Sardinia lays 120 miles west of the Italian peninsula, beneath Corsica and above Sicily. The nearest land masses (clockwise from the North) are the island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia, the Balearic Islands and Provence. It is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and an autonomous region of Italy.
Despite its large surface, Sardinia is not densely populated. A total of 1.6 million Sardinians inhabit the island, with a good 17% of the surface being used for sheep breeding and agriculture. In Sardinia the number of sheep almost doubles that of humans! It is no wonder lamb is so popular in the dishes and Pecorino cheese is one of the islands largest exports!
Sardinia’s origins date back to 600 million years ago. The island has been located almost in the same position in the sea for over 65 million years. Sardinia was occupied by nearly every Mediterranean power for more than 2,500 years, until it became part of Italy in 1861.
The first settlers were the Nurag people of the Bronze Age. The Nuragic civilization was a civilization of Sardinia, lasting from the Bronze Age (18th century BC) to the 2nd century AD. The name derives from its most characteristic monuments, the nuraghe. They consist of tower-fortresses, built starting from about 1800 BC. Today approximately 7,000 nuraghi dot the Sardinian landscape. They have come to be the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture.
Both the Nurag people and the Greek colonies of Sardinia’s coast were annexed by Carthage in 537 BC, which started the Sardinian people’s tradition of leaving the coast to invaders while keeping to themselves in the mountains. After the Punic Wars, Rome took over Sardinia and left their mark before invading Vandals and the Byzantine Greeks attempted to rule the island. In the centuries that followed, Sardinia often fell prey to passing pirates and marauders, due to its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
During the Nurag years the Sardinian religion was based on the veneration of symbols representing life and fertility. Sardinia was converted to Christianity in the Middle Ages and continues to be predominantly Roman Catholic. Every village has one or several churches. Religious ceremonies include both official church rituals and popular local feasts ( feste ), such as saint’s day celebrations. Life-cycle rituals continue to be church-sponsored, even among Sardinians who are otherwise not active in Religious affairs
The first language of Sardinia is Italian, although the Sardinian language, Sardo, is still widely spoken. Sardo is a remarkably rich language that varies greatly from area to area, even from village to village, with Latin, Arabic, Spanish and Catalan influences reflecting the turbulence of the island’s past.
Life in Sardinia is unpretentious and simple compared to that of other countries. Many islanders are still employed in the agricultural industry and you may notice that there are few or no extremes of wealth.
The household is the most fundamental unit in Sardinian society. Marriage is monogamous and indissoluble; Divorce, although legal today, is rare.
Elders are celebrated and family is revered. Grandparents can provide love, child-care, financial help, wisdom, and expectations and motivation to perpetuate traditions and push children to succeed in their lives. By turn, elders feel a sense of belonging in their families and communities. They live at home, where they’re likely to receive better care and remain more engaged than they would in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
The traditional division of labor was structured along gender lines. Men’s roles were centered away from the home, while women’s were centered in the home. Peasant men worked in the fields to grow the wheat while the women worked at home to transform it into bread. The shepherds who were away with the flocks most of the time were always male; the women worked closer to home, producing cheese, raising other domestic animals, and gardening. In pastoral communities, both men and women shared agricultural work; although some tasks were designated as male or female. Today, women are responsible for domestic tasks and child-care. The household is seen as having both a male and a female head, both recognized decision makers, the men directing activities outside of the household and the women inside, with the women storing, processing, and marketing much of the total product of men’s and women’s work, and, as well, mediating between the adult men of the household. Major economic expenditures are decided jointly.
The primary responsibility for socialization rests with the mother, although the father may be responsible for teaching his livelihood to his sons. The moral conduct of the children is considered to reflect on the mother most strongly. Socialization emphasizes one’s community reputation and the fulfillment of one’s social roles.
Sardinia’s topography could best be described, perhaps, as confusing. Mountains, valleys, plains and plateau are scattered across the map without any pretense of order or reason on the part of the creator. The mountains especially come in patches instead of ranges, the greatest of them the Gennargentu, in the east-central part of the island. They aren’t that tall (the highest point of the Gennargentu, Punta La Marmora, is only 5.961 ft.), but they look impressive enough, especially when you’re driving around them. The 19th century saw the virtual deforestation of the Island; the big forests of holm oaks, cork oaks and pines you see now are only a small fraction of what was here before.
This is a landscape where the native has a great advantage; the Gennargentu, particularly, has been equally effective in protecting the Sardinians from the Romans and Spaniards – and sheep rustlers from the carabinieri. Not a few of Sardinia’s peaks are long extinct volcanoes, source of its granite, basalt and trachyte. And caves are everywhere: from the great marine grottos full of tourist to little potholes around Nuoro, Sardinia has more caves than anywhere per square mile – 336 at the last count. It also has some of Italy’s richest mines, in obsidian, zinc, silver, lead and coal, nearly all idle now. Between the mountains are large fertile plains, most famously the Campidano stretching between the cities of Oristano and Cagliari.
Sardinia’s shores are a different matter. The Island’s 1,849km of coast offers a tremendous variety of coastal landscapes: high cliffs, mountains diving straight into the sea, long beaches, sand dunes, granite islands, and numerous saltpans, marshes and lagoons. There are still some 30,0000 acres of wetlands, now protected, on the island (compared to 44,500 in the rest of Italy).
It is an open secret among surfing aficionados that the best and most consistent place to surf in Italy is in Sardinia. Most consider it a surfers’ paradise. Because of its usually isolated location, surfers can have the beach all to themselves. The golden beaches can be a private place where they can discover and enjoy the sturdy waves. Surfers trek to the Cagliari coastline where there are more than twenty-five surfing sites they can choose from. The best time to go here is during wintertime where the swells can get up to five stories high!
Sardinia is populated by the usual Mediterranean wildlife array of rabbits, weasels and game birds such as the partridge, woodcock and duck, with tuna, shellfish and lobsters off the shores, and eels and trout in the rivers and streams. Wild boar are numerous. Among the more exotic inhabitants of the island are its pink flamingos, eagles and other birds of prey, peregrine falcons, small rare deer, wild sheep called muflone in the mountains, miniature species of wild horse that inhabits the Giara of Gesturi, and the world’s only albino donkeys, on the island of Asinara.
Apart from a growth in tourism over the last decade or two, the main source of income for Sardinians is agriculture, wine production, fish, and cork. Over the centuries, the harvesting of coral has been of economic importance, particularly in Alghero, which lies on what is known as the Coral Riviera.