World Facts Index > Italy > Cagliari

Cagliari, is a city which has inspired poets and writers, it displays a rare, unusual beauty sat on the splendid Angel bay: these impressive stone forts are reflected in the crystal waters, these forts are immediately (and unexpectedly) visible to those who arrive by sea.

70 years ago, D.H. Lawrence felt that the city that rose in an unexpected like a golden mountain, he compared it to Jerusalem, claiming that there was nothing Italian about it.

Words can hardly describe the scenery that greets you from the prow of the boat, as you approach the coast. The city rises behind Via Roma culminating in the ancient majesty of the Castello quartiere. Via Roma is the keeper of many of the city's memories, a silent spectator of all the comings and goings of the local bourgeoisie who have chosen her as one an ideal place to take an afternoon stroll. The Via was at one point abandoned by Cagliari's inhabitants, but she now seems to be undergoing some form of revival: once again, people sit on her benches and reflect on life, while those who used this place to carry on sordid transactions have now fled to darker dens.

Via Roma leads from the port to Essa, Marina, which is part of the centro storico, along with Stampace, Villanova and Castello. In ancient times it was surrounded by a wall, today it still conserves its square shape of the Castrum romano, delineated by Via Roma, Largo Carlo Felice, Viale Regina Margherita and by the Castello's forts on the hill. It is a maze of streets and steps which lead down to the sea, allowing you to glimpse beautiful snippets of the bay and the mountains of Capoterra; the silence in these sidestreets which contrasts with the chaos of the port and the Largo Carlo Felice is bound to stun any visitor. In the past it was the headquarters of many religious buildings which have long since been destroyed, but some of the main attractions in the city are still its churches eg the Baroque churches of Sant'Antonio Abate and Santa Rosalia, the Gothic Catalan design of Sant'Eulalia and the Santo Sepolcro, and the Renaissance interiors of Sant'Agostino.
The art nouveau style can be seen in the palazzi as they gaze proudly at their reflection in the waters, they stretch along the seemingly endless Via Roma, but whose boundaries are marked by the church of San Francesco di Paola, the town hall and the modern building which houses the regional Council.
History seems to seep through every brick in every wall, a history made up of art, ancient flavours and thousands of years of tradition. At the ends of the alleys, you can glimpse a sight of olden day craftsmanship: an elderly gentleman sits in the shade, head bent over a table covered with instruments, now no longer used in the modern professions, but which he uses to give life and splendour to a 100 year old chest of drawers. Often there will also be a young man working alongside him, decorating terra cotta vases, continuing a tradition that many thought had long since died out. There are also some modern shops that allow both old and new craft traditions to happily co-exist. Visitors are seduced by the aromas that waft out of the many trattorias on Via Sardegna. Elegant restaurants and small family-run eateries offer up the delights of Sardinian cuisine.

Via Manno marks the end of the quartiere, here you will find high quality shops, the heart of commerce and trade, although in recent years many of the more distinctive boutiques have had to close.

Castello sits next to Marina, this is the city's ancient stronghold. Three ports can be reached from here to the north is Porta San Pancrazio (or s'Avanzada) and Porta Cristina, with Porta dei Leoni to the south. These introduce to a grid of narrow tiled streets in which can be seen traces of the Spanish domination.

The first two ports lead to Piazza Arsenale where the Torre di San Pancrazio stands and where you'll find the headquarters of the Cittadella dei Musei. Via Martini, which has been renovated (along with other streets such as Via Lamarmora and Via Cannelles), leads to Piazza Palazzo. This was once the political, administrative and religious centre of the city. The Cathedral is located here, as is the Vecchio Municipio, the Palazzo Viceregio and the Archbishops headquarters.The whole quartiere is a melting-pot of churches blessed with glorious architecture and precious furnishings eg the church of the Blessed Virgin
(Chiesa della Purissima) in Via Lamarmora, la Chiesa di Santa Croce, Saint Joseph's and Santa Maria del Sacro Monte di PietÓ.

The old private palaces, which still bear traces of the ancient nobility and are still closely linked with the areas around them. Numerous shops and workshops grab the attention of passersby and in the evening, lots of pubs and bars offer an comfortable place to relax where the young things of Cagliari can eat, drink and listen to live music.

