I cycle down the hairpin bends that from Monteleone Rocca Doria descend towards the Temo lake and proceed in the direction of Romana, admiring the limestone rock fortress on my left. I’m going through a historical region that I never really know how to call, Sassarese, someone calls it Logudoro Turritano. However you call it, it is a volcanic landscape with limestone hills that make it very varied.
I enter Romana and cycle on the main road. I am struck by the large number of murals. I arrive at the square in front of the Town Hall where there’s a mural that seems to represent various scenes from the life of the village. Here the Councillor Fabio welcomes me, and two boys from the civil service, Lorenzo and Matteo. We have a coffee at the Central bar, in the outside tables, and we are ready to take the car to go and visit the area.
As we head towards the important water springs just outside the town, Fabio talks to me about the problem of depopulation that afflicts this village. I saw the problem yesterday too, and unfortunately throughout my trip I’ve seen it across the most internal and remote areas.
We arrive at the Abbarghente, where there are natural sparkling water springs, a phenomenon due to the volcanic nature of the area. Unfortunately, production has not started here and it is a shame since, drinking it, the water is very good! We take a few steps among the trees that surround a shaded area, to see the remains of the old Roman spring. Roman thermal baths were to be found here, and probably one of the springs was originally a sacred well.
We continue towards the country church of Santa Maria d’Ispidale, Romanesque, from the XII century, built with a beautiful white limestone. The Nuraghe Pibirra is also made of the same lithology, not far from here, inside a field where we do not enter, and almost completely covered with plants!
We get back in the car and this time we go up to one of the limestone hills, to visit the sanctuary of San Lussorio, a church partially hollowed in the rock. Its construction exploited a natural karst cavity which was plastered inside. We enter and reach the altar, where a series of illuminated statues of saints make this place truly mystical. The sanctuary was built in the place where San Lussorio lived, even if he died in Fordongianus, where the remains are now kept.
We return to the village, crossing a rough and rocky territory, with limestone rock ridges visible in the upper parts. Although the Temo river passes nearby, these lands are difficult to cultivate due to the rocky nature of the land. Here and there are fins built in limestone, with a stone roof like the ones I saw in Banari, and we arrive at the Funtana ezza, the old washhouse of the town.
In the afternoon the company changes, I’m with Giovanna and Maria Grazia, also from the civil service, who take me on a tour through the streets of the village. We start from the parish church of the Madonna degli Angeli, where a relic of San Giovanni Nepomuceno is kept. This saint is celebrated more than the patron saint Santa Maria.
We wander through the streets, old houses with still visible stone finishes and full of murals. Many of them depict the painter Brancaleone Cugusi also called Brancaleone “da Romana”, many are inspired by his paintings, others simply depict scenes of rural life. We arrive at the Romanesque church of Santa Croce, on which side a beautiful inscription on limestone stands out, nestled between the cemented stones of the side. And Giovanna and Maria Grazia also tell me about the church of San Giovanni di Sotto Terra, in a hill just outside the village, of which only some remains are left, partially excavated in the limestone about two meters below the current ground level.
I meet Councillor Fabio again, and after an aperitif at the Central bar, we head in the countryside. We are invited to dinner in a sheepfold. We arrive in a field surrounded by hills, the land all around is barren and rocky, the daylight goes down and the sunset illuminates the whole territory with a violet light. We eat sheep’s meat, cheese and drink good red wine. After dinner, the talk goes on outside, and comes alive with a little bit of fil’e ferru. The temperature is perfect, there is no wind, and when it is time to go I am sorry to leave this “idyllically” Sardinian situation.
SARDINIAN SHORT STORIES
In 1903 the painter Brancaleone Cugusi called “da Romana” was born in Romana. The events of his life were dramatic and only after his death, at 39, in Milan in 1942, would the value of his work be understood, recently enhanced by art critic Vittorio Sgarbi.
Today’s murals intrigued me, and luckily I find the artist’s website, managed by his heirs, where not only can I read the biography, but above all admire some of the works, such as the Young Man with the Cloak, one of the last, now part of a private collection in Cagliari, which was exhibited in an exhibition in Milan a few months after the painter died.
His career took place between Sardinia, where he stayed first in Tempio Pausania with relatives after the death of his mother and then in Cheremule and Sassari, and Italy, first in Rome and then in Milan (with several returns to Sardinia.) A troubled life, and despite everything Brancaleone managed to devote himself body and soul to painting, changing different styles, going from “half-paste” and “all-paste” techniques to the “photographic” technique, that is, to photograph the subjects himself and bring them back on the canvas directly from the photo through the use of a grid to millimetrically maintain the proportions .
Almost all his works belong to private collections, scattered between Sardinia and the peninsula, except the Young Man with the Raincoat at the Civic Gallery of Modern Art in Milan. I just have to look at Tony Amos’ mural inspired by the Young Man with the Cloak and hope to be able to see some works live one day.