Cagliari, Sardinia

Città metropolitana of Cagliari
Cagliari, called Casteddu in the Sardinian language, is the capital of the region of Sardinia. Cagliari has peculiar gastronomic traditions. Many dishes are based on the wide variety of fish and sea food available. Although it is possible to trace influences from Spanish gastronomy, Cagliaritanian food has a distinctive and unique character. Also excellent wines are produced in the nearby vineyards of the Campidano plain.


  • Population: about 165,000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal codes: 09100
  • Dialing Area Code: +39 070
  • Car Plate: CA
  • Patron Saint: San Saturnino, celebrated on 30 October, Sant'Efisio

The Territory

With its long beaches - such as the Poetto stretching for 13 km - and thanks to its mild climate, refreshed by north-western winds, it is an ideal location for sailing, hiking and outdoor sports. It is close to other beautiful sea-side locations, such as Chia or Villasimius, still relatively unspoilt by tourism and also close to mountain parks, such as Monte Arcosu or Maidopis, with large forests and wildlife.

History - Antiquity

Cagliari was inhabited since pre-historic periods for its favourable position between the sea and a fertile plain, its being sourrounded by two swamps (which afforded defences from enemies from inner lands) and its vicinity to high and green mountains (to which people could evacuate if everything else was lost). Some testimonies of pre-historic inhabitants were found in Monte Claro and in Cape Sant'Elia. Under the name of Karalis it was a Phoenician trading colony founded from Tyre in the 7th century BC. It passed with the rest of the island first to the control of Carthage and then to Rome in 238 BC when the Romans defeated the Carthaginians.

History - the Middle Ages

Subsequently ruled by the Vandals and the Byzantine Empire, it became the capital of an independent kingdom or "giudicato", ruled by a "giudice" (= judge); during this period of independence, Cagliari was almost deserted because too exposed to attacks by Moorish pirates from the sea.

The "giudicato" of Karalis comprised a large area of the Campidano plain, the mineral resources of the Sulcis region and the mountain region of Ogliastra. In the 11th century, the Pisan republic, one of the four Italian "maritime republics" of the Middle Ages, conquered the kingdom of Karalis and re-built the town of Cagliari. Pisa had a keen interest in Sardinia because it was a perfect strategic base for controlling the commercial routes between Italy and North Africa.

Some of the fortifications that still surround the current district of Castello were built by the Pisans. Together with the district of Castello, Cagliari comprised the districts of Marina (which included the port), Stampace and Villanova. Marina and Stampace were guarded by walls, while Villanova, which mainly hosted peasants, was not.

In the 14th century the kingdom of Aragon conquered Cagliari after a battle against the Pisans and advanced its plan to conquer all of Sardinia. When Sardinia was finally conquered by Aragon, Cagliari became the administrative capital of the vice-kingdom of Sardinia, which later came under the rule of the Spanish empire; the Spanish domination was a period of decadence for Cagliari and Sardinia.

History - Modern Times

In 1720, after a brief rule of the Austrian Habsburgs, Cagliari and Sardinia came under the House of Savoy, who took the title of kings of Sardinia. By the end of the 18th century, after the French Revolution, France tried to conquer Cagliari because of its strategic role in the Mediterranean sea, but the French were defeated by Sardinians. People from Cagliari hoped to receive some concession from the Savoys in return for their defending the town. When the Savoys refused any concession to the Sardinians, inhabitants of Cagliari rose up against the Savoys and expelled all representatives of the kingdom and people from Piedmont. This insurgence is celebrated in Cagliari during the "Die de sa Sardigna" (Sardinian Day) on the last weekend of April. However the Savoys regained control of the town after a brief period of autonomous rule.

From the 1870s, with the unification of Italy, the city experienced a century of rapid growth. Many outstanding buildings were erected by the end of the 19th century during the office of Mayor Ottone Bacaredda. Ottone Bacaredda is also famous for the violent repression of one of the earlier worker strikes in the beginning of the 20th century.

History - the 20th Century

During the Second World War, Cagliari was heavily bombed by the Allies in February 1943. After the Italian truce with the Allies in September 1943, the German Army took control of Cagliari and the island, but soon retreated peacefully in order to reinforce their positions in mainland Italy. The American Army then took control of Cagliari. Cagliari was strategically important during the war because of its location in the Mediterranean Sea. Many airports were near Cagliari (Elmas, Monserrato, Decimomannu, currently a NATO airbase) from which airplanes could fly to Northern Africa or mainland Italy and Sicily.

After the war, the population of Cagliari boosted and many apartment blocks were erected in new residential districts, often created with poor planning as for recreational areas.

What to see

  • The old part of the city (called 'Castello', the castle) lies on top of a hill, with a wonderful view of the Gulf of Cagliari (aka Angels Gulf). Most of its city walls are intact, and feature the two 13th century white lime-stone towers, two white lime-stone towers built by the Pisans, designed by architect Giovanni Capula (originally there were three towers that guarded the three gates that gave access to the district), called St. Pancras tower and the Elephant tower. The local white lime-stone was also used to build the walls of the city and many buildings. D.H. Lawrence, in his memories of a trip in Sardinia, "Sea and Sardinia", described the impressive effect of the warm Mediterranean sun-light on the white lime-stone city and compared Cagliari to a "white Jerusalem".
  • The Cathedral, which was repaired in the 1930s turning the former Baroque facade into a Medieval Pisan style facade. Near the Cathedral is the palace of the Provincial Government (which used to be the island's governor's palace before 1900).
  • The white marble City Hall near the port, which combines influences from Art Nouveau together with the traditional Sardinian taste for flower decoration.
  • The Sardinian Archaeological Museum, the biggest and most important regarding the prehistoric Nuragic civilisation of Sardinia.
  • The large town park, Monte Urpinu, with its pine trees and artificial lakes, including a vast area of a hill. Visitors can reach the top of the hill by car and enjoy a nice view of Castello district, the gulf, the swamps and the beach.
  • The Roman Amphitheatre, a unique monument in the world being the only Roman amphitheatre carved into a block of rock (the typical lime-stone on which Cagliari is built). The Amphitheatre still stages open-air operas and concerts during the summer.
  • A church in Cagliari gives its name to Buenos Aires. The Spaniards that founded Buenos Aires visited the church of Bonaria (fair winds, buenos aires in Catalan) and asked for help from Mary of Bonaria, to whom the church is dedicated. The church faces the sea and was built where a sailor landed after Mary appeared during a tempest and saved the sailor and his ship from sinking.

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