It is difficult not to be tempted by the Bastione di Saint Remy on Sunday morning where you can indulge in lots of purchases in its market. From the Bastion you can wander into Via UniversitÓ and drink in the sights of the Torre dell'Elefante and the ancient university library in the ex Seminario Tridentino. The Scalette di Santa Chiara are just ahead and lead to Piazza Yenne and on to Stampace.

Stampace is another area that has many churches. The first is Sant'Anna, which is in Via Azuni, this is a breathtaking piece of architecture with a grand and imposing flight of steps. Behind her is Santa Restituta's and Sant'Efisio, where stories of persecutions and martyrdom dating back to the dark ages add to the religious significance of this church. At the end of Via Azuni, beyond the Porta dello Sperone, is the Baroque Chiesa di San Michele, which is just as sumptuous as Sant'Anna.

The monumental Saint John's hospital is on Via Ospedale and it is worth visiting, dating back to the second half of the XIX secolo, as are the nineteenth century prison and Carlo Alberto barracks in the spacious Passeggiata di Buon Cammino. These buildings are enough to make a criminal think twice. The little church of SS.Lorenzo e Pancrazio is also close by. Viale S.Ignazio is home to some of the most important sites in the city: Anfiteatro Romano and the Villa di Tigellio. The Orto Botanico lies between these two buildings and is of national importance as it is filled with rare trees and offers a veritable oasis of peace for any visitor or tourist.

The Chiesa dell'Annunziata in Corso Vittorio Emanuele dates back to the XVII century and is the home to the Scolopi order. Viale Trento is near to the Corso and is filled with many villas from the early 1900s.

From here, we enter into the quartiere of Sant'Avendrace where the Necropolis of Tuvixeddu rests on the hills of the same name the Necropolis was used by the Romans and behind this lies a tomb monument known as Grotta della Vipera the viper's cave.

Villanova is also an historic quartiere, which represents the city's expansion beyond its ancient city walls towards the adjoining countryside; remains of these can be seen in some of the ancient gardens which are hidden by high walls.
There is an intense air of deep spirituality which is often unleashed to full effect during Holy Week, where processions start from St. James' and St. John's. Some of the churches which take part in the processions have cloisters (S.Mauro and S.Domenico). This was once the kingdom of the artisans, the leatherworkers, carpenters, restorers, shoemakers, barbers and painters used to have workshops here, but it has now become home to hypermarkets and shopping centres.

To the north, the Viale Regina Elena marks the boundaries of this area, which stretches back to the rock of Castello, close to the Public Gardens, where you can visit the Modern Art Gallery.

The city seems to have spread out towards the east and the west and from here arose the quartiere of Villanova, and where the quartieres of sia verso est che verso ovest, dove a partire dal primo dopoguerra sono sorti i quartieri di S.Benedetto, S.Lucifero arose after the first world war (around the area which contains Basilica di S.Saturno and the Chiesa di S.Lucifero), S.Alenixedda, Bonaria, all of tutti di origine recente, which owe their name to the churches around them. The city expands westwards to the quartieres of Genneruxi, Monte Urpinu, Fonsarda and La Vega, Monte Claro until it reaches Pirri (which is Cagliari's 11th district); it stretches south with areas such as Quartiere del Sole, La Palma, S.Elia (an ancient fishermen's suburb, which was at one time separated from the city) and Poetto. Moving further north you will find S.Avendrace, Is Mirrionis, S.Michele and lastly the newly created Mulinu Becciu.

The city reaches down to Molentargius and S.Gilla, and at sunset, thousand of lights in the hills twinkle on the water and the evening sky is filled with flamingos returning to rest amongst the reeds.

History of Cagliari

Cagliari's origins are lost in the mists of time, and cannot be attributed to one civilization.

The first reported human settlements belong to the prehistoric era, and they were spread out over a large area, suggesting that this was not one compact nucleus, but rather a collection of sites. The hills of Sant'Elia and San Bartolomeo bear traces of these ancient ancestor, dating back to the 4th and 3rd century BC. The excavations made on the hill of Monte Claro have brought to light remains of the progression of a civilization between 1700 and 1550 BC. This was known as the 'nuragic civilization'.

The Phoenicians were a race of adroit merchants. They began to use the gulf of Cagliari as a landing point in the beginning of the 10th and 11th century BC. They truly settled here in the 8th century when they began to make homes on the promontory of Sant'Elia and the lagoon of Saint Gilla . According to several scholars the etymological roots of Cagliari are probably derived from this group of people: Karel, a Phoenician word, means 'city of God', or 'large city'; ancient sources record the name in the plural, ie Karales, written in other documents as Calares.

