When I told my husband we were making a port stop in Cagliari and that I had arranged for us to visit a nuraghi, he looked at me with great suspicion and claimed he had not heard of either the “place” or the “thing”. When I explained that we were going to Sardinia to see a large Bronze Age stone ruin shaped like a beehive, he knew exactly what I was speaking of and he was already fairly well informed about the history of the most famous nuraghi, which he knew by name as Su Nuraxi. This well preserved look into the past is a protected Unesco heritage site and a popular draw to cruise ship visitors.
Sardinia is a Mediterranean island and an autonomous region south west of mainland Italy. It has the Tyrrhenian Sea portion of the Mediterranean to the east, and the Strait of Bonifacio to the north. Rugged coastlines compete with sandy beaches while smaller offshore islands hug the area and offer some attractions of their own such as the pink sands of Budelli. In short, Sardinia offers up plenty to see. Beaches, picturesque views and some unique history greets tourists coming to visit.
Once you move inland from the coast, you can enjoy some (smaller) mountainous views that will give you a thrill whether you are driving or riding. Cruise ships dock in Cagliari which is the capital city of Sardinia. Steeped in history, the city offers a typical flat marina area and an historic medieval walled quarter called the Castello.
You don’t actually need to leave Cagliari in order to see some very interesting and historical places at this port stop. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Cagliari is housed in a former arsenal and displays items from the Byzantine era and as far back as the Nuragic age. As with most museums in Italy, Roman bronze and ceramics are also on display. If you want to get a general flavour of the city, hop on a local sight-seeing bus that permits on and off privileges.
The 13th-century Cagliari Cathedral is another draw within the walls of the Castel di Castro. Built in 1254, its original design was in the form of a Latin cross but there have been numerous design modifications over the years. One of the most important additions was the 17th century inclusion of the Shrine of the Martyrs. If you decide to visit, take a look at the organ and the intricate silver-works on display. Very impressive indeed.
However, as mentioned, on our most recent visit to Cagliari we were committed to leaving the city and visiting the notables found in the mountains and countryside. Our tour was a private one organized by Janet, another passenger on the cruise and with whom we connected through a social media cruising site. Her offering of a private tour that included the Su Nuraxi, the Domus de Janas (a 3000 BC tomb), a visit to see the wild horses and the Tomb of Giants, seemed to include everything on my want list. The Murals and Cork Oak Forest stops were just icing on the cake. We signed up to participate in Janet’s organized tour and it turned out to be a wise decision.
We drove through the Campidano plains and into the beautiful Marmilla Valley. The driver later told us that we had passed hundreds of nuraghi’s but I was oblivious because at that point, I had not been shown what to look for nor was I cognizant that the area was dotted with these 2nd millennium, BC defensive structures. Soon we arrived at the largest and oldest nuraghi which as mentioned, is Su Nuraxi in Barumini. From a distance it looked like a giant pile of rocks but as we walked closer we could see the building skill associated with this structure. Dating to 1500 B.C. it is impressive in size and is surrounded by ruins of outlying buildings, which provide an insight into life at that time. The large stone structure has metal stairs and walkways surrounding it and up we went so we could enter. A side benefit was that from that height, we had a great view of the ruins around the nuraghi and the surrounding countryside. It was there that the guide pointed out the large number of nuraghis in the area and what we should look for when searching for them.
At this point I want to issue a word of caution with respect to visiting Su Nuraxi. Seeing the outside is great, and overall it is an impressive place but the inside of the nuraghi really gives the visitor an idea of the purpose, the size, hierarchy living benefits, communal conditions etc. I believe it is a must see if you are fit enough to undertake the activity. However, IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS WITH CLAUSTERPHOBIA OR UNEVEN, STEEP, NARROW WALKWAYS, THIS IS NOT THE PLACE FOR YOU. Those who have mobility or climbing issues may want to reconsider entering the nuraghi.
While waiting to enter the top of Su Nuraxi, we had to move aside for people who were leaving because they could not tolerate the narrow confines of the tunnel or negotiate the steep drop which at one point, is physically demanding with no railings or handholds. I found I was not bothered by the close space and upon reaching the bottom of the nuraghi, I found it roomy. But you exit the same way you enter and prior to exiting, I looked at one of the steeper steps I had negotiated to get down and I thought going back up might be a challenge. I am happy to report that I was able to make it back up and out without assistance but I would not describe this as an easy level shore excursion activity.
The Domus de Janas is a 3000BC tomb which was not all that large and more of a pile of rocks so a five minute photo op pretty much covered that tour stop.
Eventually we made our way up an old volcanic plateau before parking the van and walking about a 1/4 of a kilometer. Our driver had warned us that we might not see the wild horses but we were fortunate and found them in close proximity to our stopping point. We could see a small herd in the distance but unfortunately the horses were camera shy and somewhat skittish so a close approach was not possible. Known as the Giara di Gesturi, these dwarf horses are a tourist attraction in their own right.
When our tour finished there was just enough time for a quick look around Cagliari before boarding the ship. Our take away from this port stop was that it is a place where we needed more time and an area that begs another visit.