Sardinian culture: Oristano

The Sardinian culture is historically formed by a mixture of European (Italian and Spanish), near eastern and north african influences. In the religious sphere this can be seen from the existence of a large greek-orthodox community due to the early medieval presence of Byzantium on the island, apart from the more predominant roman-catholic church. The influences can also be found in the popular culture, the language and the century old handicrafts. Some of the characteristics of the Sardinian culture are reported here in these pages, with particular attention to the province of Oristano and the newly formed province of Medio-Campidano that historically belong to those parts of Sardinia that were more open to influences from outside.

Towns and villages in west Sardinia

Oristano (the medieval Aristanis) is the capital of the province with the same name, created through an administrative change in the seventies of the previous century and increased in size with the last reform in 2006. It is the most important center with a small airport (Fenosu), a port and it is the commercial centre for the region. The historical centre and the most important museum, the Antiquarium Arborense, are worthwhile visiting. More touristical information can be obtained from the Ente per il turismo located in the centre of the town.

North of Oristano lies one of the largest fishermans villages, Cabras . The best bottarga is produced here. Bottarga is obtained from salted and dried spawn of the mullet and is used to give a special taste to the spaghetti or pasta. The fish migrate every year to the lagoon of Cabras to reproduce. Here, and in the town of Santa Giusta just south to Oristano, small boats of reed are made (is fassonis). Every year at Santa Giusta a contest is organized with these small crafts that are very similar to the Egyptian papyrus boats of the hieroglyphs.

The more mundain seaside resort is Torre Grande with bars and restaurants, a boulevard and a very nice beach. It is located around an old Spanish tower, hence Torre Grande.

The twenties style architecture at Arborea. The church
The twenties style architecture
at Arborea. The church

Arborea, south of Oristano, was built in the twenties and thirties of the previous century under Mussolini. Many Veneti (from northern Italy) were attracted to Sardinia to start new farms on the recently drained swamps. The style is northern-italian and the architecture was plainly influenced by the main currents of the twenties (including the Amsterdam school). Arborea is now a thriving agricultural community and produces milk and dairies of good quality. There is still a kind of rivalry with the surrounding more Sardinian towns because of the different cultural backgrounds.

The fishermans village of Marceddì. Boats near the beach
The fishermans village of Marceddì.
Boats near the beach

More to the south lies Terralba, a lively community where the evenings traditionally the people will go out and meet in the main piazza in front of the church. There are much more young people around than in the mountain communities inland. On the coast a small fishermans village can be found called Marceddì, where restaurants serve good fish. There is a former building of the Dogana from the times that goods were imported through many places on the coast and the state had to keep a direct control.

Local events and happenings

Many villages and towns have their happenings and events, often connected to the local patron where the statue of the Saint is carried around in a procession. The most important festivity is that of Saint Efisio, the patron of Cagliari and Nora. The pictures here are taken at the event of the procession of the holy Maria at Marrubiu when carried to the small church at the foot of the Monte Arci, the church of Santa Maria Zuarbara, to remain there for three days. Horsemen and folkloristic groups, clad in traditional clothes accompany the statue, carried on the shoulders of several able men for miles, followed by half the population.

There are happenings and events organized where horses play an important part. One of the most reknowned is the Sartiglia of Oristano where riders in traditional clothing compete in games in the streets of Oristano. Then there are the commemorative events like the famous Corsa degli Scalzi where a group of young men carry the statue of the saint running barefooted through the countryside, a reminder of the invasion of the arabs.

During many of these events the traditional Sardinian costumes are worn. Men are dressed in black (riding) pants with a white shirt and black vest. The woman have wide skirts, often embroidered, and wear their riches in earrings of gold and necklaces with coral. Every town has it's own dress. At these feasts ofcourse there is lot's of food and Sardinian dolci (sweats) like mostaccioli and torrone for the kids. Sardinian hospitality is almost proverbial and appreciated by many.

The language and the music

Sardinian (Sardu) is recognized as a separate language. Every town and every village has it's own dialect and words are often spelled and pronounced differently. Thos who understand Italian may well not understand a word of Sardinian even though the roots are very similar. There are official dictionaries available and even Wikipedia has pages in Sardu. The official language however remains Italian.

The launeddas is the typical instrument similar to the Scottish bagpipes. In Roman times it were the legions that brought the bagpipe to Scotland. There is a variety of groups active that play the traditional music with the bagpipes or sing the old songs of Sardinia. But also young bands embrace the Sardinian language in their songs. The most famous Sardinian group of the last years was the Tazenda.

Products of the land

Even though Sardinia is an island, most typical products come from the land. First of all ofcourse the wine. Around Oristano there are many vineyards. Most reknowned wine is the Vernaccia, a strong almost liquorous white wine. The Monica and Nuraghus are used to produce red wines. The dry climate gives the wines a stronger taste. Elsewhere on Sardinia the Canonnau is produced, the finest and most prestigious wine of Sardinia. Cannonau is considered the oldest (known) grape in the world.

The regional liquor is called Mirto, produced from the berries of the mirto, family of the blueberry. The leaves are also used when preparing the traditional food based on roasted meta like the porceddu, roasted pork.

The traditional cheese of sheepsmilk (pecorino sardo) is very strong in taste and is produced on all of Sardinia in a large variety. You can find the dolce variant and the most nutty kind. Combined with tomatoes on a piece of bread it is excellent for lunch along the road.

Just like the rest of Italy olives and olive oil are traditional products. Furthermore the tipical salsicce (sausage) in many flavours, although they are hard to find elsewhere because export is restricted due to the plague under the wild pigs and those that want to sell abroad have to observe very strict hygienical rules.

Thanks to the water of the Tirso it is possible to grow rice in the western parts of Sardinia. The quality is excellent and can be used in salads.

The crafts

Since the earliest times Sardinia has been famous for it's jewellery; gold, silver and especially the red coral. The filigrain technique is a common technique applied for buttons and earrings.

Another well known product from Sardinia is cork. The best cork is gathered from the mediterranean cork tree and is used by the most reknowned winehouses in Europe. In Samugheo there is furthermore a thriving industry of woven carpets and a vast production of ceramics.

Many Sardinians carry their pattada with them, the Sardinian knife with an iron (or steel) blade and handle in bone, produced in the area of Pattada. Another type of knife is called Arburese and has a broader blade. These knives are never cleaned with soap and are kept oiled at all times with olive oil for immediate use. Many shops sell these knives as traditional Sardinian craft, but beware of the authenticity because many knives are made with imitation handles that look like bone.

Last updated 11/05/2020

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