Alghero, the Sardinian city between history and tradition | Bellarome

Alghero, the Sardinian city between history and tradition

Alghero is an Italian city of 43.845 inhabitants, part of the metropolitan network of Northern Sardinia in the province of Sassari, in Sardinia. It is also known as the Sardinian Barceloneta, or “little Barcelona”: the city has in fact preserved the use of Catalan, of which it is a linguistic island and 22.4% of its inhabitants speak it in the Alghero variant, recognized by the Italian Republic and the Sardinia Region as a minority language. This language is receiving protection through teaching and official use programs within the municipal area. In Alghero, there is also a delegation from the Generalitat de Catalunya, the regional government of Catalonia.

Alghero Sardinia

The first inhabitants of the north-western part of Sardinia date back to the Neolithic period. One of the first Neolithic migrations to Sardinia probably found refuge in the Green cave, where traces of human life have been found.

However, the date of 1102 is the one to which the foundation of the first village of S’Alighera or the Alighiera is traced, which is carried out by the Genoese family of the Dorias. During this period, what was still a village at the time, has undergone substantial expansion both from a commercial and, consequently, economically point of view.

Sardinia, however, is in the crosshairs of the Aragonese conquests and especially Alghero, which for its geographical location represented the main access port for those coming from Spain and the Balearic Islands.

The city officially became a Catalan stronghold in 1354 with the conquest of the city by Peter III Il Cerimonioso who replaced the original population, with Catalan people enticed by the privileges granted to them by the Crown of Aragon. Thus, the four centuries of Catalan-Aragonese domination began, which manifested itself in the architecture of the churches, the narrow streets, its palaces and its system of fortifications and of course in the language left behind.

In 1714 Alghero passed into the hands of the Savoys losing more and more its character of military stronghold. However, starting from the 1800s, coral fishing took hold, especially by large families from Liguria and the Naples area, many of whom moved to Alghero, significantly affecting its economic and social fabric.

Thanks to its geographical location, tourism has become one of the driving sectors of the economy of the city Alghero.

The city, one of the main ones in Sardinia and fifth in the region by number of inhabitants, is one of the access gates to the island, thanks to the airport located near Fertilia. It is the capital of the Riviera del Corallo, a name that derives from the fact that in the waters of its bay there is the largest quantity of the precious red coral of the finest quality, fished by underwater corallaries, an activity that with the processing and sale for centuries it had a great economic and cultural importance, so much so that a coral branch is inserted in the emblem of the city.

It has a strong tourist vocation and is one of the main destinations on the island; in 2012 it was the 10th Italian city most visited by foreign tourists.

Alghero is the third university city in Sardinia after Sassari and Cagliari, with the headquarters of the Department of Architecture, Design and Urban Planning of the University of Sassari.

It is also home to the School for foreigners of Italian language and culture in Alghero.

Let’s start our virtual discovery of this wonderful “little Barcelona”!


Palmavera Complex

The nuragic complex of Palmavera is an archaeological site located in the municipality of Alghero. It is classified as a “complex” nuraghe, that is, composed of several towers joined together.

The Palmavera complex is built with limestone and sandstone blocks and consists of a central body with two towers, an antemural and a village of huts. It was built in several stages.

The main tower dates back to the first phase (XV-XIV century BC) and preserves the central chamber covered with tholos and made with limestone stones. The tower is of an archaic type, with an entrance without side passages and niches just mentioned in the walls of the main room. There were also some huts outside the nuraghe.

In the second phase (first half of the 9th century BC) a second tower was added, and the previous tower rebuilt, in sandstone blocks. The two towers communicate via an internal courtyard and a corridor with niches. The meeting hut was also built, equipped with a stone seat that runs along the entire perimeter, interrupted by a tank made with stone slabs, of uncertain function, and by a round stone seat for the head, with a niche next to it in the wall. At the center of the hut, on a circular altar, there is a model of a sandstone nuragic tower (the original is in the National Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum G. A. Sanna of Sassari, replaced on site by a copy). At this time, more huts were built in the village, larger in size.

In the third phase (IX-VIII century BC) the nuraghe was rebuilt with blocks again in limestone and an external wall with four tower-huts was built around the nuraghe, forming two external courtyards, divided between them by a wall with no openings . In one of these courtyards the meeting hut was inserted, in the other a silos with a stone block mouth was identified.

The village was destroyed by fire probably in the late 8th century BC. and later it was sporadically frequented in the Punic and Roman times, as evidenced by some pottery found [3].

The first excavations were conducted in 1905 by Antonio Taramelli, assisted by Filippo Nissardi. The village was brought to light in the years 1961-1963 by Guglielmo Maetzke, at the same time as restoration work on the remains of the nuraghe. Other excavations in the nuragic complex were carried out by Alberto Moravetti in the years 1976-1977, 1979 and 1986-1991.

