[ February 23, 2005 ]
Sardinia: wealth and wild beauty
Located south of the Island of Corsica, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily.

Capital: Cagliari
Population: 1.6 million (1991)
Official language: Italian
Independent special status region
Provinces: Cagliari, Nuoro, Oristano, Sassari

Steeped in a multitude of renowned cultures from throughout the ages, proud beneficiary of antique traditions still widely followed, the Island of Sardinia is recognized as a mosaic of languages, habits and customs, decorated with highly diverse landscapes of the utmost beauty. It is, in short, a land that brings together past and present, an enclave guarding the treasures embedded in the memory of mankind.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Sardinia is the variety of languages and/or dialects still spoken there. In fact, even if Italian has been its official language since 1764, Sardinians are still one of the most important linguistic entities in all of Italy, perhaps even in all of Europe (it is estimated that 85% of the Island’s inhabitants understand Sardinian). To these are added a group of some 30,000 people who speak Catalan, located in the town of Alghero—northeast of the Island—as well as small communities located in the north of the Island (in Gallura) who speak Corsican and those of the small south-western Islands (notable in Carloforte in the Island of San Pietro and in Calasetta in the Island of San Antioco) who speak Genoese.

The Island’s wealth of languages is the result of a history that is no less rich:

First invaded by the Phoenicians (Xth-VIIth B.C.), the Carthaginians (VIIth century) and the Phocaeans (VIth century), Sardinia was then successively overtaken by the Romans (from 238 B.C. to 476 A.D.), the Vandals (476-534), the Byzantine Empire (534-711) and the Arabs (from 711 to 1016). At the request of the Sardinians, the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Pisa intervened to counter an attack by the Arabs, and then fought for the Island from the XIth to the XIIIth centuries to have it finally handed over to the King of Aragon by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297. However, the Crown of Aragon-Catalan did not definitively conquer the Island until 1325 when Sardinian started to decline and Catalan become the language of business and culture, and remained the dominant language on the Island until the XVIIIth century.

In 1720, in exchange for Sicily, the Treaty of London ceded Sardinia to the Duke of Savoie. However, in 1860, the western part of Savoie was annexed to France and Sardinia was made part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The community of Catalan, for its part, is found in the only city of Alghero which has become a true Catalan enclave on Sardinian soil!

Modern-day Sardinia has retained much from its past influences

The history here is so omnipresent that it can be felt wherever one goes. One can sense it in the silent awe of the "Nuraghi," prehistoric dwellings dating back to the IIth millennium B.C. in the shape of a truncated cone over 20-metres high. Some 7000 "nuraghi" dot the Sardinian landscape, thereby transforming the Island into one of the biggest open-cast archaeological museums in the world!

While the traces left by the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Romans are more difficult to spot, Roman churches and Baroque art are, on the contrary, a very clear part of the landscape.

Beaches, landscape and traditions!

The bounty of nature is abundant in Sardinia, a region blessed with beaches that are among the most beautiful and most well-preserved in the Mediterranean. Among the most awe-inspiring are: Chia, followed by Pula, near Cagliari; Cala Corsara in the Madeleine national park; the Piscinas dunes on Costa Verde, and many more!

The inner regions of the land, which are still quite wild, offer hillsides covered in maqui, century-old olive trees and Barbary fig trees as well as villages perched high upon the arid mountains.

Sardinia has jealously guarded its ancient traditions—as has the Island overall— borrowed from numerous cultures and moulded to their liking. Simply take the fact this is a place where over a thousand religious and pagan celebrations are marked every year! Add to this the fact that it is also a place that is home to a unique carnival infused with the rhythms of bizarre dance rituals and polyphonic chants so beautiful they leave one simply breathless!

An Island of gourmet pleasures

On the culinary scene, the Island offers up delectable specialties that are a perfect reflection of its richness, beauty and diversity. Sardinian gastronomy holds a special place in its heart for roasted meats such as piglet, lamb and kid, savoured braised on a kabob carved from arbutus wood and simply seasoned with a pinch of salt, lard and herbs such as myrtle, rosemary, bay leaves and sage. Pig or boar can also be cooked in a hole dug out of the ground over which one burns aromatic wood such as branches of myrtle. These branches are then covered with burning brands. This slow cook process infuses the meat with unparalleled aromas.

Cold cuts are also a very key part of the Island’s culinary treasures. "Capocollo" (a salted and dried product that is eaten raw), "pancetta" (lard), raw ham, fresh Sardinian sausage, dried or smoked, and boar ham… are all part of the gourmet line-up of this region’s delicacies!

One particularly excellent and typically Sardinian pasta dish is "malloreddus" (a type of small gnocchi), traditionally prepared with saffron! There is also "fregula" (a Sardinian version of couscous), small balls of hand-made semolina that are grilled in the oven and often incorporated into soups or enjoyed with clams or fresh sausage and tomatoes; "pillus," a dish somewhat like lasagna; "tallarinus" (a type of tagliolini) or, even still, "culurgiones" (ravioli) stuffed with fresh ewe cheese.

Sardinia is certainly an island more highly populated with shepherds than with fishermen and, when it comes to seafood, despite the abundance of fish found in its waters, it has few fish-related dishes. Among the offerings are "poutargue" (dried mullet eggs), marinated eel, crayfish à la vernaccia, infused with this delicate white wine that has undertones of clove, "cassola," a soup combining various types of fish. One can also enjoy dishes made with whiting—roasted or in Escabeche (marinated in vinegar).

Of course, around the world, Sardinia is highly renowned for its delectable cheeses. Among them are the "pecorino sardo" DOP cheese, made with whole ewe milk, which preserves the aromas of the grasses grazed upon by the animal, the "fiore sardo," made exclusively with fresh ewe milk and coagulated using lamb rennet in keeping with a very ancient artisanal technique; and, of course, the "casilozu" somewhat like the "caciocavallo" and the "canestrati," cheese produced with whole ewe milk and formed in wicker baskets—each and every one of them an absolute epicurean delight!

The Sardinian vineyards, located mainly in the larger part of the south of the Island, between Oristano and Cagliari, as well as in the extreme north, in the arid hills of Gallura, offer wines of contrasting quality. Among those worth mentioning, however, are the Cannonau di Sardinia Riserva and the Vermentino di Gallura as well as the Vernaccia di Oristano, certain Moscatos, de Sorsos or de Sennoris.

For a sweet finish, Sardinia certainly is not lacking in choice! The region offers several almond-based cakes such as "amaretti," "suspirus," or "copulettas" (meringues). They are also mixed with sugar, honey or orange rind. "Sebadas," made with cheese and honey, are among the most popular of Sardinian cakes.

Sardinia offers so many wonderful things to discover, taste and admire—an unusual destination worth going out of one’s way for!

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