In Sardinia there are about 2,000 Domus de Janas, or “fairy houses”.
The Sardinian Domus de Janas are one of the oldest treasures of the island region.
Sardinia is famous for the millenary remains of the civilizations that populated the island. Some of the most important, together with the nuraghi, are the Domus de Janas. There are around 2,000 of them all over the island. They are burial caves that the ancients dug out of the rock more than 5,000 years ago to bury the dead.
The name “Domus de Janas” comes from the Sardinian popular tradition. The literal translation is “fairy house” or “witch house”. In fact, according to a legend, these caves were the little abodes of mysterious creatures, tiny women who were both witches and fairies. The legend says that they wove beautiful fabrics on precious gold looms and that they were particularly good singers. In short, they were a Sardinian version of the elves, whose small size allowed them to live in the Domus.
Beyond this legend, as mentioned, the Domus de Janas are millenary burial caves, carved into the rock and visible throughout the island. Placed in large numbers next to each other, they formed necropolis that could host up to a hundred bodies. The bodies were placed in a fetal position, next to their belongings (essential for the journey to the afterlife). Some scholars believe that the ancients used to place the bodies inside the caves only after leaving them outdoors until what remained was only the skeleton.
The Domus de Janas were miniature houses
At the time of their construction, the purpose of these Domus was evident: to offer a home for the dead. In fact, the etymology of the word “Domus” says it all: it is Latin and means “house”. The Domus de Janas were the miniature copies of the houses of the ancient civilization. In addition, at that time people believed a lot in the resurrection, so they painted the bodies with red ocher to represent the blood that would bring the dead back to life.
Thinking of the continuity between life and death, the Domus for the dead followed the style of the houses of the living. Their stone walls had the same architectural elements as the real houses: from the plinths to the wooden beams of the gabled roofs. In a sense, funerary architecture was the natural continuation of domestic architecture.
However, the Domus de Janas were not just functional constructions. In fact, they also had several interesting ornamental elements. For example, the walls showed carvings of religious symbols, such as the false doors (the passages to the afterlife), the horns and the bull protomes (to protect the sleep of the dead).
The realization of these constructions required a great craftsmanship. Despite the few and rough tools, the ancient Sardinian master craftsmen were able to work trachytic rock or sandstone, preferably at the foot of the hills or in slightly raised plateaus.
The most fascinating Domus de Janas
As we said, in Sardinia there are more than 2,000 Domus de Janas. The largest underground necropolis, in terms of the number of tombs, is that of Anghelu Ruiu (3500-1800 BC). It includes multi-room caves carved into the sandstone, which show the typical elements of the Neolithic religion of the Mediterranean area. For example, there is a widespread presence of red ocher, the color of blood and regeneration.
Of the 38 tombs found, number 28 is particularly interesting. The symbols of the divine couple “mother bull-goddess” are visible on the sides of the main room’s door: two bull protomes with double horns and a stylized rectangle head with concentric circles.
The complex is located in I Piani, about 9 km from the sea, on a vast plain crossed by the Rio Filibertu. You can reach it by taking the state road 127bis and crossing the city district of Pietraia. Once you reach the Maria Pia intersection, take the direction of Porto Torres. Go along the “road of the two seas” for about 10 km until you see the entrance to the necropolis on the left.
Another interesting archaeological site is Santu Pedru, a rock necropolis dating back to 3500-1800 BC. It includes 10 hypogea dug into the stunted tuff on the southern slope of the homonymous hill. Tomb number 4 became a church dedicated to Saints Peter and Lucy in late antiquity (6th-7th century).
To get to the site, once you leave Alghero, take the SS 127 bis for Uri and Ittiri. After the crossroads for Olmedo, continue for about 3 km. The main tomb is at the end of a long straight road, after a curve to the right.
Do you want to discover the mysteries of the Domus de Janas and experience a charming and elegant holiday? Book a stay at Palazzo Doglio in Cagliari