However, Cagliari could still not be called a city in terms of being an urban center. This significant change could only have taken place when the Carthaginians arrived in the 6th century who slowly gave this area a more urban look and feel, rather than the discontinuous, casual settlements that were there before. Religious buildings were constructed along with homes, necropoli, and water cisterns. The city was extended along the coast from the hills of Bonaria, until the area which today hosts the quartiere of Sant'Avendrace.

Cagliari was blessed with agricultural produce from Campidano but also with a local production of salt, the city was set to become a center of activity with an intense commercial life. It was linked by sea to Tunisia, as well as France and Spain, it was also under punic control. There are many indelible signs of their work and activities. Traces of the religious life are visible in the terracotta votives of Santa Gilla, in the Necropoli di Tuvixeddu, in the Temples of Via Malta, Bonaria, and in the Tophet that stands in San Paolo, also in the military votives in the walls and towers.

The fact that the Carthagians preferred to move around the plains leads to the assumption that the Castle was not used as a real acropolis at that time.

The city moved to Roman hands in 238 BC, but it still reserved all of its attributes as a commercial center. Rome, like Carthage preferred the planes to the hills or the gentle slopes, favouring a development of the city, which was lengthwise without moving too much inland. This did not prevent roads from linking the city with other cities such as Tibula (nowadays known as Santa Teresa di Gallura) or Olbia, Porto Torres, encouraging not only commercial activities, but also the movement of legions who were employed to oppose the autonomous resistance of the inland such as Barbagia. In 46 BC Cagliari, the 'barn of Rome' and the capital of Sardinia, hosted Julius Caesar, who erected the municipium, giving it a great deal of importance. Rome made Cagliari a city of high rank; it had many paved roads acqueducts, sewers, thermal baths but there were also many prestigious buildings such as the magnificent Anfiteatro built in the II century AD or the Villa di Tigellio dating back to the period between the era of Augustus and the 4th century AD and the area of Marina was transformed into a fortress. There are several other important constructions eg. the Grotta della Vipera created in the 1st century AD, where the Roman woman Attilia Pomptilla.

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Sardinia was under the dominion of the Vandals from 455 to 533 and Cagliari was the place of exile and deportation. The Byzantines came next, but their government and their administration was not well tolerated, which helped the arrival of the Goths (552) who lost control of it in 578 when the Byzantines took possession once again.

More significant traces of the Byzantine dominium were found in the area which today houses the Orto Botanico, in the Chiesa di San Michele, where the Orthodox religion was practiced, and the Basilica di San Saturno. This was the long period of peace, during which time the city of Cagliari became the center for the spread of Christianity.

The continuous raids of the Arabs undermined the stability of the city but also hindered any contact with the outside, this brought about what became known as the judicial period, during which Sardinia ruled itself. The frequent Saracen raids led the inhabitants of the coast to seek refuge inland; Cagliari avoided setting the headquarters in the city, but established it in the outer zones, such as Santa Igia, facing Stagno di Santa Gilla this led to a grave decline in the urban center.

Illiteracy was widespread and a solution was sought for the profound educational ignorance that existed in all levels of society, new contacts were sought, both commercial and cultural. In this way Pisa was able to have a deep impact on the island. Pisa understood straightaway how much security could be offered by the surrounding hills of Cagliari, under Pisa's control the city was radically transformed, modeling its administrative and judicial system on that of Tuscany. The construction of the surrounding walls that separated the castle (Castellum Castri) from the rest of the city was very significant: the castle was isolated from the city and it became the headquarters for public offices and the home of the Pisans: it was entered by three main gates: Porta del Leone, Porta dell'Elefante and Porta San Pancrazio. In order to better defend the port, the areas of Villanova, Marina and Stampace were protected by city walls; the walls of the castle were reinforced and two towers were built: Torre di San Pancrazio and Torre dell'Elefante. With the arrival of the Pisans, Cagliari became one of the most splendid examples of military architecture of the Medieval Age.

