San Pantaleo: A Poem For An Abandoned Sardinian Church

We all have our favourite places. One of mine is a 13th Century Templar church built in the Romanesque-Gothic style.

Chiesa di San Pantaleo is positioned on a hill on the outskirts of Martis, a small town in the region of Sassari, where I have been lucky enough to spend some time.

The building has undergone some restoration in the last couple of decades against challenging instability. Only part of its stone roof has survived into the 21st century, but this makes it an ideal spot for stargazing.

Throughout the year, excluding the colder and cloudier months of January, and February, I would go and spend time inside this beautiful temple.

Some late evenings, usually in summer a group of us would walk through the town carrying blankets, and bottles of red wine, the locals began to understand that we were heading for San Pantaleo. Other days, I would go alone to read a book, write, or meditate within the white stone walls. Or be the tourist guide to new travellers to the town.

I remember arriving in Sardinia in the very early hours of the morning and watching the sunrise from behind this church.

I remember a first kiss from the church vault with a girl who agreed to wake up at 6 am to see the sunrise.

I remember once after several glasses of wine, in broken Italian inviting the whole of a bar in the town to come to San Pantaleo, it was a Saturday too, but the barman didn’t mind, he was happy, and made sure there was a cup of beer in every hand for the rest of the night. The church was packed with locals, many came later on carrying guitars, to sing songs that every Sardinian knew the words to.

I rememer sweeping the church with a group of locals, to make its presentable for a bus load of Dutch tourists who would come once a week in Summer, after visiting the local vineyard.

I remember being shown the cryptic engravings left in the stone by past generations. I remember finding the stairs that lead to the tower.

And I will never forget grabbing, and freeing a majestic barn owl, that had wings spanning a meter wide that was trapped at the top of the tower. From that day on, I could almost anticipate him flying low over my head on evening walks, like he was saying thank you. It always made me happy to see his white against the evening sky.

It is a special place, a humble place, anyone that has been there will tell you that. I am grateful for all the hours or maybe even days that I’ve spent within those walls, and hope for many more star gazing evenings from 11 pm to the early morning hours in the future.

I wrote a poem about San Pantaleo, a couple of years ago. It brought back lots of memories, and I thought it would be nice to write about some of those memories and our connections to places. Below is the poem that I was very grateful to come across again, it made me realise how much I miss this church, but also how lucky I have been to have made so many beautiful memories there.

I write these poems
alone
drunk
In an abandoned church
That is falling down around me

My imagination is left to reminisce
Of events and formalities
That took place where I now stand

I feel the energy
Of the building without a date

The solitude of a building
Remaining without a friend
Watching all those it sheltered die
Everything around it changed
While it was left to decay

A hundred violent storms
Hardly wearing the walls
Of a building of such beauty

A hundred fires
Never penetrating
The cold white stone

A hundred acquisitions
From opposing ideologies
Never changed
The structure of this old soul

The building has seen more
Then I could ever see
In a thousand lifetimes

It knows more of God
Then I could ever know
In a thousand lifetimes

It knows more of me
Then I could ever know of myself
In a thousand lifetimes

It will stand long after I’m gone
Waiting for someone else to write a poem
About its arches
And its incorruptible presence

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The Geology Of Sardinia

Sardinia is one of the oldest geographical regions in the Mediterranean. Its geology has formed over an extremally volatile, and dynamic 500 million years.

Today, Sardinia is in the continental phase of development, meaning that it is very stable. Remarkably Sardinia is the only region in Italy not to have earthquakes.

The mineral kingdom is the foundation of everything, it is the ground upon which we stand, and upon which all of life can unfold. I find it very interesting that the geology of Sardinia would have dictated the type of plants, and animals that could thrive on the island, and possibly on the types of human civilizations to take root in Sardinia.

Beyond the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms, the human kingdom was influenced by the geology of this amazing island. From about 8000 years ago the ancients living on the island started to mine Obsidian, which is a type of volcanic glass.

Around 3000BC there is evidence of Talc being mined, and then by 1200BC Cooper was mined by the ancient Nuragic Civilization.

