What to see in Cagliari: what makes this city a perfect destination
Sardinia is a land of ancient traditions, the island, famous for its fabulous sea, is the perfect destination for an unforgettable vacation take the opportunity to visit these 10 attractions in the area of Cagliari.
Francesco Alziator, anthropologist, philosopher, Italian writer and one of the most famous experts on Sardinian culture and traditions, wrote a book published by Zonza Editore, in which he says: “ No other name could fit Cagliari better that City of the Sun”.
The capital of the island, also named Casteddu because of the fortified neighborhood around the Castle, has four main neighborhoods in the historical center, it is nicknamed “City of the Sun” because of the duration of sunshine, a phenomena that occurs in Italy all year round.
And it isn’t only a romantic nickname, it is truly a scientific occurrence that gives the city a somewhat tropical microclimate with hot temperatures throughout the year.
Alziator guides the reader through the discoveries of Cagliari, a town rich of natural fragrances and gastronomical heritage, once divided by populace, bourgeoisie and nobility but today is the result of a social evolution which has not renounced its sayings, customs and millennial traditions.
Cagliari is rich of traditions but it also has a young cosmopolitan core, the city surrounded by shades of blue sea and white-gold sandy beaches, is a gemstone nestled in the heart of the Mediterranean.
It is the perfect destination for any kind of traveler, here we suggest the 10 best things to visit in Cagliari to have a vacation revolving around art, nature and the culinary treasures of a land world famous for it’s wine and food.
What to visit in Cagliari: 10 sites to visit at least once in a lifetime
Let’s discover the ten best attractions of the city of Cagliari.
- Bastion of Saint Remy: built at the end of the XIX century, it’s considered one of the most important strongholds of the city. The name is a tribute to the Viceroy, from Piemonte, Filippo-Guglielmo Pallavicini, baron of Saint Remy. The bastion is in the famous neighborhood of Castello, the covered walk and the marvelous panoramic terrace of Umberto I, were designed in 1896 by engineer Giuseppe Costa and Fulgenzio Setti. The building is neoclassical, the Corinthian columns are made of pietraforte stone and calcium which has the distinct white and yellowish tinge. The double ramped staircase at the entrance of the bastion which leads from the Costituzione square is interrupted at the covered walk and ends under the arch of Trionfo on the Umberto I terrace. During the Second World War, the staircase and the arch were severely damaged by the Allies bombs, fortunately, they were restored with great care after the conflicts. From the terrace of Umberto I, you can enter the bastion of Santa Caterina where there was once the Dominican convent, destroyed in 1800 by a fire. According to history, this is where, in 1668, a conspiracy was planned against Viceroy Camarassa. The covered walkway was used in different ways, after its inauguration in 1902 it hosted banquets, then during the first World War, it became an infirmary. During the Second World War, it became a refuge for the displaced, and in 1948 it became the venue of the first Sardinian Trade Fair. More recently, after being restored, it is a cultural space, loved by the locals and by tourists.
- Sanctuary of Bonaria: located on the homonymous hill, the sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Bonaria is one of the most important religious buildings of Cagliari. Pope Giovanni Paolo II dedicated a prayer to the Madonna of Bonaria during his visit on the 20th of October 1985: “Assist, oh Mary, the people of this island, who are faithful to thee, in your Sanctuary of Bonaria, requesting assistance in their fight between good and evil that affects the world of today”. The structure is divided into 4 parts:
- the gothic-Catalan sanctuary built in the first half of the XIV century, where lies the simulacrum of “Nostra Signora di Bonaria”, patron of Sardinia and Cagliari, protector of sailors;
- the XVIII basilica in a neoclassical style was the first minor one during the pontificate of Pio XI and later elevated by Pope Pio XII;
- the cemetery -monumental park;
- the convent that now hosts the Museum of Bonaria.
- Cathedral of Santa Maria: located in the historical center of Castello, the primatial cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and of Santa Cecilia has been a symbol of Cagliari for seven centuries. It was built in XIII and has several artistic styles including Romanesque Pisan, Baroque and Neo-romanesque. The church was transformed into a cathedral in 1258 and hosted the oaths of the three representatives in the Sardinian parliament (bracci) when Cagliari became the capital of the Sardinian kingdom. Within the cathedral, in the right wing of the structure is the Aragonese chapel also known as the chapel of Sacra Spina because, spina meaning thorn, it holds a piece of Jesus’s thorn crown. Lansquenets arrived in Cagliari in 1527, during the sack of Rome they desecrated the most important churches of the city and pope Clemente’s VII apartment, from which they stole furniture and precious objects including a splendid Flemish triptych by Roger Van DerWeyden. When the mercenaries arrived in Gaeta, they headed toward Cagliari but were hit by a fierce storm, fearing a punishment from god they confessed their sins to holy men on board whom informed the archbishop when the ship reached the Sardinian coast. The holy father, after receiving the news, donated to Cagliari the triptych and the thorn of the crown which are now kept in the Cathedral of Santa Maria and shown every year during the feast of Assumption.
