Cagliari underground: a rich and fascinating hidden kingdom
The mystery “of men leaving their caves and abandoning nature’s womb” according to Stephen Gardiner, bishop and lord chancellor during the reign of Mary I in England, is now the contemporary man’s source of curiosity, encouraging us to discover secret passages and fascinating places rich of history, just like the underground of Cagliari.
The city has historical districts with new constructions and characteristically ancient buildings, but underground lies an enigmatic place. The city of sun is one of the most interesting places in Sardinia, a perfect destination for a trip full of discoveries.
The world under the city is an adventurous experience passing through secret passages, caves, tunnels and bunkers, stories and legends, light and shadows. An underground web extended under three of the principal districts of Casteddu: Castello, Marina and Stampace.
Here the sound of the busy streets above is transformed into silence, footsteps create an echo in this timeless parallel city. Men would bury their departed and find refuge from the war while praying to god, leaving us with a place rich of art and spirituality, a place of interest comparable to the ancient symbols of Sardinia: the Nuraghi.
Let’s now discover together what are the treasures under Cagliari so to trace an itinerary passing through unusual and alternative places, far from the usual touristic destinations.
Cagliari underground: 6 places not to miss out on
If your next vacation will be in Sardinia and you will be visiting Casteddu as the locals call it, you absolutely mustn’t miss the opportunity to visit this fascinating world under the city.
Here are its most significants sites:
- The well of San Pancrazio: in Castello, in the most historical district of the city, stands the legendary well built by the Pisans in 1200, at the center of Piazza Indipendenza. In 1800 the square was redeveloped and the opening of the well was moved underground. It’s now accessible by a tunnel carved into the rock which was also used to move animals to take water up to the surface.
- Sacello del Santo Sepolcro: a crypt within the church of San Sepolcro located in the district of Marina, accessible from a manhole in the middle of the central nave. The space has three barrel vaulted chambers and hosts an in-wall sarcophagus, there are still some visible frescos on the walls including a representation of the effigy of death, a skeleton wearing an ermine cloak and holding a sickle with the inscription on the blade saying “Nemini Parco” (I won’t spare anyone).
- Crypt of Sant’Efisio: located in the homonyms church in Stampace district, this crypt is inside a 9 meters long cave. The story says Sant’Efisio was held prisoner here before being decapitated at the beach of Nora in 303 BC, the saint is now celebrated annually on the 1st of May. During Second World War the crypt was used as a refuge from the bombers flying over Cagliari.
- Crypt of Santa Restituta: this crypt is underneath the homonyms church, it is also in the Stampace district and is partly a natural cave and partly carved into the rock. At the end of the Punic age it was used for extracting limestone, meanwhile during the Roman age it was used to keep amphoras. It then became a place of Christian cult in name of Santa Restituita, martyr of African origins. At the beginning of the 20th century it was thought the column inside the crypt, where the saint was tied and martyred, had healing powers. During the smallpox epidemic across the island, infected children were taken to the cave by their parents and told to roll on the ground near the column because, according to common belief, the dust would heal the sick. It was also used as a refuge during the Second World War.
- Refuge tunnel of Don Bosco: this tunnel is about 180 meters long and is a part of a series of underground paths made in 1700 by populations from the Italian region of Piemonte, for military use. These routes are extended along the north area of the city, a zone delimited by the bastion of Buoncammino and the market in via Pola. The main entrance is in via don Bosco, not far inside is a room with Turkish baths, and there are benches along the entire tunnel on both sides. This tunnel was also used by the inhabitants of Cagliari as a refuge during the Second World War.
- Necropolis of Tuvixeddu: in the area between the district of Viale Sant’Avendrace and the district of via Is Maglias is one of the largest Punic necropoli in the Mediterranean and covers the entire homonymous hill which translates as “the hill of little flowers”. Between the VI and III century BC, the Carthaginians used the hill as a burial ground, and the tombs could be reached by accessing a well carved in the rock. These chambers where also used to keep decorated amphoras and ampoules containing perfume essences. In the lower part of the hill there is a Roman necropolis which holds the burial of Atilia Pomptilla, a funerary hypogeum known as Grotta Della Vipera (Cave of the Viper) and is protagonist of an ancient legend. It would appear the tomb was commissioned by the Roman nobleman Lucio Cassio Filippo in honor of his wife Atilia, who died after offering her life to the gods in exchange of her husband being cured from malaria.