Cagliari: why is it called that? What stories and wonders can be discovered along the streets of Cagliari? Find out everything you need to know about the Sardinian capital, from its history to the origin of its name to the unmissable locations.
Land of centenarians, Cagliari is the city of the sun and mistral wind, a magical place with a thousand-year-old history yet contemporary, the perfect destination for a holiday to discover Sardinian art, history, and food and wine.
Nicknamed “City of the Sun” because of the constant sunshine, in Sardinian Cagliari is called Casteddu after Castello, one of its fortified four districts.
Over the centuries, the city of Cagliari as been referred to with different names: Karali, Krly, Caralis, Carales, Castellum Castri de Kallari, Castell de Càller, up to the current toponym Casteddu.
According to the German ethnologist and glottologist Max Leopold Wagner, Karali is a word related to the Proto-Sardinian language, also called Paleo-Sardinian, or Nuragic, the language spoken by the ancient Nuragic civilization. The root *kar means stone/rock while the suffix -al has collective value. By joining the two comes the name Karali which means “rocky locality” or “place of a community on the rock” indicating the hill where the first settlement was.
Wagner’s thesis is the most accredited, however, there are also other hypotheses such as that of Roderigo Hunno Baeza, a sixteenth-century Sardinian humanist, who in his work Caralis panegyric states that Karalis derives from the Greek κάρα, ie “head” based on the fact that Cagliari was the most important centre of the island. And again, according to Guglielmo Genesius, a well-known German Semitist, the name Karalis derives from the Phoenician Kar Baalis or City of God.
Krly, on the other hand, was the name used by the Phoenician-Punic civilization, while Caralis, or plural Carales, is a toponym of Latin origin. In documents dating back to the Pisan era, the Sardinian capital was identified with the names Castellum Castri de Kallari and Castell de Càller, meanwhile, the name Cagliari comes from the Spanish pronunciation of Callari.
Cagliari: the birth of Karali, between myth and history
According to the story of the Latin writer Gaius Julius Solinus, Cagliari was founded by Aristos, son of the god Apollo and the nymph Cyrene who left from Bohemia during the fifteenth century B.C. and reached the coast of Sardinia. Aristeo made peace among the people who inhabited the island, built Caralis and introduced hunting and agriculture.
Another legend says that Aristeo arrived on the coasts of Sardinia accompanied by Daedalus, who, according to the ancient Greeks, would have built the great Nuraghi, the typical stone buildings of conical truncated shape spread throughout the Sardinian territory.
By analysing myth and history, a trace of the origins of Cagliari starts from the discovery of the Domus de Janas, prehistoric tombs carved into the rock, and the remains of huts dated IV-III millennium B.C. discovered at San Bartolomeo and on the Sant’Elia hill. These findings confirm that the area where the modern city stands today was inhabited since the Neolithic age. Further archaeological findings from the Copper and Bronze Ages, including leaf-blade daggers, copper awls, terracotta vases and ceramics, have allowed researchers to discover that the Nuragic populations had intense commercial and cultural relations with the Mycenaean civilization. It is precisely in this period, from the contact between the two different peoples, that the myth of Aristeo on the foundation of Caralis comes from.
The pre-Nuragic and Nuragic settlements follow the Phoenician-Punic period in which temples were built, including the one in the name of goddess Astarte near the promontory of Sant’Elia, and the necropolis of Tuvixeddu, the largest Punic necropolis in existence.
After the First Punic War in 238 B.C, the island passed under Roman dominance, who decided Cagliari would be the capital of the province of Sardinia and Corsica because of its central position. Later, after the war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, it was proclaimed Municipium and experienced a long period of political tranquillity and economic development. Evidence of the Roman era includes the amphitheatre, the Villa of Tigellio and the archaeological area of Sant’Eulalia.
During the fifth century, the city was conquered by the army of Genserico, king of the Vandals, before passing under Byzantine rule, a period in which the fortified village of Santa Igia was created in response to the ferocious attacks by Saracen pirates. In medieval times, Santa Igia became the capital of the Giudicato of Calari but was destroyed by the Pisans in the thirteenth century.
The Pisans fortified the Castle by building walls, towers and bastions. They also divided the city into four districts: Castello, Stampace, Marina and Villanova. Not even a century later, Cagliari was ruled by the Aragonese, whose reign lasted until 1479. Later, with the Treaty of Utrecht, Sardinia was assigned to Austria and then, according to the Treaty of The Hague in 1720, to the Savoys who reorganized the universities and strengthened the defence system.
In the twentieth century, Cagliari suffered from numerous bombings during the Second World War damaging 80% of the territory. At the end of the war, Cagliari was declared a Martyr City and received the gold medal for military valor.
In 1948, according to Article 2 of the Statute of the Autonomous Region of Sardinia, Cagliari was officially the capital of the island and recorded a growth of the urban centre that extends to the coast of the beautiful beach of Poetto and the area of Monte Urpinu in the twentieth century.
Cagliari: all the must-see locations in the Sardinian capital
The Guardian, a British newspaper among the most read in the world, has placed Cagliari on the list of the six most beautiful seaside cities in Europe along with Cadiz (Spain), Toulon (France), Rovinj (Croatia), Volos (Greece) and Ostend (Holland).
But the beautiful beaches embarrassed by the blue and crystalline waters of the Sardinian sea are not the only reasons to visit Cagliari and its surroundings.
Overlooking the Gulfo degli Angeli, immersed in Mediterranean scents, in constant balance between tradition and modernity, the ancient Casteddu is the city of wonders where faith and folklore, mystery and magic, history and art, nature and culture intersect.
Here is what to see in Cagliari and the unmissable places in the Sardinian capital:
- Cagliari underground
- Castello district
- Marina district
- Castle of San Michele
- The towers of San Pancrazio and Elefante
- Bastion of Saint Remy
- Sanctuary of Bonaria
- Cathedral of Santa Maria
- Palazzo Civico
- Molentargius-Saline Park
- Sella del
- The beach of Poetto
- The Citadel of Museums
- The market of San Benedetto
- Saline Conti Vecchi
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