A bit of Sardinian history

Sardinia is one of the most geologically ancient lands in the entire Europe. Human presence in the island can be dated back to the Lower Palaeolithic between 450.000 e 120.000 BC. However, the first permanent settlements appear during the Neolithic age approximately 6000 BC.

Nuraghe of Is ParasStarting from 1800 BC onwards, the civilization called Nuragic spread across the entire island. Many villages and communities were built around the “Nuraghe” which is a stone round tower which is still an important part of the Sardinian landscapes today. Their function are still unclear among archaeologists, was it a religious symbol or a fortress where the locals could protect themselves from invaders? Whatever the answer is to that question the 7000 plus Nuraghe still hold a lot of mysteries to be revealed. Many of these complex and impressive constructions are still very well kept today. Among then the “Nuraxi” in Barumini attracts tens of thousands visitors every year and has been included under the World Heritage List of UNESCO in recent years.

Around 1000 BC the Phoenicians started commercial exchanges with the Sardinians, particularly in the most important harbours and cities during that period: Caralis (the modern Cagliari), Sulcis, Tharros, Nora, Olbia, Bithia and Bosa. The relationships between the two populations were peaceful for centuries until the Phoenicians decided to build a military fortress in in Monte Sira around 650 BC. About 100 years later the Phoenicians joined forces with Carthaginians and colonized most of the island.

In 238 BC Romans defeated the Carthaginians and Sardinia became a province of the Roman Empire. The fertile lands of the island became a source of wheat and flour for the Empire, however, despite the strong military presence not all island became under Roman’s control. In fact, the populations living in the mountain regions were never conquered and maintained their independency. For that reason the locals were called “barbarians” and occupied the modern area of Barbagia in the middle of Sardinia.

For some centuries after Sardinia enjoyed a relatively prosper and peaceful period until the Vandals partially invaded the island. However, in 533 the Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire, re-conquered the island guided by the emperor Justinian I. This presence lasted for about 200 years until the Moorish and Saracens colonised large parts of the island.

Once the Byzantines were forced to leave Sardinia they left four independent institutions, a sort of small states called: the “Giudicati” (Judicatures). They were of Arborea, Gallura, Cagliari and Torres (Logudoro). There was quite a lot of internal fighting among the four Giudicati. Subsequently, in the hope to control the island, the Marine Republics of Pisa and Genoa intervened in Sardinian looking for allied with the local Giudicati first and then slowly establish themselves in there to exploit the rich Sardinian territories and its mines of silver.

The Giudicato di Arborea, in today’s territory of Oristano, created the legal and political institutions that were the basis of their successful administrative structure. A legal code called “Carta de Logu” (Charter of the Land) was promulgated by Giudicessa Eleanor of Arborea.  The legal code was written in Sardinian language and contained a large list range of citizens’ rights. This is considered a revolutionary and modern document during the Middle Age as it included the right of women to refuse marriage and to own land and properties. For its citizen’s rights Sardinia became one of the most developed societies in all of Europe in the middle of the 14th Century. This was also the period of a strong Aragonese presence and influence in Sardinia. In 1409 the Spanish Aragonese Crown took control of most of the island which was divided into feuds.

The High and Late Middle Age is however a period of instability with continuous raids of pirates from North Africa attacking the coastal areas and the main harbors. The Aragonese built a system of coastal watchtowers which can still be seen today standing out in many key points of the coastline. The towers however were not sufficient to stop the pirate’s constant raids and often the population of many coastal towns was forced to move inland. This is the main reason why many towns in Sardinia are not right on the sea front.

The Spanish presence in Sardinia lasted for several centuries and has left influences in the architecture and the Sardinian language. In Alghero part of the population can speak Catalan and Spanish influences can be seen in many buildings around the town.

In 1718, Sardinia was added to Piedmont by the Savoy family. At this point, the long unification process of Italy began.

In 1799, During Napoleon’s wars in Italy, the royal house of Savoy took refuge in Sardinia for about 15 years.  The following years saw many reforms in the educational and government systems. Some years later Sardinia joined the new Italian Kingdom in 1861.

Recent history

Grazia Deledda became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926 “for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general”. She was born in Nuoro in 1871 and her works were mainly inspired by the life in rural Sardinia.

Antonio Gramsci distinguished himself for his fight against the fascist regime. He founded the Communist Italian party in 1921 and was subsequently arrested by the fascists and died in prison. He is considered one of the most influential thinkers in the XX century in Italy.

During the last 50 years Sardinia converted a good part of hit economy into tourism. The Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast), developed by Prince Karim Aga Kan in the 1960s, became since then the hot spot for the international jet set.