Again today’s route, from Senis, is short and completely flat. I point towards the northwestern side of the Giara di Gesturi, under which Assolo lies. The weather is changing, today the clouds in the sky have increased and I hope this autumn will not be as rainy as last year when I started the journey.
Once arrived, I am greeted by Emanuele who will guide me through the village and its territory and will give me accommodation for the night. The first stop is at the country church of Santa Lucia, just outside the village in the direction of Samugheo. The site is truly stunning. Not so much for the current church that was rebuilt in the 1990s, as for everything around it … and below!
We are lucky, today there is an archaeologist who is doing some surveys and explains a little about the whole history of this place, frequented since the times of the Nuragic, as evidenced by the remains of the four-lobed nuraghe not far away. There must have been an important village here. A sacred well was found under the church. The village persists and is transformed in Roman times, who built a spa complex with a calidarium, right under the apse of the current church.
Nearby there are also the remains of a Roman road that went towards Fordongianus and Valentia (in the territory of Nuragus). Outside the church remain the remains of the walls of the Roman village and during the reconstruction of the church the old Byzantine structure and a series of tombs of illustrious people of the time were found.
After an aperitif in the bar in the square with Federico, who lives right across the street and lets me into his home to show me an impressive collection of local stones and fossils collected by his father over years of exploration, we retire for lunch. Immediately after we meet Gianni, a gentleman who has made himself available to take me some shots with the drone. We go out just outside the village, in a straight stretch that passes through the fields.
I go up and down, a little worried by the cars that occasionally overtake me, by the shepherd dogs that accompany a flock on the side of the road and are nervous of my presence, but especially by the drone that occasionally passes me nearly touching my helmet!
After the shooting we get back in the car to go up the slope of the Giara di Gesturi. We arrive at the Cabirada equipped area, right at the base of the basaltic edge that makes up the plateau. In ancient times, access to the top was via the “scalas”, narrow and steep steps made by swineherds. One of these, a Laconese named Chiccu Soi gave its name to this place surrounded by greenery, and which for this reason was a meeting place for brigands.
We walk in the middle of the green, in the shade, with the cool of the evening starting to be felt among the oaks and the boulders collapsed from above and covered with green moss. We arrive at a clearing where there is a small shelter and old stone fences where the pigs were kept. Looking down, among the vegetation, the houses of Assolo can be distinguished. We return to the car preceded by a herd of goats that are walking a little on the path, a little in the midst of vegetation and stones.
Back in the village we stroll through the narrow streets of the historic centre, admiring ancient houses with old wooden portals topped by stone arches. From some of these, where the wood is split, we can peek inside, often abandoned houses, but of rare elegance, with large courtyards and loggias with stone arcades. We arrive at the Casa Museo Serra, where we enter to admire the courtyard, the ornamental details of the doors and windows and a part of the interior that houses an important ethnographic museum.
We go up to the church of San Sebastiano, where we conclude the day. We manage to climb above the bell tower, from where we admire a good part of the town, silent at sunset, and where I can almost see the scenes that Emanuele tells me of the living nativity scene.
SARDINIAN SHORT STORIES
The tradition of making living nativity scenes has been widespread throughout Italy (and also abroad) since the time of the first in history, the work of San Francesco d’Assisi, in the village of Greccio, near Rieti, in 1223. Since then, the places where every year the nativity is staged with real people (and animals) have multiplied.
The tradition ranges from north to south Italy, but the southern regions are the most active. In Puglia they are made in 41 villages, in Sicily 26, in Campania 23. And many claim the title of “largest nativity scene in the world”. That of Genga, in the Marche region, that of Matera, although it seems that their numbers are lower than those who gathered in 2016 in Calne, an English town in Wiltshire.
Even in Sardinia we have examples of living nativity scenes. There is “Sa Nascimenta” in Gergei, and then there is that of Assolo, organised by the Bentu ‘e Jana Cultural Association of which Emanuele is a member. This is certainly the largest in Sardinia, with about 200 participants, dressed in costume, who recreate scenes, situations, arts and crafts, all in an evocative setting of lights, shadows, fires, sounds and noise.
Emanuele shows me various corners of the town that are set up for the main scenes, and then, before returning home, he shows me the hill where a huge bright comet is mounted and tells me “imagine the village all dark and this enormous light that comes from the hill ”. And before I fall asleep, with my eyes closed, I see the comet on the hill, and, counting the sheep (of the nativity scene) I fall asleep.