Cagliari history

Nuraghe
Nuraghe — Photo mysardinia.com

Sun, sea, sights and natural landscapes of special charm: Cagliari offers many attractions to the tourist. Blessed with a mild climate, the regional capital of Sardinia (164.250 inhabitants) is a town full of fascinating history and friendly people. Located on the southern side of the island, Cagliari is linked to the mainland by the port and the airport. It has been inhabited for a very long time, and owes its features to a melting pot of traditions, architectural styles and habits, influenced in turn by the former Roman, Byzantine, Spanish and Piedmontese dominations. A blend of the old and the new, Cagliari is at the same time historic culture and a leading center of Sardinian economy. In Cagliari, culture, folklore, cuisine are not clichès: they are really part of the everyday life. Thanks to its beautiful summers and its mild winters, springs and autumns, every day the town offers the opportunity to walk the streets of its historic districts; to relax by drinking a good coffee in one of the many cafes located in its most famous streets; to enjoy a typical Sardinian dish in one of the restaurants that jealously guard old recipes and hand-made dishes; to sunbathe on one of the various beaches of the coast; or, finally, to enjoy oneself by taking part in one of the events constantly organized by the Town Council for local citizens and tourists alike.

History – Origins

Built on a site already well-known by Neolithic populations, the Cagliari of today probably owes its origins to the Phoenicians from Tiro, who colonized the western coasts of the Mediterranean Sea between the end of the II millennium b.C. and the beginning of the I. The first settlement was located around the area of Santa Gilla. During the Punic domination, from the VI century b.C. on, all areas close to Largo Carlo Felice and Viale Regina Margherita were occupied, the lagoon port was developed and new wharves were built in the Darsena (Wet Dock). An important necropolis was built on the Hill of Tuvixeddu (Another necropolis was created later, on the slopes of the Hill of Bonaria). The favorable position of Cagliari allowed it to flourish and become an important trade center.

History -Roman Age

Cagliari was conquered by the Romans with a campaign started in 241 b.C. From then on, Carales replaced in importance and wealth the Punic Nora, while becoming the fixed residence of the Roman governor. The Roman Town developed round Piazza del Carmine (The Forum) and largely expanded to include the crowded and trade-oriented Marina district and the Stampace district, favorite residence of the wealthy classes. The Romans constructed thermal baths, public buildings, worship and meeting places, arcades, cisterns, wells and water tanks. A fortified area was located on the Hill of Castello (Hill of the Castle). The Amphitheatre, which could seat 10.000 people, was built at its foot, in the II century a.C. The areas of Bonaria and Tuvixeddu continued to serve as burial sites. A kind of small Via Appia, with monuments and memorial stones, was probably developed along Viale S.Avendrace. Unfortunately, the so-called Grotta (Grotto) della Vipera is the only piece of evidence left of all that. With the decadence of the Roman Empire, also Cagliari probably had to build walls and defensive works, of which very little remains. In the meantime, Christianity spread over Sardinia, mainly from Cagliari (already in the IV century, the bishop Lucifero became a very influential member of the ecclesiastical hierarchy).

History – Vandalic Age

Between 459 and 466 a.C. Sardinia was occupied by the Vandals, without any significant consequences. Nevertheless, the East Romans (Byzantines) reconquered the island already in 533 a.C. A dux was placed in command of the army, while a praeses was in charge of civil matters. From then on, Cagliari began a slow but inexorable decline, which became even more evident during the first Arabic raids. For defensive reasons, the people of Cagliari gradually moved towards the Lagoon of Santa Igia, where a new fortified settlement was built.

Sunrise on Cagliari
Sunrise on Cagliari – Photo ceriomorgauin

History – Judicial Age

Already at the dawn of the XI century, the island consisted, from an administrative point of view, of the four kingdoms (also called Giudicati Storici) of Cagliari, Arborea, Logudoro and Gallura – maybe because of intestine wars or decentralization tendencies. In the same century, the Judicial Government of Cagliari, located in the area of Santa Igia, became less isolated, by establishing closer and closer relationships with the Maritime Republics of Pisa and Genova. As the influence of both became more oppressive, the judges of Cagliari, being under pressure, started to alienate demanial goods and properties in favor of foreign families, bodies or ecclesiastical institutions. The Lacon Gunales, the royal family until then, became weaker and weaker and were finally dethroned by the Massas, who began to reign.

