Oristano is the capital of the province of Oristano since 1974. In medieval times it played an important role in the history of the Judicates as the capital of the Judicate of Arborea. It has a picturesque historical center and during Carnival the characteristic event called the Sartiglia takes place in the streets of the town.
Oristano is the main town in western Sardinia and the administrative center of the province of Oristano since 1974. The town has around 32.000 inhabitants and is the most important regional center for west-Sardinia 1. Oristano is connected by train to the main cities Sassari and Cagliari and there is an important busstation (ARST) that connects Oristano to all important towns of Sardinia. From the ss131, the main artery that traverses Sardinia from north to south, the town center can be reached easily by car. The historical center is limited for traffic and in some parts parking is payed or limited in time.
A short history of Oristano
Oristano is located on a natural sandridge between the river Tirso and the ponds of Santa Giusta. The Sardinian name of Oristano is Aristanis, a name that seems to be derived from Aristianes which appears in Byzantine writings of the seventh century AD. It is probable that a new village came into existence around a praedium or villa belonging to the family of Aristius, known to have had a lot of possessions in Sardinia 2. Often the baths of roman villa's outside the limits of the ancient roman towns were transformed and consacrated as christian church. In fact nearby was the ancient town of Othoca, now the fishermen's village of Santa Giusta. Here in medieval times an important basilica has been built. But the Punic-Roman town that would determine the rise of Oristano to be the capital of the Judicate of Arborea was Tharros. Under the pressure of continuous arab incursions both the bishop and the Iudex (Giudice) transferred their sees from Tharros to Oristano around 1070 abandoning the ancient town to it's fate 3. This flight from Tharros to Oristano has been represented in a relief in the bronze doors of the church of Santa Maria Assunta at Oristano.
Oristano became the flourishing economic and political center of the medieval Judicate of Arborea. Several monuments still remind us of that period, most notably the tower gate of Mariano II. The Judicate would however eventually succumb to the overwhelming power of the Catalan forces in 1410, when the Judicate lost the famous battle of Sanluri, and the new Marquisate of Oristano was formed 4.
Oristano became less important after 1500 although it still was an important port for west-Sardinia, Cagliari and Sassari were more and more focal points of political and economic power. Furthermore the unhealthy climate with the ponds and the malaria made life hard in this area. It was not until the twenties and thirties of the previous century that action was undertaken against this disease which was finally overwon in the post war period.
To develop the economic potential of Oristano after the war a new commercial harbour was built and the small airport at Fenosu. In 1974 Oristano became again capital of a newly created province of the former territory of the Judicate of Arborea. In the last decennia, like many municipalities, Oristano has aimed at developing tourism as a source of income, in fact the main bureau of tourism is located on the square in the heart of the town.
Interesting places, monuments and events at Oristano
Oristano is a lively town with shops, bars and restaurants. To attract tourism many historical buildings have been brought back to their original splendor in the hart of the town of Oristano. Important places to visit are the museum the Antiquarium Arborense and the church dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. On the main square a statue has been erected for Eleonora d'Arborea, the last Iudex (Giudicessa) of Arborea. At the end of the Via Dritta stands the towergate of Mariano II which has become the icon of the town. A stroll along the old alleys will show how the palaces and houses were built using a mix of basalt and sandstone, in fact the legend tells that the people used the ancient town of Tharros as a quarry to build the town of Oristano.
The main event of the year is around Carnival, the Sartiglia. During this event horsemen display their skills in old equestrian games. The event is repeated in a limited form for tourism in the summer. Another important event takes place in the days before the 8th of september around the church of the Madonna del Rimedio. This church is located on the other side of the bridge that spans the river Tirso. Here people from all over Sardinia come to celebrate the festivities of the Madonna del Rimedio.
1. Ferrer I Mallol, M.T. 2000, La Guerra d'Arborea alla fine del XIV secolo in: Giudicato d'Arborea e Marchesato di Oristano: proiezioni mediterranee e aspetti di storia locale, ed. G. Mele, Oristano, p. 535-620
2. Spanu, P.G. 1998, La Sardegna bizantina tra VI e VII secolo, Oristano
3. Zucca, R. 2000, Zerkis iudex arborensis in: Giudicato d'Arborea e Marchesato di Oristano: proiezioni mediterranee e aspetti di storia locale, ed. G. Mele, Oristano, p. 1103-1112
Tips for accommodations and restaurants
Tourism Oristano (italian)