Much of Sardinia is comprised of rocks that belong to the ancient mountain ranges belonging to the Palaeozoic period.

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Where To Stay In Alghero?

Alghero is one of the most popular towns in Sardinia, during the summer, there are plenty of places to stay from budget hostels to five-star hotels, but you’ll want to book ahead to get the best prices.

Alghero is a charming medieval city, its ochre-coloured walls come to life in the late afternoon, until the sun leaves the horizon. Catalan culture resonates throughout the city.  The old city invites you to explore on foot through its narrow streets lined with bars, restaurants and boutiques.

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The Catalan Town of Sardinia

Alghero is known locally as L’Alguer, a Catalan name that shows the strong Spanish influence that exists down every street of this town. Alghero has the most spanish feel of any town on the island. The town hall still flies the yellow and red striped flag with pride, announcing their kinship.  The Catalan language is still thriving in Alghero, in the streets you are likely to hear Catalan just as often as Italian. Catalan-speaking colonists arrived in 1372 overthrowing the Doria family.

Fortified Alghero

During the Spanish occupation, Alghero grew into a prominent trading city, famous for its ‘red gold’ coral that Alghero artisans sill transforms into stunning works of art and jewellery today. Fortifications were built to defend the port, these towers and bastions are spread out across the sea wall, much less a seaport today but a great place to have an icecream and look out towards Capo Caccia in the distance.

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A Brief History Of Sardinia

Sardinia is one of the most enchanting Italian islands, with its rugged and mountainous territory, its beaches of fine white sand, its unspoilt nature and its countless secrets, which every year attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world, eager to explore and discover this ancient land surrounded by an emerald sea, in the centre of the Mediterranean.

Sardinian culture has ancient origins and has been achieved over centuries full of events, discoveries, architectural and artistic experimentation. The succession of numerous peoples, such as the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Romans, has made this island a sponge of different and fascinating knowledge, which has made it an important source of interest for archaeologists and art historians today.

a history of the italian island of sardinia this picture shows an ancient site in sardinia

The name Sardinia derives from the Latin toponym Sardinia, whose origins are a bit uncertain. According to some scholars it is linked to Sardò, a Greek name belonging to a legendary woman who appears in Plato’s famous three-part dialogue, the Timeo. A second theory takes into consideration the texts of Sallust, a well-known historian and Roman senator of the Republican period. These recount the vicissitudes of Sardus, son of Hercules, who arrived in Sardinia from Libya together with a group of settlers.

At a historical level, it is ascertained that the toponym Sardinia was present long before the Roman conquest, as attested by the stele of Nora, dating back to Phoenician times. Found in 1773 near the Church of Sant’Efisio, in Pula, this block of sandstone is currently kept in the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, the most important archaeological museum on the island. Open to the public, this space offers a fascinating itinerary on four floors, the first of which explores the cultures that have inhabited Sardinia.

About these, let’s deepen together the history of the people who lived, conquered and transformed this wonderful territory.

Nuragic Civilization

Although in the last century archaeologists have re-evaluated the period before the first human settlements on the island, this article aims to investigate only some culturally relevant periods and not the complete chronology of Sardinia’s history. After this premise, we can begin to talk about the fascinating Nuragic civilization.

Developed from the Bronze Age onwards, it presented a complex society divided into different social classes, each with its own specific skills. The majority of the population was defined as plebs and consisted of shepherds, farmers, craftsmen and small traders. Then there were the warriors and the large landowners, who belonged to the noble class; finally, there was the group of priests, who dealt with religion, rituals, magic and medicine.

The Nuragic civilization supplanted or transformed previous cultures by bringing new cults, architectures and technologies. Many scholars believe that it was not external populations that brought about the change, but the Sardinians themselves. The introduction of bronze greatly benefited the people who inhabited Sardinia, as this island was rich in mines. This allowed the enrichment of the Sardinian people thanks to a flourishing trade that developed in the Mediterranean area. The first architectures that gave the name to the civilization also began to be built. In fact, the few sources and the lack of written testimonies of these people did not give way to discover the name by which they were called. The definition “nuragic” is instead linked to their traditional structure, the nuraghe, still present today in visible and visitable complexes.