History – Pisan Cagliari

In the early XIII century the Pisans gave a substantial boost to the area of Castello: they also expanded into the Stampace and Marina districts. In 1258, after the fall and destruction of the judicial town of Santa Igia, the Pisan Cagliari became even more important and prosperous. All the different areas of Castello occupied by the new dominators started to be called Partite. Each of them was inhabited by a different craft guild. There were the Ferraria, the Marinaria, the Gamurra and the Pellaria. Towers and fortified houses, typical of Tuscan settlements, must have been the hallmark of the town’s landscape.

History – Aragonese-Spanish Age

The defensive works were strengthened due to a likely war against the Aragonese, who, however, conquered the town in 1326. From then on, Cagliari became the core of the Iberian domination in Sardinia. Before the fall of the town, the Aragonese created a small settlement on the Hill of Bonaria. However, it declined quickly, and its inhabitants probably dispersed in the lower area at the foot of Castello. From 1552 on, all the defensive works were constantly improved and updated. Existing buildings were restored and new defensive works were built, so the town acquired a severe appearance, well-known to those who watch it from the sea. In the XVII century, with the Baroque, Cagliari started to look even more “Spanish”. The Cathedral, the Church of Santa Restituta, some buildings of Castello are good examples of that style. The XVII century was also the last period of the Spanish domination: during these decades, growing tensions opposed natives and immigrants of second, third and fourth generation with officers and barons residing in Cagliari or coming directly from the Iberian Peninsula. In 1668, such tensions resulted in the well-known murders of the Marquis of Laconi and the Viceroy Camarassa. In general, in the XVII century there were many tragic events, due to plague, famines, crop devastations, brigandage and barbarian invasions.

History – Piedmontese domination

From 1720 on, during the Piedmontese domination, Cagliari gradually lost its role of stronghold. The French Revolution and the popular revolts of 1794 (which reached their apex with the expulsion of the Piedmontese as well as the murders of Pitzolo and the Marquis of Planaria in 1795) can be considered minor events, which did not change anything in the relationship between rulers and ruled. The ruling class was against changes, and just a few enlightened minds stood out against the general dullness. From the early XIX century on, the need of a renewal and modernisation of society increased: the abolition of feudalism in 1838, the complete fusion with the mainland states as well as the suppression of the High Office of the Viceroy in 1847 were the main signs of that evolution. For the first time, a real middle class was born. It was heir to the mercantile traditions of the eighteenth century great families; it was also open to new horizons and more radical changes. The first streetlamps, allowing a slight lighting of some streets of Cagliari, were installed already in 1811. In 1857, the Civic Council approved Cima’s urban development plan, and the defensive works that still today surround the Marina, Stampace and Villanova districts were gradually dismantled. Only Castello has remained completely untouched by those winds of change. Since it was the “aristocratic” and, therefore, conservative district par excellence, it could avoid the damages and destructions that have largely effaced the identity of the other neighborhoods.

From 1900 until today

Between the late1800s and the first decades of 1900s, Cagliari began to look more and more modern. The first real manufactures opened, streets were regularly cleaned and sewers were installed. In the meantime, new public buildings were constructed: the Bastion of Saint-Remy, the new town hall, markets and meeting places. The town gradually expanded in various directions. Towards the Sant’Avendrace area, but mainly to the hills at the foot of the Villanova district; in the direction of Monte Urpinu, but also between Castello and the area of Sant’Ignazio, at the extremities of the old Higher Stampace. From the 1960s on, the San Benedetto district and the neighborhoods round Via Garibaldino and Via Sonnino became the most important town areas. New suburban districts were constructed: Is Mirrionis, Bigia Matta, Cep and Sant’Elia, all densely populated. They were initially – and, in some case, still are – devoid of the essential public utilities. The middle-class districts developed in the areas of Viale Merello, on the Punic Hill (Collina dei Punici) and in the neighborhood of Genneruxi, while, from the 1980s on, the former outskirts became something indefinite, due to the creation of satellite-districts (Mulinu Becciu) and the settlements of the Piana di San Lorenzo and Su Planu. Industrial areas developed along the roads leading out of the town. Today, at the dawn of the XXI century, Cagliari is an urban center uninterruptedly connected with the smaller, neighboring towns of Selargius, Sestu, Quartu Sant’Elena, Monserrato and Quartucciu.
A guide of Cagliari di Antonello Angioni GIA Editrice

Where to stay in Cagliari

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