The hills surrounding the site were defended by single tower nuraghi, some of which are still in good condition today.

Many of the finds found during the excavations, carried out in the sixties, are exhibited in the archaeological museums of Cagliari and Sassari.


Caves of Neptune

The caves of Neptune (Coves de Neptú in Catalan) are karst formations located about 24 km from Alghero, in the north-west side of the Capo Caccia promontory, in the homonymous protected area of north-western Sardinia.

The cave was discovered by a local fisherman in the 18th century, and has since proved to be a popular tourist attraction.  The cave takes its name from the Roman divinity of the sea, Neptune, is managed by the autonomous tourist and tourism company of Alghero.

Given the particular location of the opening to access it, the entrance to the caves is possible only if weather and sea conditions permit it. To access it there are two possibilities: through a staircase of 654 steps that winds along the wall of the Capo Caccia massif, the so-called Escala del Cabirol (in Catalan, “La scala del capriolo”, precisely because of the particular shape that climbs up the promontory), the work of the Sardinian architect, politician and poet Antoni Simon Mossa. The other possibility is by sea, departing from the port of Alghero or from the embarkation of the pier of Dragunara in Porto Conte, this choice is recommended especially if you want to visit part of the coast and / or do not have the desire or possibility to do the 654 steps, an arduous undertaking especially for the return. The ferry service operates daily in spring and summer and with lower frequencies in autumn and winter.

Until 1959, the date of completion of the Escala del Cabirol, the Grotta di Nettuno could only be visited from the sea, and therefore accessible only in calm sea conditions. This situation made many problems because the fame of the cave brought together, in addition to tourists, many personalities who sometimes could not visit it. As early as the 19th century, many ideas and projects were also very imaginative. The most common was to build a tunnel which, starting from the south side of Capo Caccia, a mainly calm point especially with the prevailing mistral wind, would lead to the cave. In the famous book of traveler Sir John Warren Tyndale The Island of Sardinia published at the end of the 19th century, Tyndale had proposed this solution, since despite a very long stay in Alghero he could not visit it to his great frustration, and had to refer to the description of the other writer / traveler Alberto Ferrero Conte De La Marmora who wrote the book Voyage en Sardaigne.

There are also two other caves nearby: the Pizzi e Ricami cave, accessible only by sea and the gigantic Altar cave better known as the Green Grotto, which can be visited with a special permit and with possible entry from the ground located about 100 m before the square Capo Caccia parking.

The latter cave is especially important from a scientific point of view since there are Neolithic graffiti and you have found burials and pottery dating back to the Neolithic. Under water there are also many other caves located about 100 m to the south, under the tip of the Capo Caccia massif, which make up a vast submerged karst system in which the most famous and largest cave is that of Nereo.


Capo Caccia

Capo Caccia (in Catalan and Algherese Cap de la Caça) is an imposing limestone promontory located in the north-western end of Sardinia, overlooking the bay of Alghero, and with the other limestone promontory of Alghero (abbreviation of the stratigraphic syntax of Sardinia: ALG), Punta Giglio, encloses the great gulf of Porto Conte. The Capo Caccia weather station is located there and, due to its position, it is equipped with a lighthouse, which thanks to its height position, 186 meters above sea level, is one of the most visible from a distance, about 34 miles, throughout Italy and the Mediterranean.

It is the marine portion of the large ecosystem of the Porto Conte park, of which it has been part since 2002. The protected area of ​​Capo Caccia Isola Piana, is located in the territory of Alghero and includes the bay of Porto Conte and the stretch between Punta Giglio and Capo Caccia: a priceless natural heritage, embellished with limestone rich in fossils and rare plants on the cliffs. You will visit naturalistic and archaeological sites with trekking and speleological itineraries: such as Le Prigionette, forest with white donkeys, Giara horses and fallow deer, and – subject to permission – the Green Grotto, where you will find evidence of seven thousand years ago: perhaps destined for the dead and trousseau funeral, human fossils, pottery and graffiti have been found. If you are fascinated by archeology in the park, do not miss the Nuragic complexes of Palmavera and Sant’Imbenia and the Roman remains: the villa of Sant’Ambenia and the bridge over the Calich.

The paths of the marine area go up in panoramic places such as Cala della Barca, a name deriving from a French vessel sunk here in 1664. In the paradise of the caves you will do bird watching: rocky strips suspended 300 meters above the sea are populated by birds like the griffin in the more impervious cliffs and the peregrine falcon in Punta Cristallo. The area has different levels of protection: zone A is forbidden, while in the reserves – of Punta del Cerchio and Cala del Bollo and Porto Conte – you will dive into the ideal seabed for diving. Between gullies and spiers, you will observe imposing layers of calcareous algae and posidonia meadows, with fish, molluscs and crustaceans.