In 1324, the Aragonese attacked Cagliari and the treaty between Pisa and Aragon signified the beginning of Aragonese domination. The new conquerors installed themselves in the area of Castedd'e Susu (Alto Castello) and Cagliari became the home of the viceroys. All the commercial activities, in the area of Castedd'e Susu were moved to Marina. Pietro IV of Aragon introduced according to his model used in Barcelona: parliament composed of three classes or Stamenti: the military, the church and royalty, the Pisan rules and laws were nullified. A tough and severe discriminatory law prohibited access to the castle to locals admitting only to Catalans, Majorcans and Valencians who held all the public offices and duties. Aragonese rule brought about the formation of trade guilds or Gremi and the construction of a synagogue by the Jewish community.

In 1479, after the union of the crowns of Castalia and Aragon, the Castilians reached Sardinia and this led to one of the bleakest periods in its history. During the whole of Spanish rule the classes that were excluded from ruling, would launch continuous attacks against the ruling powers in order to obtain public offices and duties. There were many intrigues, conflicts, assassins and ambushes against Sardinian nobility and the Spanish crown.

In the second half of the 1600s, the killing of the Marquis of Camarassa (accused of having pushed through the request of assigning offices and prefectures to Sardinians) highlighted the first phase of the separation of Spain from Sardinia, (Sardinia totally broke away at the beginning of the 18th century with the outbreak of the war of Spanish Succession). There were two opposing factions in Cagliari: one in favour of Austria and the other in favour of Spain. The dispute between the two pretenders to the throne ended in 1708 with the arrival of an English-Dutch fleet that bombarded the city and occupied it without any serious difficulties. The viceroy was constrained to hand the island to the Austrians who resided there for a short period only, but the return of the Spanish was just as fleeting. The treaty of London (1718) gave Sardinian into the hands of Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy.

Under Piedmontese rule, at least at the beginning, the city (home to the viceroys) was not subject to major changes, except the reduction of commercial traffic. Only later did the Piedmontese become interested in the city improving the civil works and carrying out operations to improve sanitation: the Jesuit college of Santa Croce was also enlarged, changes were made to the Viceregal Palace, work took place upon Basilica di Bonaria, and the Chiesa di Sant'Anna was built. The bastioned walls of the city were strengthened.

During the French revolution, Cagliari was attacked on the 18 December 1792, but when the French tried to occupy her, they were by Sardinian militia under the command of Girolamo Pitzolo.

Strengthened through this win of the people, the Stamenti made requests of the king, among which the most important was the old question of the Sardinians gaining public office. This request was denied. On the 28 April 1794, Cagliari was the scene of an anti-Piedmontese uprising that led the viceroy to take refuge in the Archbishop's palace. On May 7, the Piedmontese were chased from the island and in order to commemorate this event, a festival known as Sa die de sa Sardigna takes place every year. Although the Savoiard king tried to satisfy the ancient requests, his attempts came to nothing. The anti-feudal revolts grew stronger and more intense, during these, Giovanni Maria Angioy emerged as an important figure, his intention was to proclaim a Sardinian Republic through an anti-government revolt. The revolution failed however, and the independents of the era were hanged at the gallows, all except Angioy who was forced into exile in France. During the Napoleonic wars, the Piedmontese court chose Cagliari as its home when the French army arrived at Turin, because the island had not yet been occupied and was easy to defend. The court returned to Piedmont in 1812, leaving Carlo Felice as viceroy; he began his government with the building of roads among them the Cagliari-Portotorres. In 1847, the Sardinian people asked King Carlo Alberto for the right to be "pareggiati ai sudditi del continente" 'given the same rights as mainland subjects'. The King was urged on by many demonstrations and eventually signed the act of unification between Sardinia (who had up until then enjoyed a certain amount of autonomous rule) and Piedmont the island now had civil and penal legal codes, the offices of Viceroy and the Royal Secretary of State and War giving light to a new dawn which in the following decades was to become the Kingdom of Italy.

With the unification of Italy, the city developed markedly, gradually taking on a modern aspect, increasing the value of the port and encouraging commerce; but this development was abruptly interrupted with the outbreak of the Second World War, during which Cagliari, ironically condemned by so much acclaim was almost raised to the ground by Anglo-American bombings in February and May in 1943. The inhabitants were forced to take refuge on the mainland to escape the tragedy, only returning once the damage was over in order to reconstruct from the ruins, the city that we see today. The haste with which the rebuilding took place meant that Cagliari grew in a very disordered way, encountering problems of urban identity and almost completely neglecting its rich historic and artistic inheritance. Only in the last few years has there been a rediscovery and appreciation of a past that seemed to have been buried and forgotten.

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