Getting to the center of Bolotana was a big effort. From Lei, I decide to go back down to the 129 state road instead of trying an internal road that passes through the terraced hills planted with olive trees.
From the bottom you can see the village lying on the side of the mountain, and getting there is a gradual climb that increases in slope until the centre. I stop to catch my breath at the entrance of the village where a lady from a balcony asks me “do you want some fresh fruit? A little energy for the climb that awaits you after that curve.” I freeze.
I resume my ride and actually the slope increases, so much that I am going at the same speed as a child who walks beside me on the sidewalk. I will later find out that the difference in height from the industrial area to the highest houses in the country is 300 meters!
Sweaty, I arrive at a square that is used by cars as a roundabout to reverse the direction of travel and face a very tight bend with the road that enters among the houses of the historic center. Here I meet Betty, who will host and accompany me throughout the day.
First of all, we go to say hi to Mayor Annalisa who welcomes me to her office and tells me a bit about the facts of this important village, once tied to the industries of Ottana, but today back to an agro-pastoral vocation.
Annalisa talks to me about the important production of oil (Bolotana is in the City of Oil circuit), honey, cheeses, which at the Milan expo were rewarded for their uniqueness. The flavor of the local cheeses is in fact due to the concentration of different plant species in the pastures. 121 different plant species were found in a sample of 3×3 meters of soil, a very high number compared to the national average.
The second part of the morning is dedicated to visiting the important churches. We start from the San Giovanni church which is opened to us by Mrs. Maria Giuseppa. This was a 15th-century Gothic-Catalan manor church. I am struck by the symbols of animals carved in the red trachyte on the sides of the door.
We go up to the upper part of the village to see the church of San Francesco with the ruins of a convent next to it, and then we head towards the opposite side, to the church of San Bachisio, with a sober white facade with beautiful decorations in red trachyte, including the rose window. The square overlooks the Ottana plain and the panorama is formidable.
In the afternoon, after a nice lunch with bread from the Orchidea Bakery and cakes from La Casa della Nonna, we visit all the territory that is located under Punta Palai, whose lookout I visited yesterday in my day in Lei. We pass the Pabude Park, inside which there are the remains of a Punic fort, very important because it is the innermost bulwark that we can find of this civilization.
We arrive at the beautiful Ortachis wood, a green area full of native plant species, in certain areas so wild and impenetrable that it was also used as a hiding place for a businessman kidnapped in the eighties of the last century.
And then we arrive in Badde Salighes, the ‘valley of willows’, an incredible green oasis on top of the mountains. We stop to admire the area where a farm stands, and near which there are very important specimens of trees, such as the oldest yew in Italy, which exceeds a thousand year old of age.
Not far away is the beautiful Villa Piercy, once the residence of the Englishman Benjamin Piercy, the one who had the railway network built in Sardinia (unfortunately at the price of extensive deforestation for the supply of sleepers). We visit the villa both inside, with rooms enriched with important paintings, and in its beautiful and well-kept gardens outside, where there is a large Lebanese cedar planted in 1879.
Back in town, we visit the S’Iscaccu textile workshop. Here I can see some typical products, woven using such a unique green that it is called “Bolotanese green”. This laboratory also produced one of the works of the exhibition “Going away. Tribute to Grazia Deledda”. From here we then visit Sa Domo ‘and Garrighera, a house museum that houses many objects of the past.
And we end the evening with some important meetings. At the CEAS center, Costantino, Peppe, Franco and Giampiero, members of the Cuncordu Bolothanesu Tottoi Zobbe choir, welcome me. As usual on this trip I enjoy their singing trying to assimilate the typical musical elements as much as possible, and noticing the small differences with the singing style of other villages.
Once out of here, we walk the beautiful streets of the historic center now lit by street lamps and we meet Maria Giovanna Cherchi, “superstar” of the Sardinian song, with whom, in front of the parish church of San Pietro and with the lights of the village in front, we launch into a voice-bass ukulele version of No Potho Reposare.
SARDINIAN SHORT STORIES
Too many things concerning Bolotana culture could be told in this short space, the Quaderni Bolotanesi magazine, the impromptu poets, the musicians, opera singers, the folk and metal festival,, the tradition of screaming stories between unlikely couples who were heard at night throughout the village (the ‘terracuza’). This is only an invitation to deepen these things.
Instead, I want to report here the stories of Betty and her project Ecoturismosardegna.it. In these territories transhumance has always taken place seasonally with the cattle that were brought from the plain to the mountain and vice versa, slowly crossing the hills and the village.
This activity, recognised as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO, is a sustainable activity and a way to get to the heart of a culture, in the history of a family and a territory. Transhumance has been carried out for generations, and Betty with her project has gathered shepherds and farmers, and she has given value to transhumance making it an experience for everyone to live.
They organise days where you walk on foot for about 10 kilometers, following the herd of cows, in a suggestive path from the mountain to the village, and you are greeted on arrival by a lunch with excellent local products.
I also want to mention a Sardinian cycle-traveler from Bolotona, Andrea, with whom we were in touch but who is currently on the other side of the globe, so we will not be able to meet. Andrea travels the world by bicycle and has a nice blog that I invite you to read, Andrea Got Lost, in which he tells his adventures.