Huge masses plummet into the water with walls dotted with aerial and marine cavities. You will reach the cave of Neptune thanks to the Escala del Cabiròl or with shuttle services from the city port and Cala Dragunara, skirting Capo Galera and the characteristic island of Foradada.

The interior, which can be visited for almost 600 meters, houses suggestive environments with stalactites and stalagmites and a lake. The submerged cave of Nereo is the largest in Europe: in immersion you enter 32 meters deep and exit another opening at fifteen, after a 350-meter path between galleries and chambers. In addition to the two most famous, there are the caves of Giglio, Pozzo, del Falco and the blue tunnel, which crosses the promontory between Cala della Barca and Cala Puntetta, allowing the passage at low depths from one side to the other. A mysterious and fascinating world, where you can discover life forms, such as red coral, symbol of the Alghero coast, known as the Coral Riviera, will unfold in front of the visitors.


The walls and bastions of Alghero

Alghero is one of the few fortified Italian cities to have maintained about 70% of its walls (the part from the Maddalena fort to the Torre dell’Esperò Rejal is missing), with attached towers: recently enhanced by a restoration, the ramparts offer a walk on the sea that surrounds the old town, and join with the Lungomare Dante built in the fifties of the twentieth century.

Alghero is of the few centers in Italy to have preserved almost intact walls and towers that have always surrounded it. Today its ramparts, dedicated to the great navigators, Colombo, Pigafetta, Magellano and Marco Polo, have become a suggestive walk. Alghero was built between 1102 and 1112 by the Doria family and its first fortifications date back to a few decades later. At the end of the thirteenth century there was an expansion, while, during the Aragonese dominion, no substantial modification: the Genoese layout with 26 towers remained. Until the sixteenth century the wall circuit was rebuilt: the part facing the sea was completed, the part on the ground remained unfinished. From 1867, Alghero was excluded from the list of strategic cities: dismantling began. But of what has been, everything (or almost) has come down to us: the seaside walls and eight sixteenth-century town towers (plus 11 along the coast).

The Porta Terra tower was the Porta Rejal, the entrance to the city from Sassari. The tower of San Giovanni was the ‘middle’ one, while that of Sulis is known for the bloody night battle between 5 and 6 May 1412: few Algherese opposed the troops of William III of Narbonne.

The name derives from a tribune from Cagliari protagonist of the unrest of the late eighteenth century, condemned and imprisoned here for over twenty years. The urban perimeter also includes the towers of San Giacomo, Polveriera (the arsenal) and Sant’Elmo, named after Erasmo (Elm in Catalan), holy navigator. Inside, in bas-relief, the coat of arms of the Crown of Aragon.

Finally, the Garitta Reale, guard post at the end of the Marco Polo ramparts, and the Maddalena tower with protruding drains to throw oil and boiling water on the enemies, also called Garibaldi’s, which landed here in 1855. To the south, along the panoramic for Bosa, there are two other towers, while to the north, between the park of Porto Conte and Capo Caccia, six: the most suggestive is that of the Pegna, built on a promontory by coral fishermen. Three others are in Porto Ferro.


Cathedral of Santa Maria Immacolata

The cathedral of Santa Maria Immacolata is the cathedral of the diocese of Alghero-Bosa.

Dating from the 16th century, it is located in the historic center of the city, of which it is one of the main monuments, as well as one of the largest churches in Sardinia.

Its history begins several years before the start of its construction. It was 1503 when Pope Julius II with the Bolla Aequum reputamus reformed the ancient Sardinian dioceses and the three small dioceses of Castro, Bisarcio and Ottana were incorporated into the new diocese of Alghero which, elevated to the rank of city, was destined to be the center of greater importance. Thus the construction of a cathedral was decided because no church in Alghero until now was considered worthy of serving as a cathedral. In reality, however, the first bishop of the new diocese resided in Sassari as well as the subsequent ones and the construction of the cathedral did not begin until 1530.

The construction continued among a thousand difficulties for many years. It seems that in 1547 the choir with the five radial chapels and the octagonal bell tower that dominated the central chapel of the tribune and the rich lily portal below were built.

The late Gothic style was that of the model of the Catalan cathedrals. But the extreme slowness with which the construction proceeded certainly did not benefit the architectural uniformity of the work. Starting from 1592 the works resumed with new impetus under the guidance of the military engineer Rocco Cappellino of classicist training, who added new elements of the Renaissance nature to the construction. This imprint is clearly visible in the leftmost chapel of the five radial chapels, which was probably the last to be completed.