- Poetto beach: the main beach of Cagliari, called Poettu in Sardinian, is more or less four kilometers long, starting from the coast of Quartu Sant’Elena or Poetto di Quartu. It is named after the Spanish tower “del Poeta” which can still be admired from the Sella del Diavolo, but there are other hypotheses saying the name could originate from the Catalan word pohuet – small pond, in reference to the many ponds and water tanks in the Sella del Diavolo territory. Another etymological explanation takes into consideration the Spanish word Puerto – port, because of the landing at Marina Piccola nearby the Sella del Diavolo.
- Palazzo Civico: the building in the Stampace neighborhood in via Roma, known also as Palazzo Bacaredda, was built in 1896. On the 14th of April 1899 was the ceremony in presence of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoia for the first laid stone, the construction was finished and inaugurated in 1907. It was greatly damaged during the bombings in 1943, therefore, it was rebuilt between 1946 and 1953. The Palazzo Civico di Cagliari, built-in pietraforte, is a union of gothic-Catalan elements and Liberty decorations in the interior, it has many valuable works of art and retains the Gonfalone with a representation of the military medal and the medal given to Pope Paolo VI.
- The towers of San Pancrazio and dell’Elefante: the tower of San Pancrazio, sa Turri de Santu Francau in Sardinian, was built by the Pisans in 1305 and is the tallest in Cagliari. It was designed by the Sardinian architect Giovanni Capula, also the author of the tower dell’Elefante which was built two years later. The tower of San Pancrazio, leading to the entrance of Castello, was a fortification used to protect the city from the numerous Genoese and Moorish attacks. The tower dell’Elefante is also in Castello near the church of San Giuseppe, it was used as a prison and on its doors were hung the heads of those condemned to death and executed in Plazuela, which now is square of Carlo Alberto. Among the distinguished prisoners, there was the marquis Cea, suspect in the conspiracy leading to the death of Viceroy Camarassa.
- Molentargius-Saline park: established on the 26th of February 1999, the name of the park originates from is molentargius — donkey herders (su molenti means donkey in Sardinian) who carried the salt gathered in the ponds of the area. The Molentargius pond is one of the most famous humid areas of Europe and is classified as a site of Community importance, Special Protected Zone and humid Zone of international importance based on the Ramsay conversion. This natural site extends over 1600 hectares of land including Cagliari, Quartu Sant’Elena and the Poetto beach. It has a high variety of flora and fauna species, many of which are protected, including flamingos.
- Sella del Diavolo: the promontory on the southern part of Cagliari, on the border between the Poetto beach and Calamosca, is also known as Sella — saddle of the meerkats or Sedd’è su Diaulu in Sardinian. The origin of the name comes from a legend of demons guided by Lucifer, and the army of god headed by archangel Michael. The story says the demons were attracted to the extraordinary beauty of the Gulf of Cagliari, they attempted to conquer the island until god sent his army to defeat them. In the skies above the gulf, a long battle took place until Lucifer, unseated from his horse, lost his saddle which fell into the waters of Cagliari and turned into stone creating the gulf. Another ending to the story says it was the demon himself, once defeated, who fell into the gulf giving it the shape of a saddle. After the battle, the sea in front of the Sella del Diavolo was named the golfo degli Angeli — gulf of the angels.
- Castle of San Michele: located on the homonymous hill of Cagliari, the structure was built in the Middle Ages, during the Giudicato of Calari also known as Pluminos. In 1990 it was discovered that the castle was built on the ruins of a rural Church, the structure has three towers and a surrounding moat. The noble Spanish family Carroz lived in it in between 1350 and 1511, then after some time of abandonment, it became a lazaret during the plague epidemic from 1652 to 1656, which was eventually defeated by the miracle of Sant’Efisio. It was then used as a defensive bulwark during the 17th and 18th centuries, it was then used by the Italian Navy and today it is now a center of art and culture.
- The market of San Benedetto: this two story 8.000 square meters covered market was inaugurated on the 1st of June 1957 and is one of the largest in Italy and Europe. On the first floor there is the fish market and on the second is the vegetable and meat section and other consumables. It is advisable to visit the market early in the morning, when it is still quite calm, to discover the colors and fragrances of Sardinian gastronomy. The market is open from Monday to Friday from 7:00 am until 2:00 pm, on Saturdays it opens at 7:00 am and closes at 3:00 pm and on Sunday it is closed.