14/377: Tonara


Village entry sign

Finally, today is the first day of really good weather after ten horrible days. Sun and blue sky accompany me downhill, skirting the mountains covered with woods. Arrival at the junction for Tonara, and from here it’s all up for six kilometers but I do not notice it. The view is too good to be distracted by the fatigue of the legs.

View from the cemetery

Also here I meet the Mayor and the family that will host me, Franco and Rosina. The first impact with the village is genealogical: I find out that two of my great-great-grandparents are buried here. I ask in the registry office and I can find their burials at the old cemetery, which offers a view of the impressive valley.

Floris cowbells workshop

In the afternoon I pay a visit to one of the three main workshops of handmade bells, where Ignazio and Marco Floris explain to me all the fascinating steps in the production of these musical instruments. Then we walk through the streets of Tonara, decorated by the stones of Pinuccio Sciola and the tree sculptures of Antonio Sini, and by modern murals, then we visit the ancient church of Sant’Antonio.

The old quarter

In the evening Pierluigi, Franco’s brother takes me to see the historic districts of Tonara. Here too (as in Desulo) there are three: Arasulè, Toneri and Teliseri, old villages that have gathered together over time (even if from a vantage point we can clearly distinguish the borders). A fourth village further downstream was abandoned in the ’40s: it was Ilalà.

Talking about a thousand stories of priests, podestà and rebel women of Tonara, we conclude the tour by visiting the birth house of one of the most famous and most sung Sardinian poets, Peppino Mereu, and the Galuse fountain he wrote about in a famous poem (where in reality it is the fountain itself that sings the stories and secrets of the village in verses.)

We conclude with a pizza together with the women’s choir of Tonara, who one by one ask me a question about my project, carefully transcribed along with my answers by Pierluigi who proposes to write an article about my adventure.

Torrone making

It is only in the morning after, on the way to Tiana, that I can stop at the Antico Torronificio Pili, where Gianni shows me the stages of production, and in the end makes me eat a pile of hot ‘torrone’ just out of the dough … something else!



Inspired by the rhythm of the cowbells tuning by Ignazio Floris. Written at Franco and Rosina La Croce’s house.




Ignazio produces cowbells, like his father and his grandfather, and his son Marco brings the activity into the fourth generation. While Marco shows me the various stages of production, Ignazio works at ‘pointing’ (the closure of the edges). But when the bells’ tuning phase comes, it is only Ignazio who can handle it: he has an overpowering ear for these ‘tones’. Ignazio takes a cowbell, beats it a few times with a rhythm that seems random, but which then repeats similarly when he takes another bell (from this rhythm I composed the sound fragment of today).

Ignazio tells me that every cowbell sounds slightly different from another. It is impossible, because of the material and the number of hits that are given to form it, that two bells have exactly the same sound. And this, to my great surprise, the Sardinian shepherds know it well. When they go to Ignazio to buy the bells for their livestock, they are very specific in demanding certain sounds and tunings: they are used to recognize the sheep one by one from the sound of their bells. But not only. Each shepherd is accompanied by an ‘expert’ musical, another shepherd who stays out of the shop. When the various bells are played, the ‘expert’ decides which combination is most ‘tuned’ to the natural environment in which the flock will move, and the general sound that will come out. With guttural verses screamed from outside the workshop, he approves or disapproves the sounds, as long as the perfect combination is chosen. A true ‘pastoral symphony’ … nothing like Beethoven!