Nora is the site of a punic-roman town, situated on a peninsula in the south of Sardinia, near Pula. Interesting are the many mosaic floors of the roman period and the small theatre. There are also remains of immens roman baths, a number of tempels and the typical north-african style quarters of the town. Nora is the site where the oldest known inscription of Sardinia was found, with phoenician characters.
According to the legend Nora was founded by Iberians under the guidance of their leader called Norax and was the first city founded on Sardinia. These Iberians would have been the Phoenicians that came from the west and settled themselves on the peninsula. The legend seems confirmed by the oldest inscription found by archaeologists on Sardinia right at Nora. This stone, the stele of Nora, is dated back to the eight century BC and it contains the the first mention of the name of Sardinia. The stone is now exposed at the archeological museum of Cagliari. Whether Nora was in fact the first town is not yet definitely establish because of the lack of knowledge on the Phoenician presence, but the inscription is the oldest known. The town lies on a peninsula in the southwest of Sardinia overlooking the Bay of Cagliari. Who visits Nora will not find many Phoenician traces but more Roman and some Punic remains.
Panorama of Nora. Slide over the image to magnify.
The temple of Tanit and remains of nuragic presence
The entrance of the archaeological site is on the northside of the peninsula, next to the military zone that is not accessible for the public and not part of the archaeological site even though there will be many more remains of Nora under it. An ancient street of Nora leads to the forum, the ancient towncentre. On the left there are some remains of roman baths, largely destroyed by the erosion of the sea. On the right, at the centre of the peninsula lies the hill with the temple of Tanit. Just before the forum and the theatre a path leads uphill, along a roman temple with a column and the foundry of punic origin at the backside of the theatre. Passing above the punic style houses with water bassins, bagnarola, it reaches the temple itself. Only part of the foundations are left of the temple that was built with the remains of a nuraghe. Tanit was the punic name of the goddess of fertility and was called Astarte by the Phoenicians and Aphrodite by the Greeks.
The Roman Forum
The centre of the civic life of roman towns was the forum. At Nora the forum is a large square on the southbank of the peninsula. All around it there are the remains of portico's that gave access to rooms adjacent to the forum. On the forum there were once the statues of important citizens and ofcourse of the roman emperors. The statues have been lost but some inscriptions in latin have been found. East of the forum lies the promontory Punta di Coltellazzo with one of the many spanish towers of medieval times. There have also been unearthed punic walls at that side, but apart from that it has not been subject to excavations yet. On the westside of the forum lies a particular quadrangular structure with a double wall and a narrow corridor all around. Some have identified it as a sort of Castellum Acquae, others as a building with a commercial purpose. What it really was has not yet been discovered.
The Nora theatre
Near the forum stands the roman theatre of Nora. The lower part of the semicircular tribunes have survived, whereas the upper part has disappeared. Also the scaena (scene) has disappeared as it was probably largely made of wood. Still some interesting details are visible in this theatre that are worthwhile. At the backside are several entrances that give access to the seats. At each side of the cavea (pit) are vaulted entrances, partly restored. The floor of the cavea is of red marble and has a number of mosaics in fron of the tribunes. Under the scene lie big vases, called dolia, that were used to amplify the sound of the actors, according to a description by the architect Vitrivius. Under the scene there is also a drainage pipe for the rain. Sometimes the theatre is still used for performances.
The Thermae, the roman baths
The baths were an important meeting place for the romans and played a central part in roman social life. At Nora there are at least four structures identfied as bathing houses. Next to the baths near the entrance that have disappeared largely there were the baths in the towncentre (Terme centrali), the large baths on the westside (Terme a mare) and accross the road the small baths (Terme piccole). The largest are the Terme a mare. Although part has eroded away by the sea and almost no trace is left of a second storey, the amount of debris is so large that it had to be an important building once. Undoubtedly the walls were covered with marble and the floors with marble or mosaics. Probably the building had all around a porticus, even though only on the north and westside traces have survived. From a dooropening in the northside one would enter the atrium, and from there go on to the apodyterium, the dressing room with a mosaic floor. The central space of the building was the frigidarium with two baths, each on one side of the room.
On the westside were the warm baths: two calidaria and a tepidarium. The tepidarium is rectangular while the first calidarium is oval and the second calidarium only one side was semicircular and one side was rectangular of form. Adjacent to the caldarium lies the heating place. It is quite clear to be seen that the floors of the calidaria and the tepidarium were raised in order for the hot air to pass underneath. On the southside of the baths there is a second atrium with a doorway to the porticus outside that at one time was closed with bricks. Finally attached to the building were the latrines, the public toilets, served by a drainage pipe. Whether there were more rooms on the westside is no longer visible. Next to the Terme a mare is a nuragic waterwell, with a staircase leading down, proof that already in nuragic times it was an important place. Next to the well lies a quadrangular bassin built with large sandstone blocks.
The mosaic floors of Nora
Maybe the most interesting and special about Nora is the fact that there are many mosaic floors, found in houses, baths and temples. Most of these mosaic floors date back to the second and third centuries AD, the times of the roman emperors. The main colours are black, white and ocre. In some of the floors there was a central emblema with a more figurative design. In the towncentre lies the mosaic floor of the house with peristyle with a pattern of circle and stilistic flowers. The mosaic floor of the Terme centrali were just under reconstruction when we visited Nora (may 2008). Other mosaic floors are to be found near the forum, in the roman temple next to the theatre, the Terme piccole and the Terme a mare. But the most impressive are those of the house with the tetrastyle atrium. Around the atrium lie the various rooms with mosaics, one of them a cubiculum (bedroom) with an alcove with a separate design mosaic. The four columns around the impluvium are not originally in that position but were probably part of a front portico of the house. For certain this house belonged to one of the important and rich people that lived at Nora, also because it lies next to the high city (the acropolis) which may be considered an important site.
The sanctuary of Esculapius - Eshmoon
The acropolis lies on the southwest promontory of the peninsula. It is the site of the sanctuary of Esculapius, the god of healing. At this point archaeologists uncovered the statue of a sleeping youth with a serpent, the symbol of Esculapius. The same god was called by the Punics and Phoenicians Eshmun or Eshmoon. Here too there is a large mosaic floor of which the emblema has disappeared. There is also an apsis, divided into two separate rooms with each it's own door. This bipartition was common for Punic temples and it could be that the temple had punic origins and was assimilated to the roman god.
The punic element: cityplanning
The cityplanning is very much Punic in origin, when the town had it's first thriving period. No doubt much of the punic buildings disappeared to make place for the forum, the theatre and the baths. Still there are punic remains, not only in the north-african style of building, the opus africanum, but also underneath the roman houses there are traces of former punic structures. Most evident are the foundations near the forum at the seaside and in the living quarter behind the theatre.
Necropolis and tophet
Just outside the archaeological area of Nora lie the punic necropolis and the tophet, excavated by archaeologists. Images of the excavation and the artefacts can be seen at the small museum Giovanni Patroni at Pula
Address: Pula, tel. +39 070 921470/92440304
Opening times: summer 10:00-18:30;winter 10:00-16:30
Prices: Euro 6,00 ; Euro 3,00 (groups)
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Guided tours available
The information has been updated for 2019 but prices and opening hours may vary.