At an architectural level the nuraghe was preceded by the protonuraghi, irregular buildings of stocky appearance, no more than 10 metres high, inside which there was a circular environment, which can also be found in the nuraghe, plus various corridors and cells. Their terrace was probably the most functional area used as a living area.

The “tholos” nuraghe, on the other hand, is Sardinia’s most popular architecture (6,500 to date). They have a particular cone shape, similar to a tower, composed of boulders of various sizes placed without cement links. They have superimposed chambers inside them. Finally, there is a third type of nuraghe, which was a complex version of the “tholos” one, with the main tower and other architectural elements added later.

The architectural complexes of the Nuragic civilization are certainly an attraction for those who love history and archaeology but also for the simple tourist, who will be enchanted by their ancient beauty.

History Of Sardinia: What To Visit

Among the places to visit to discover and observe closely these particular buildings, it is worth mentioning the Nuragic village Su Nuraxi, located in the municipality of Barumini. The archaeological site is really important, so much so that it is a World Heritage Site, recognized by UNESCO in 1997. It is a real village developed around a central nuraghe more than 18 metres high. The settlement, composed of about fifty circular huts, was found between 1950 and 1957 thanks to the excavations directed by the archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu. On Nuraxi it is well preserved and it is essential to visit it to observe in person what has left the Nuragic civilization.

Another nuraghe in good condition that you can see is the Nuraghe Losa, which is located in the municipality of Abbasanta. It is composed of a donjon and a trilobed bastion and, according to the sources, it had a funerary function. The settlement that surrounds the building has been only partially excavated but this place surrounded by uncontaminated nature will surely remain in your heart. Currently, the management is entrusted to the Paleotur cooperative, which also takes care of the Ethnographic Museum of Abbasanta, an interesting space that offers a cross-section of Sardinian daily life between 1500 and 1600.

Another nuraghe to visit is the Nuraghe Santa Barbara. Located in an area that offers spectacular views, especially at sunset, it owes its name to the remains of a country church dedicated to the Saint. The Nuragic construction is of a complex type and is about 15 metres high. Around the nuraghe, there is an inhabited centre that has survived even in Roman times and the early Middle Ages. If you want to see this site you have to go to the territory of Macomer, a fascinating town that has always been a crossroads between the north and the south of the island.

The Phoenicians, The Carthaginians And The Roman Conquest

Between the 9th and 8th centuries, various Mediterranean populations began to frequent and carry out exchanges with Sardinia. The Nuragic civilisation was transformed and new forms of complex and interesting social organisation were created, which became apparent with the progressive abandonment of prehistoric towers and the internalisation of new expressions of leadership, such as that of the optimistic. Around 750 B.C., the Phoenicians were among the first to consolidate important integrations, not only commercial but also political and military, with the Sardinian population, as demonstrated by the colonies Nora, Tharros, Othoca and Sulci.

The Phoenicians, who came from a land unsuitable for agriculture, were immediately attracted by the fertility of Sardinia and did not waste time setting up and founding the above-mentioned colonies to be used as seaports of call. Over time these sites became real cities and even smaller centres such as Cornus and Neapolis were built.

There are no certain proofs but most probably the relations between the Phoenicians and the native population were peaceful, also because the colonies were not in territorial contrast with the Nuragic villages and, on the contrary, the commercial exchange favoured both sides. 

The archaeological excavations and historical sources have brought to light the great advantages that the people of navigators from Phoenicia have given to the Nuragic civilization. The Sardinians knew the cultivation of the olive tree and learned to exploit the mineral resources of their land, such as iron and gold. Of particular importance was the religious development, influenced by oriental traditions, which led to the construction of good temples throughout the territory.

