I travel along the beaches of the northern coast, Marina di Sorso, then Platamona, and finally I cycle a little uphill towards a stretch of high coast. I pass a little church that I will later discover to be Balai Lontano (there is also Balai Vicino, just outside the town) and the cliffs of limestone overlooking the sea, until I reach a beautiful vantage point from which I admire the beaches below.
I arrive at the Residence Il Melo owned by Laura and Nicola who will host me for the day. They are those peolpe of the ‘cycling’ network that is supporting me in this endeavor, friends of Sandro of Dolcevita Bike Tours who provided me with the bicycle, Simone of Mediterras, and Enrico from Luogosanto. I settle and do some work and then have lunch with Laura, who prepares a fantastic vegetarian lunch for me (finally!!)
In the afternoon I take the bike and go to explore Turris Libisonis, the Roman name of the town. Porto Torres, like Olbia, is one of those big towns where I have been only to take the ferry to Italy, without having had the chance to discover their history. Porto Torres was also a very important Roman town, second only to Cagliari, at the mouth of the Rio Mannu (yet another ‘big river’!) Unfortunately the present town is built above the ancient one (just like in Olbia) and little remains visible. Its remains can be admired here and there among modern buildings.
I meet Gabriella, the guide who shows me the Romanesque basilica of San Gavino, right in the centre town. The structure is large, the largest and oldest Romanesque church in Sardinia, and very peculiar for the lack of access to the short sides. One of them have two apses instead, and there are entrances only on the sides, with two beautiful portals. Inside, in the beautiful underground crypt (preceded by an anti-crypt), there are the relics of the various Turritans martyrs, Gavino, Proto and Gianuario. In an area not far from the basilica we enter an old cemetery area, the early Christian tombs, full of tombstones with Roman inscriptions and some remains of mosaics.
In the large square in front of the church, Francesca, a tour guide of the Archeoturris association, joins me and kindly accompanies me to see one of the archaeological sites outside the town, called Crucifissu Mannu. Here we find a series of domus de janas, 22, some of which some are very large and well preserved, with decorative elements such as columns and taurine protomes carved in the rock still visible. The particularity of this site, very vast, is also the presence of a series of very long and deep furrows, more or less parallel, that run along the surface of the limestones, for now still unexplained. There are those who think of them as signs of the wheels of Roman wagons, although the parallelism is never perfect and some of these lines converge. Food for hungry Roman history scholars!
Back to the town, Francesca takes me to see some Roman tombs near the port, in the courtyard of a building, which can be accessed from an area which is locked. Here too there are tombstones with various engravings, just below the level of the town. It seems that there are Roman remains even in a bar in the area. Francesca leaves me and I take this opportunity to take one last bike ride, skirting the Aragonese tower that faces the harbor (where the huge ship bearing the acronym of Vasco Rossi is moored, the famous Italian songwriter on tour these days in Sardinia), and then I I go to the beaches. I pass the Scoglio Lungo and arrive at the Acque Dolci beach, where finally for the first time in the project I can take a nice swim! I then cycle along the promontory overlooking the beautiful beach of Balai, with the little church of Balai Vicino that watches it from above and return to the Residence where I go to bed early in preparation for the long day which awaits me tomorrow.
For the first time a blog article covers more than one day. In fact, after yesterday’s day in Porto Torres, today I take the ferry to the island of Asinara, part of the municipality of Porto Torres. I land after more than an hour of crossing to Cala Reale, in the northern part of the island, together with a group of tourists and some cars. I have no much time to waste. The ferry to Stintino, municipality number 200 of the journey, has been anticipated at 3 o’clock for the rising of the wind that could create problems of rough seas, and I have to take it at the southern tip of the island. So I set off to reach Cala d’Oliva, further north, where the sculptor Enrico Mereu, the only resident on the island, lives. After 9 kilometers of formidable coast, with deadly ups and downs but attenuated by the incredible paoramas, I arrive at the bay where the small village of all-white houses overlooks the sea, former housing for those who worked in the security prison, now closed.
Near the pier I see young people preparing for a dive, I ask where the sculptor’s house is. “Right up there”. I arrive at a row of houses, there is one with a “sculptor” sign on the door and some carved wood sculptures right in front of it. I knock on the door. No reply. I hear voices in the house next door. I call and a lady answers me. It’s Enrico’s wife who lets me into their home. Enrico is there and welcomes me without knowing who I am. I explain to him that I tried to contact him several times, phone calls and texts, and he apologises for not being too technological with his mobile phone. He remembers that a friend in common told him about me. We have a chat about my project, in front of a beer and bread with sausage and cheese that Enrico promptly pulled out. From the back door the head of a donkey appears, and Enrico’s nephew, a young child with very long blond hair, gives him something to eat, while Enrico gets it out back into the street. Enrico, a former prison guard, is a wood artist. We take the car and go to admire some of his beautiful works, on display in the former prison, a structure in the upper part of the north of the island. Here is also the Memory Museum, dedicated to preserving objects and memories of the prison. Enrico tells me that here he met characters from Giovanni Falcone (a famous judge killed by the mafia), to Toto Riina (a mafioso), detained here in a bunker-cell.
After seeing the cemetery area of the prisoners, we return to the village where I say goodbye to Enrico to travel to the south of the island, a distance of about 30 kilometers. I am in a hurry to arrive within 3pm at the Fornelli embarkation, so I pedal fast. In spite of the rush I enjoy the scenery on this beautiful day, crossing many donkeys along the way, many albinos, half asleep from the heat, who don’t even move when I pass. I arrive at a point where I decide to stop and take a swim. The Asinara island is a National Park and most of its coasts are forbidden to swim in. I find an allowed spot, beautiful, to dive in!
I arrive in Fornelli just in time to take another swim, this time in the area where bathing is allowed, and I board the small ferry that takes me to Stintino, the municipality of this day (see tomorrow’s article!)
SHORT SARDINIAN STORIES
One of the most famous Sardinian people born in Porto Torres was Andrea Parodi, the singer of the band Tazenda. There is little to tell about Andrea, just listen to his unique and splendid voice in his recordings, from Tazenda to his solo repertoire.
I have many memories of Andrea. I was very young when the Tazenda broke in a TV program. And that year I remember seeing them live at the Bastion of San Remy in Cagliari. Several years later Andrea began a solid artistic collaboration as well as a true friendship with guitarist Gianluca Corona. And at Gianluca’s house, with whom we had projects together, I met Andrea, who listened with interest to what we were playing, probably jazz. In those years I played for a while with the band Tanca Ruja, and on the occasion of a concert in some village of the Oristano area, Andrea and Gianluca joined us.
The last time I saw Andrea was at the end of his last and touching concert at the Cagliari Roman amphitheater. I went behind the stage to greet the musicians, almost all friends, and Andrea was there, lying in a cot with an IV in his arm. How he managed to hold that concert I still don’t know, or maybe yes, it was the love for what he did and for his audience. A few months later Andrea died, but fortunately his voice will never leave us.