A brief history of Cagliari, the biggest city in Sardinia

Cagliari is the biggest city in Sardinia with about one hundred and sixty thousand inhabitants (157,000) and is the main political, administrative, economic and cultural centre of Sardinia and the main port of the island.
It is an emblem of evolution, change, freshness and life surrounded by water. It is situated in south Sardinia, in the middle of the Angels Gulf and between the Molentargius and Santa Gilla lagoons.
Cagliari has 4 historical districts: Stampace, the artistic district; la marina, the commercial district; Villanova, the farmers district and Castello, the noble district, where in old times lived the people of power. These were characteristics of the middles ages but they no longer apply.

Cagliari cathedral

Castello is one of the four historic districts of Cagliari that dominates the city from a high. The first nucleus of the city was probably formed by the Phoenicians  acropolis of Karali. This hilltop citadel is Cagliari’s most iconic image, its domes, towers and palazzi, once home to the city’s aristocracy, rising above the sturdy ramparts built by the Pisans and Aragonese.

The Pisans designed and were responsible for the overall appearance of the city. In fact, they were attracted by the strategic position of the city in the Mediterranean and they conquered the city in 1250. The following Aragonese and Spanish rulers (XIV-XVII century) maintained the original appearance, but gave the quarter new featurses such as the Cathedral’s crypt. The University was also built during this era.

Cagliari Castello

The Aragonese did not trust the local population: from 1328, Sardinians could enter the quarter only to work during the day, but had to leave at sunset when the “la trompet de sarts” would sound. If someone was unfortunate enough to get caught (coct) transgressing this rule, they risked being thrown down the walls of the quarter.
In 1720 Sardinia came under the rule of the Piemontese, but only in the 1800’s (ninenteenth century) the quarter underwent radical changes: the defense structures were, in fact,  transformed into public areas.

Walking through the streets of Castello you can sense the history of the most authentic Cagliari, between the present and the past; the ancient palaces and hidden churches where the narrow streets have changed little since medieval times. You should’t miss  the magnificent Cathedral, the Royal Palace, the panoramic terraces of the ramparts of Saint-Rémy and Santa Croce, which in the summer nights are also the nightlife centre.

When the CatalanoAragonese arrived to take Cagliari in 1323, it became clear it would be no easy feat. So they set up camp on the hill of Bonaria (from spanish “buen aire” meaning ‘good air’). In the three years of the siege, the camp became a fortress with its own church.
Situated on this hill is the most important church of Sardinia, dedicated to Madonna di Bonaria. The church is a place of international pilgrimage because of a wooden statue of the Virgin Bonaria. Legend has it that the statue was washed up after being cast overboard by Spanish seamen caught in a storm in the 14th century, and today mariners still pray to the Madonna for protection on the high seas. The name of the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, is dedicated to the same Madonna of Bonaria.

If you are interested in nature you should visit the  regional park of Molentargius, that in the past was a salt-pan. Here you can easily view pink flamingospurple herons, little egretsmarsh harrierssandwich terns and black-winged stilts from the observation points.

With the help of a local guide, you’ll discover all the secrets of this fascinating city, what the guidebooks do not reveal, the places where you will not find a tourist, the hidden corners, the legends passed down by word mouth, the history and archeology in the heart of Cagliari and the Castle quarters.

A guided tour through a route rich in history with tales and anecdotes thrown in for good measure that only a local guide can know and that will allow you to discover the “most authentic Cagliari“.

Duration of tour: 4 hours

Stages Guided tour: Torre di San Pancrazio, Cattedrale, Torre dell’Elefante, Palazzo Viceregio.