I leave Collinas and, after a short winding journey between cultivated fields and hills that begin to turn green after the hot summer, I arrive in Sardara, an “authentic Italian village”, “orange flag” of the Italian Touring Club and “city of raw earth”.
Here the Mayor Roberto, the councilors Ilenia and Andrea, and Agostino are waiting for me. They will guide me through the “land of waters”, historically important for having been a crossroads on the border of different geographical areas, southern bulwark of the Giudicato di Arborea.
When we start the walk I am described the geography of the centre of Sardara, divided into two parts, the ancient one, the first settlement already from the Nuragic era, and the medieval one, which developed later, and expanded thanks to the work of three important noble families, the Serpi, the Diana, and the Orrù.
The last two, historically at war, made peace thanks to the marriage between two members. Via Umberto I was created when the descendants of this marriage had the town spliced in two to ensure that the road in front of their home was wide enough to allow the saint to pass!
We pass the elegant Villa Diana, in Art Nouveau style, then a very old mural, with a political background, by Antioco Cotza. We pass many ancient portals and urban wells. They tell me that many wells are also found inside the houses.
We go up to the church of the Beata Vergine Assunta, with the facade of the fifties built by the good local masons, the “piccaparderi“, with the classic streaked stone. Inside is the beautiful organ from 1758 built by Thomas De Martino.
And finally we arrive in the heart of the ancient part of the village. In the Casa Pilloni, an ancient manor house acquired by the Municipality, there is a multipurpose service center close to the archaeological area of Sant’Anastasia. Outside the Byzantine church of the same name are the remains of a Nuragic village, where important remains were found including various small bronzes, and the well temple, inside which the water still flows.
An electric pump keeps the well dry and open to visitors, which is deactivated on the occasion of my visit inside to allow me to play the ukulele, while the small institutional audience watches me from above!
The area is unique, inserted in the middle of the houses, a modern continuation of the Nuragic village. This was an important center that connected the coastal towns with those in the interior. We can see the remains of several wells and several temples, at least four. It is said that a sacred river passed here and that particular healing herbs grew on its banks.
In front of the archaeological area, at the entrance to an alley in “impedrau” (pebbled) called Gutturu Funtanedda, in the middle of the road there is another well from the Nuragic age. For millennia the waters coming from the hills behind the town have crossed it above and below.
We continue the walk, admiring the beautiful portals with volcanic stone arches sculpted by Ziu Bicchiccu. The walls, in addition to being made of stone, are also made of clay bricks, the “ladiri“, whose presence is attested from ancient times.
After passing the parish church of Sant’Antonio da Padova, with its Baroque façade with two bell towers, and the market, built on a former convent of Jesuit monks, we arrive at the Villa Abbas archaeological museum. Here I can admire a whole series of archaeological finds from the Nuragic sites, from the necropolis of Terr’e Cresia, some of whose burials are well reconstructed inside the museum, and medieval finds from the castle of Monreale.
As if the latter had called us back to himself, leaving the museum we enter the medieval area of Sardara, from Piazza Emilio Lussu, where the statue of the politician of Armungia dominates, and enriched by sculptures by Pinuccio Sciola representing the history of humanity.
Passing through historic buildings, we conclude the morning at the suggestive Gothic-Romanesque church of San Gregorio, the medieval Sardara parish church, which features a beautiful rose window above the entrance.
After a succulent lunch in a restaurant with Ilenia and Agostino, we take the car to visit the surroundings. First of all, a tour from the panoramic road that runs up the hill behind the town, and from which you can admire the roofs, surprisingly almost all with red tiles. From here we admire the Campidano plain, up to its western edge with Villacidro, Gonnosfanadiga and Guspini in the background. But above all we look at the Monreale hill where we head.
Having overcome that annoying obstacle to my slow journey which is the SS131, we approach the area where the fluorite mine was once located, disused in 1980, and we arrive at the hamlet of Santa Maria de Is Acuas, so called for the presence of the homonymous church which stands on a Roman necropolis, and probably already a Nuragic burial place.
It is here that today there are modern spas that exploit the same waters used since the times of the ancient Romans. The ancient Roman baths Aquae Neapolitanae were incorporated into a neoclassical style building designed by Gaetano Cima inside which, at the beginning of the twentieth century, new pools were then created.
Walking through the area we come across the remains of old furnaces, we come to a modern amphitheater and looking at the surrounding hills, Ilenia and Agostino assure me that each of them has the remains of a nuraghe.
But the evening is pressing and we are left with the last visit, the most evocative one, to the castle of Monreale, which I have seen from afar hundreds of times driving on the SS131 and which I can finally reach today. We drive up the hill as long as possible, then we walk down a dirt road that leads to the base of the mighty walls.
All around the remains of the village, the surrounding walls and defense towers. And a little further down are the remains of the church of Santu Miali and the village of San Michele. I just try to imagine the traffic of people and goods here in the Giudicato period. But now there is silence, the wind drops and the sun goes down in the west. The view extends all around, we are in the middle of the Campidano plain. I can’t help but look south, towards Cagliari, where the end of this journey awaits me soon.
Live at Sant’Anastasia
SARDINIAN SHORT STORIES
There would be many stories to tell about Sardara, such as that of the preservation of the historic centre, thanks to the rules of the Eighties that forbade “ethernit” panels, and the contributions for the renovation of the roofs of the houses.
And then the story of Benvenuto Pinna known as fra Lorenzo da Sardara, or that of the statue of the Madonna that the ancient inhabitants of Villa Abbas, to escape the barbarian invasions, hid in the Roman baths, hence the name of Santa Maria de is Acuas.
Then there are the stories of the noble families of the town, intertwined, sprinkled with intrigue, between power struggles and ferocious wars. And then the story of the castle of Monreale, the last home of Eleonora d’Arborea.
Then there is the intriguing legend of the “musca maccedda” which I have already heard in other countries, but which strikes me most here. Legend has it that a treasure is buried under the altar of a church, but kept by the “fly butcher” ready to poison anyone who opens the chest containing the treasure.
Often there are two boxes, one containing the treasure, the other the fly, in which case the daring “Indiana Jones of the day” would have some chance to save himself by choosing the right chest. Even here in Sardara this legend is told, but here the treasure, below the altar of the Santa Maria de Is Acuas church and never opened, would consist of medicinal herbs and not gold coins or jewels.
“Welcome home!” is the title of an explanatory panel edited by Ilenia and Agostino at the service center of the archaeological area of Sant’Anastasia that explains the importance of medicinal herbs in the communities of the past, and tells a beautiful story about a specific herb, the “folla de ucàia ”which was used to heal wounds and sores.
This herb and many others grew spontaneously in the area surrounding the church of Sant’Anastasia. During the Good Friday rite, “su scravamentu”, the wounds of the body of the dead Christ taken down from the cross were sprinkled with the “folla de ucàia”.
Unfortunately, in the 1980s, with the use of herbicides and chemicals, these medicinal herbs disappeared from the town. The “folla de ucàia“, which turned out to be a Sardinian endemism, the Salvia desoleana, now seemed to be present only in some areas of central-northern Sardinia.
But in 2017 my companions Ilenia and Agostino came across a bush of this herb in the garden of the recently deceased Rafaele Pisu house, who suffered from hand sores and to whom this medicinal plant was given by Monsignor Atzori. Rafaele kept it and, not knowing it, preserved it from extinction. Today, thanks to the concession of Rafaele’s heirs and the municipal administration, the “folla de ucàia” has been planted in the courtyard of Casa Pilloni … welcome back home!