Since then, the works continued according to a late Renaissance design until the consecration took place in 1593, even if the construction, not completely completed, was destined to continue until the middle of the following century. It is known for example that in 1638 the vaults of the transept and the cross were built respectively with a pavilion and an octagonal dome. But other interventions followed one another over the centuries.

In 1730 the church, after being adorned with artistic marble furnishings following imposing and interminable restoration works, was deconsecrated and only in 1862 was the new neoclassical facade built to replace the late Renaissance one.

The main altar is from the eighteenth century, while the neoclassical facade with its columns and its imposing tympanum dates back to 1820.

Church of San Francesco

The church of San Francesco is a monumental Catholic place of worship in the city of Alghero and one of the best examples of Catalan Gothic architecture in Sardinia. It rises, flanked by the adjoining convent, in via Carlo Alberto, in the heart of the historic center.

The church is located in the heart of the historic center of Alghero together with the adjoining convent, the cloister and the bell tower that make this church an example one of a kind.

The arrival of the Friars Minor in Alghero, and therefore the construction of the convent complex, dates back to the 14th century. Church and convent were rebuilt in the Catalan Gothic style during the 15th century. On February 17, 1593 the central body of the church was damaged by a collapse, a circumstance that necessitated restoration works which renewed part of the temple according to the canons of Renaissance classicism. The works ended in 1598.

Ancient and secure documents dating back to the early 14th century inform us that Franciscan friars “Conventual Minors” were already in Alghero in 1330. With a bull dated 1324, in fact, Pope John XXII gave the Minister General of the Order the faculty, Michele da Cesena, to found two convents in Alghero and Iglesias, a city located south of the island.

In the second half of the fifteenth century, the conventual friars minor, with the help of the population and local authorities, built a church whose façade, not very high but well proportioned, can now be admired, with a rose window of about one meter in diameter. In 1593 this church suffered a partial collapse, due to static problems related perhaps to the presence of underground aquifers. The ancient facade, incorporated in subsequent reconstruction works, is still distinguishable by observing the arrangement of the ashlars and the chromatic difference of the sandstone.

Following the collapse, the church was rebuilt according to the Renaissance style of the time, characterized by round arches in place of Gothic pointed arches. The parts affected by the works, which lasted until 1598, were the central nave and the lateral naves.

The church is the result of numerous conservative and restoration interventions that, from the return of the friars (1940) after the suppression by the Italian government of the Religious Orders to date, have allowed to consolidate the structure (1973-1977), rediscover the stellar vault of the presbytery with eighteenth-century plaster (1947), highlight the extraordinary capitals of the Gothic columns.

The interior of the church is divided into three naves, separated by round arches that unload on eight cruciform sandstone pillars delimiting the ten chapels. The central nave is covered by a sandstone barrel vault intersected by lunettes. Eight rectangular windows open above the arches, above a slender string course frame.

The most interesting aspect of the ancient Gothic structure is the presbytery part, brought back to the original around 1947-1949, which has a wonderful four-pointed star vault, highlighted in its half-domed design by elegant ribs whose keystones at the intersections they are made of hard white stone, with geometric motifs, now of the shell, now of the stylized daisy.


Punta Giglio

Punta Giglio is a limestone promontory which, together with Capo Caccia, encloses the bay of Porto Conte. Improperly it is called “punta”, because in reality it has the characteristics of “capo” for its height above sea level. It owes its name to the presence of numerous lily plants. It is included in the territory of the Capo Caccia – Isola Piana protected marine natural area.

From the top, it is possible to admire the surrounding panorama. Due to its strategic dominant position between Porto Conte and Alghero, it was an important anti-aircraft base of the army during the last war, of which the structures with barracks, antiaircraft gun positioning platforms, casemates and explosives deposit still exist, built with limestone from place and camouflaged to the view from the sea.

It is composed of white limestone dominated by spontaneous Mediterranean vegetation, and numerous caves have formed here for the typical karst of the whole area.

At sea level, on the southern slope it is possible to observe the furrow at about +6 m dating back to the last thaw which caused the tide level to stand for a very long time. The place is therefore very important for the study of geological climatic changes that have followed and can be observed concretely on the field.

But the promontory of Punta Giglio hides another precious treasure, preserving enchanting natural caves in its cavities.

At the top there is the Dasterru cave, which has two openings, one of which is a well, which can be visited with basic caving equipment. In the sea level part there are several underwater caves that can be visited by diving with diving equipment.

The most famous are that of Punta Giglio or the Deer, for a very important fossil deposit of Sardinian deer, Megacerhus cazioti, now extinct, and that of the Ghosts, an incredible work of art of nature for the spectacular calcite concretions eroded by the forced-conduct system.