believed they were part of the punic town walls, it is now established that it was a byzantine castrum and that older construction material was reused. The large stones were fitted and anchored by pooring lead in the swallowtail formed holes. The lead ofcourse has disappeared since centuries. On top of the hill stands the tower of San Giovanni, erected by the Spanish to defend Sardinia against the Arabs. Probably the hill was once the acropolis of the town with a temple although this has not yet been confirmed. Under the pressure of the incursions of the Arabs Tharros was long since abandoned, around the ninth century AD, almost 18 centuries after it's foundation.
Capo San Marco
The punic necropolis can be found just past the stretch of land that connects Capo San Marco to the hill of the tower. Part of the gravechambers have been lost, not only to the plundering treasure hunters, but also to the sea and wind. A second necropolis is located near the houses of San Giovanni on the north side of Tharros. To the right of the punic necropolis on the cape of San Marco there are steep slopes of sandstone, once a quarry for the stones used to build Tharros with. On the left side of the necropolis at the waterside there is a second Spanish tower overlooking the bay. The path on Capo San Marco runs by the remains of a bronze age tower, nuraghe Baboe Cabitza, and leads on to the modern lighthouse on the southernmost point.
1. Acquaro, C. e C. Finzi 1999, Tharros, Sassari
2. Acquaro, C. e A. Mezzolani 1996, Tharros, Roma
3. Rivista di Studi Fenici, Tharros XXI-XXII
4. Spano, can G. 1851 (ristampa del 1994), L'Antica Città di Tharros, Cagliari
Address: Tharros, Cabras
Tel: +39 0783 370019
Opening hours: summer 9:00-18:00 (april-may and october) until 19:00 (june,july,september) and until 20:00 (august); winter 9:00-17:00 (closed on monday)
Prices: Euro 8,00 (Site and museum at Cabras) Euro 5,00 only Tharros
Guided tours available
The information has been updated for 2018 but prices and opening hours may vary.