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The Nuraghi: Ancient Heritage Of Sardinia 0 Comments

The Nuraghi: Ancient Heritage Of Sardinia

"During the late 2nd millennium B.C. in the Bronze Age, a special type of structure known as nuraghi developed on the island of Sardinia.  The complex consists of circular towers in the form of truncated cones built of dressed stone, with corbel-vaulted internal chambers (progressively smaller as the height increases). The complex at Barumini, which was extended and reinforced in the first half of the 1st millennium, is the best-known example of the unique form of Bronze Age complexes of prehistoric architecture [...] considering the nuraghe [...] an exceptional response to political and social conditions by making creative and innovative use of the materials and techniques available to the island's prehistoric community."

This was UNESCO's presentation, in 1997, recognizing the nuraghi - of which 'Su Nuraxi', Nuragic Village of Barumini, was chosen to represent its vast heritage - as a World Heritage Site.

The Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of cultural criteria, chosen from the ten criteria established and described in the Guidelines for the application of the World Heritage Convention, are:

  • (i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  • (iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  • (iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

What more authoritative introduction to speak about the Sardinian Nuraghi?

Conical trunk-shaped stone constructions present throughout Sardinia, represent the Nuragic civilization, from which it takes its name. The root Nur of the word nuraghe would mean "pile of stones, hollow pile". 

Archaeologists mention the presence of seven to eight thousand nuraghi (about one every 3 km²) throughout the island. It is estimated that not less than 10,000 were built in the second millennium BC, starting in 1800 BC. up to 1100 BC. In the last 150 years, especially after theEdict of the Chiudende was enacted in 1823, which authorized the fencing of the land reverting it from collective properties to private property, the nuraghi became a source of supply for dry-stone walls which still today characterize the Sardinian landscape. 

To describe the nuraghi, which is not easy given the large variety of structures, one could venture a division between the protonuraghe, or "corridor" nuraghe, with spaces on the same plane and the "a thòlos" nuraghe, representing the majority; single megalithic truncated cone constructions with one or more internal rooms, superimposed and covered with thòlos, which in archaeology indicates a circular room, covered with a dome formed by rings of stones that gradually decrease as they close.

Inside, in addition to the circular ogival rooms, there often are smaller rooms, such as niches, warehouses, silos. Sometimes other structures such as fortifications with additional towers and walls were added around the main tower. The walls of the nuraghe are solid and can be four or five meters thick, with an external diameter of up to thirty-fifty meters at the base, at times increasing up to twenty meters.

Frequently they were built on dominant points, on a promontory, on the edge of a plateau or accessing to a valley or to the coast, but were also built in the valleys. Some nuragic villages arise isolated, while others are connected to by fence walls enclosing the huts. The Nuragic populations often lived in villages leaning against the main towers. They were mostly simple huts sets with a roof of trunks and branches, plastered inside with mud or clay, and sometimes insulated with cork. In the last phase of the nuragic civilization, were developed sector huts overlooking a courtyard often equipped with a bread oven. Characteristic are the meeting huts, with a stone seat all around, probably for the assemblies of the village authorities. 

A unanimous idea about the nuraghi function has not yet been asserted and has always been at the centre of controversies between historians and archaeologists. Did they have a military function? Were they simple watchtowers, or even monumental tombs? Sacred places, homes, animal shelters, workshops or astronomical observatories?  The scholar Mauro Peppino Zedda appropriately says that the question "What was the function of the nuraghi?" is an ill-posed question" it is not possible that seven thousand different constructions all had the same function". 

The military hypothesis maintains that the fortress character of the nuraghe, which the thick walls had to withstand the impact of the "krioforoi", the breakthrough battle-rams used by the Carthaginians in the battles against the Sardinians. The height of the isolated towers made it possible to use the nuraghi as watchtowers or, located by keeping visual contact between them, they could define the boundaries. Some argue that they were the residences of "kings" or "clan leaders". 

The votive and religious hypothesis is an alternative to the military one. As proof of this thesis could be the use of names of many nuraghi called "Sa Tumba" of Olbia, "Tumboni" of Girasole, "Su Tumbone", Florinas, "Su Masuleu", San Nicolò Gerrei, "Losa" Abbasanta related to the cult of the dead are "De Su Perdonu" in Nulvi, "Purgatoriu", Dorgali, "De Is Animas", Santadi, "S'Inferru" Sassari. Also, the term "Domo 'e s'Orcu" (house of the Ogre), which names about forty nuraghi and which would refer to Pluto, the Latin divinity of the dead.

The astronomical hypothesis is an interesting alternative theory taken into consideration following their arrangement in the territory in alignments with the stars, and, again according to Mauro Peppino Zedda, inhabited by astronomical priests, confirming the theory that would combine their astronomical and religious use. In fact, the scholar claims that from the towers of the Santu Antine nuraghe it was possible to observe the rising of the sun both at the winter solstice and at the summer solstice, and from the same, you could observe - always at the solstices - the sunset. According to the scholar, from the Santu Antine nuraghe, "the ancient Sardinians were able to establish the temporal scan of the seasons and had spatial references on earth".

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Written by Daniela Toti

In the Photo: Nuraghe La Prisgiona in Arzachena - 30 minutes drive from Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel & Suites

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