Let’s hop off of the mainland of Italy for a moment and head for the sand and the sun and the lovely beaches and wonders of Sardinia. This is a large island that sits right in the Mediterranean Sea and offers 2,000 km of coastline and mountains in the interior just great for hiking. You can see such wonders as Bronze-age stone structures that are shaped like beehives. Its southern capital, Cagliari has an amazing medieval quarter known as Castello with narrow streets to explore, 14th century palaces and a 13th century cathedral. So come on over and have the time of your life.
A very popular pilgrimage site is the Bonaria Hill. People come here to pray to Nostra Signora di Bonaria, a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and Christ that is kept in a niche behind the altar. This statue supposedly saved a 14th century Spanish ship during a storm. To the right of the sanctuary you’ll find a larger basilica that is a landmark for returning sailors. Once part of a much larger fortress this sanctuary was built by the Catalano-Aragonese in 1323.All that remains of the original structure is the truncated bell tower and the Gothic portal. In the museum you’ll find things like model boats and a golden crown from Carlo Emanuele I. There are also the mummified corpses of four plague-ridden Catalano-Aragonese nobles. Above the altar hangs a tiny 15th century ivory ship and it is said that its movements indicate the wind direction in the Golfo degli Angeli.
There are many museums in Sardinia but the one museum that most enjoy seeing is the Archaeological Museum of Sardinia. Here you’ll be fascinated by they artifacts on display that reflect ancient history among them a collection of miniature-sized bronze figurines. Other displays take you through the Bronze and Iron Ages and the times of Phoenicians and Romans. Bronze figurines depict tribal chiefs, warriors, hunters, mothers and animals. The museum also has several giant sandstone sculptures standing over two meters high and date back to the 8th and 9th centuries. Highlights on the ground floor include stone implements and obsidian tools, rudimentary ceramics, amusing round fertility goddesses, terracotta vases, glass vessels, scarabs and jewelry. On the first and second floors you can see Roman mosaics, a collection of Roman statues, busts and tombstones from Cagliari and coins.
Take a look at the Cathedral of Santa Maria. This is a most graceful cathedral in Cagliari dating from the 13th century and stands on Piazza Palazzo. There is not much left of the original Gothic structure except for a square bell tower. The facade is Pisan-Romanesque and was added in the 20th century. Inside you’ll find a Baroque decor with frescoes adorning the ceiling. There are three chapels on either side of the aisles.
The third chapel to the right is the Cappella di San Michele shows a serene St. Michael in Baroque style apparently in the eye of the storm as he casts devils into hell. Two stone pulpits, sculpted by Guglielmo da Pisa between 1158 and 1162 are at the central door. On the other side of the altar is the entrance to the Aula Capitolare. This is a crypt containing many Savoy tombs. It was carved out of rock and the barrel-vaulted chamber is quite impressive with sculptural decoration and many intricate carvings.
Take the monumental stairway heading up from the busy Piazza Costituzione to Bastione San Remy to reach the very impressive Il Castello. If you prefer you can take the panoramic elevator however the walk is great too as you keep going higher and being able to take in the views. The stairway was built between 1899 and 1902 and is a mix of Neoclassical and Liberty styles. It offers spectacular views over the rooftops of Cagliari and on to the Mediterranean.
Il Castello the hilltop citadel in Cagliari is a most impressive site with domes, towers and palazzi. It is home to the aristocracy. Inside the battlements of the old medieval city you can see the university, cathedral, museums and Pisan palaces all wedged into narrow high-walled alleys. At the harbors there are boutiques, bars and cafes.
Only two Pisan towers have remained standing. The Torre dell’Elefante was built in 1307 as a defense against the threat of the Aragonese. This is a 42-meter high tower given its name for the sculpted elephant by the mean-looking portcullis or gliding door. At one time this was a prison for political detainees. Don’t be surprised if you run into any angry spirits because of the strange and horrible doings here. When the Spaniards beheaded the Marchese di Cea they left her severed head just lying about for 17 years. They would also put the heads of executed prisoners on the portcullis and they’d all be strung up in cages. For a spectacular view of the city and the sea you can climb right to the top of the tower.
To walk among lovely flowers, interesting plants and greenery head for one of Italy’s most famous botanical gardens, the Orto Botanico. These botanical gardens were established in 1858 and they extend for more than five hectares. You can delight in 3000 species of flora. There are leafy arches that lead to lovely fountains and garden full of palm trees, cacti and ficus trees with huge snaking roots. These plants come from as far as Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas. Here you can also find a Punic cistern, a Roman quarry and an aqueduct.
Catillo di San Michele is a three-tower Spanish fortress standing high on a hill above the city. From here you can get fantastic views of the city and the sea. It is a 10th century castle that was built to protect Santa Igia, capital of the Giudicato of Cagliari. It is best known for being the luxurious residence of the 14th century Carroz family. Today the castle offers art and photography exhibitions.
When you want to have fun in the sand and the sun head for Poetto Beach stretching for 6 km along the coast it is the longest stretch of beach in Italy. In the summer everyone is here from residents to tourists. There are fun fairs, restaurants, bars and discos. The south end of the beach is the most popular as it includes the picturesque Marina Piccola, the yacht club and during July and August an outdoor cinema.
A most interesting place is the Cagliari waterfront known as Marina. Here you can wander little lanes with artisan shops, delicatessens and many good eateries. The neighborhood also has many churches with the most interesting one being the Chiesa di Sant’Eulalia on Piazza Sant’Eulalia with its museum.