Unfortunately, the good relations between the two cultures deteriorated with time, perhaps due to the progressive power of the new colonies, now too cumbersome, and the Phoenicians, frightened by the wariness of the Nuragic communities, asked Carthage for help. This is only a theory because, according to the opinions of some scholars, the Carthaginian invasion was simply linked to the desire for expansionism, which was hindered by the Phoenician colonies in Sardinia.

The sixth century B.C., coinciding with the arrival of the Carthaginians, marks the interruption of a complex cultural and urban development formed by the union of Phoenician and Nuragic traditions. After years of conflict, the Carthaginian generals Amilcare and Asdrubale finally managed to conquer the island. From this moment on, a profound renewal was carried out, in which the richest settlements assumed a fundamental value, becoming the political and social centre of the population: the Punic cities.

From the Punic period, there are now mostly written Roman certificates, because in 509 B.C. an important treaty had been stipulated between the Carthaginians and the Romans, which allowed the latter to trade with Sardinia. In this period the Phoenician-style urban development continued and the sanctuaries already present on the island, the so-called tophets, continue to be the most important places of worship. The form of government was transformed and adapted to that of the Carthaginian centres, with two judges at the top, called Suffete or Sufiti, in office for a year and flanked by the assembly of the elders and the people.

As far as the military structure is concerned, the remains of fortified settlements are still visible today, confirming the presence of soldiers’ organisations. On an economic level, the currency was introduced and a wide commercial network was created which led Tharros to be the richest Sardinian city on the island.

The transition from Carthaginian to Roman rule took place due to an internal conflict. The first Roman-Carthaginian war ended and after the revolt of the Punic mercenaries on the island, in 238 B.C. the Romans occupied Sardinia. Consul Tiberio Sempronio Gracco took care of the operations in the territory and was received almost peacefully in the Carthaginian strongholds, including the ancient Phoenician colonies that did not appreciate the Carthaginian government. Of course, there are two sides to the coin and later many Sardinians turned against the Romans, but without success.

In the period of the Roman conquest, no particular novelties were introduced and private estates were distributed among the Roman gens and partly left to the Sardinian-Punic people. Also, a public latifundium was established for the collection of cereals destined for Rome. In the mountainous areas, there are still the Barbaricini, that is to say, those autochthonous people who, during the Carthaginian invasion, fled to the margins, living off sheep farming and community use of the land. 

Seven centuries of Roman domination contribute to make Sardinia a place with a new culture, language and religion. Nowadays it is possible to see ruins of this period, some well preserved and present all over the island.

What Historical Sites In Sardinia Should I Visit?

Many of the still existing municipalities are of Roman origin. Among them, Cagliari (once Carales), Nora, Tharros and Nuragos preserve ancient and well visible memories. Worth mentioning is the Roman Amphitheatre of Cagliari, a spectacular site half excavated in the rock which in ancient times hosted gladiator and animal fights, as well as executions. It could host about 10,000 spectators and the south façade of the building, now disappeared, was over 20 metres high.

Another important monument is Villa di Tigellio, also located in Cagliari, composed of the ruins of three well-preserved buildings. Two of these present interesting artistic elements, such as the valuable floor mosaics inside the “painted tablinum house” and the decorations of the “stucco house”.

Finally, it is impossible not to mention the archaeological area of the Treasure Museum of Sant’Eustalia, discovered in 1990 and consisting of a paved road dating back to Roman times and environments from the Republican period.

Moving away from Cagliari you can frequently encounter other Roman remains, such as the beautiful Porto Torres Bridge, set on seven arches and 135 metres long. It was used until 1980 (a demonstration of the great technical ability of the Romans), although in 1900 the original paving was covered with asphalt. Today it has been restored and it is possible to visit it.

In addition to urban remains, such as aqueducts and forums, which dot the various municipalities of the island, it is also possible to find a symbol of Romans, namely the thermal baths, located in Fordongianus. Still today there are the springs from which the thermal waters flow, which can reach very high temperatures, about 54°.

Conclusions

Sardinia is an island rich in history and tradition and this article has deepened only a small part of its fascinating culture. The possibility of still being able to visit prehistoric buildings and the settlements of the most famous civilizations makes this place unforgettable and magical

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