[ February 23, 2005 ]
| Sardinia: wealth
and wild beauty
of the Island of Corsica, Sardinia is the second largest island in
the Mediterranean after Sicily.
Population: 1.6 million (1991)
Official language: Italian
Independent special status region
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
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
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
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!