In antiquity Sant'Antioco was known under the name of Sulky, originally a phoenician tradepost founded in the eighth century BC near a Bronze Age complex nuraghe. In the town the remains are visible of the punic necropolis, later turned into early christian catacombs under the church of Sant'Antioco. There is an important archaeological museum next to the phoenician-punic open air sanctuary called tophet. In the Middle Ages the name of the town was changed to Sant'Antioco, the early christian martyr. Each year festivities and a procession are held in honour of the saint.
The town of Sant'Antioco is situated in the southwest of Sardinia on the homonymous island before the coast that is connected to the mainland by a narrow landstretch. The origins of this town, known in antiquity by the name of Sulky, lies in the eighth century BC at the time that Phoenician and Euboian traders ventured in the western Mediterranean and founded the so-called ports of trade, places where they could safely haul their ships ashore and make contact with the local populations. However the site of Sulky was already inhabited in the previous Bronze Age as shown by the remains of a nuraghe under the fortress of su Pisu. Even though the modern town has replaced for the largest part the prehistoric, phoenician-punic, roman and medieval houses and buildings, there are still many archaeological and historical sites to be seen and a few suprisingly interesting museums. For those with a special interest in Phoenician-Punic history Sant'Antioco is a must, but for everybody else it is a lovely town that offers more than just history.
The roman bridge
Sant'Antioco can be reached by car, the only approach is over the ss126, the road that connects the island to the mainland of Sardinia. Driving along the narrow stretch of land to the left are the lagoons and the saltworks with the flamingo's, and to the right the open sea, rich in fish, once so important for the economy of Sant'Antioco. The first interesting stop is the old roman bridge restructured and restored in medieval times but now no longer used. The new bridge lies beyond this one and crosses a canal just before you enter the town itself. The best place to park the car is near the archaeological museum, turn right after the bridge and follow the boulevard along the waterside until a sharp turn left will bring you to the museum. The interesting sites of the town are all at a fair walking distance.
The archaeological museum and the tophet
A visit to the archaeological museum, the Museo Archeologico Comunale F. Barreca, can be combined with a visit to the area of the tophet, the open air sanctuary of the Phoenicians and Punics. In the museum the archaeological finds are displayed and the history of the town and the island is told. A guide will then accompany the visitors to the tophet and will explain all about this particular sanctuary. The tickets can be combined also with other sites in the town like the ethnographic museum and the punic graves that are visitable.
The ethnographic museum and the punic graves
From the museum to the town center it is a short walk. The nice little ethnographic museum shows all kinds of objects that were in use by the people, these objects have all been donated by the local population to the museum. It provides a nice insight in the daily life of the Sardinians. Nearby are situated a few punic graves that are visitable and have been used as dwelling until right after the second Worldwar. The chambers have been whitewashed and furnished to house the poor of the town. Some punic graves are still used as a shed.
The highest point of the town is the small Sabaudian fortress, su Pisu. From the walls there is a nice panoramic view of the surroundings and the town itself. Below the fortress the archaeological area of the phoenician-punic burial site can be seen, and part of the acropolis. The fortress looks right across to the church of Saint Antiochus, the patron of the town. Every year the statue of the saint which is on display in the church is carried in a procession in town, preceded by men and women in traditional dress, oxcarts and horsemen.. Below the church lie the early-christian catacombs, punic graves that have been reused and transformed in late roman and early medieval times, under the church of the martyr Sant'Antioco. The catacombs can be visited when the church is open, but it is not allowed to make pictures.
The museum of byssus
A little down the road in the direction of the port a sign indicates the small museum of byssus. Byssus is a strong filament used by a certain type of clams to anchor themselves to the bottom of the sea. This filament is worked into broidery and tapestry. From this little museum to the waterside and along the boulevard is a relative longer walk but very pleasant with the magnificent view of the Sardinian mountains in the background and the cool breeze from the water. The itinerary ends again at the parking place near the archaeological museum.
1. Bartoloni, P., 2003, Fenici e Cartaginesi nel Sulcis, Cagliari
2. Bartoloni, P. 2007, Il Museo Archeologico Comunale "F. Barreca" di Sant'Antioco, Sassari
3. Tronchetti, C. 1989, S. Antioco, Sassari
4. Tronchetti, C. 1995, Il tophet di S. Antioco e le sue stele, Sant'Antioco
Tips for your stay in Sant'Antioco
Useful links to websites
Archeotour Sant'Antioco (italian, limited translation in english)