Sardinia beckons with its crystalline blue waters and sun-soaked beaches, dramatic rugged landscapes, eclectic cuisine, and gentle, gracious people. It’s also a mysterious island filled with much to discover reflecting its unique history and geography.
Though the island is now part of Italy, Sardinia produced a culture distinctly its own over the last two millennia. The ancient Nuragic people were its first inhabitants, as far back as 1500 to 460 B.C., and their presence can still be felt in the 7,000 conical “nuraghe” megaliths they left behind.
And the island’s relative isolation has resulted in the development of native vegetation as well as animal species, such as the white donkey of the Asinara.
For those seeking distinctive gastronomic experiences, Sardinian food and wine offer culinary treasures galore. With over 1,100 miles of coastline and an abundant mountain interior, Sardinia features marvelous seafood (what would you expect, given its name!), rustic specialties like roasted pig, and unique breads and pasta preparations, including fregola – a cross between grain and pasta with a nutty flavor and texture all its own.
Moreover, Sardinia is known as one of the five locales in the world with the highest number of centenarians – those living 100 years or more. Why? In truth, there is no definite answer to this question. Some scientists believe that the secret lies in distinctive local DNA; for others, the answer relates to a lifestyle of pastoral simplicity along with Sardinia’s cuisine which epitomizes the healthful Mediterranean diet.
Another thing I especially love are the hundreds of murals, virtual open-air museums, that express Sardinia’s unique cultural identity, customs and traditions, daily life and even political discourse.
Renowned for their poignancy and immediacy, the murals found in the town of Orgosolo, painted in the 60’s, reflect the artistic verve of a group of feuding anarchists.
I hope this whets your appetite for Sardinia as you dream of and begin to plan a post-Omicron sojourn exploring the many cultural and natural glories of the Boot.
The popular expression “dog days of summer” has exactly zero to do with the effects of intense summer heat on our canine friends. Both ancient and celestial in origin, the phrase was translated from Latin to English about five hundred years ago and has since morphed in meaning—a common tendency when people don’t know the true origin of a phrase and seek some plausible explanation … perhaps it comes from a day when the weather is so hot that dogs lie around panting and acting lifeless and lazy; or a day not fit for a dog; or a day so hot even mad dogs and Englishmen can’t handle it. The phrase lives on but the original meaning has been long forgotten.
During Roman times (and back to the time of the ancient Greeks as well) there was a period when the dog star Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, rose and set with the sun. This phenomenon occurred for about forty days between early July and mid-August. The Romans thought the combination of the brightest light of the day, the sun, and what was normally the brightest star at night, Sirius, was responsible for the most extreme heat of the summer season. The star sometimes seemed to glow with other colors, and they believed its reddish radiance augmented the heat of the sun.
Geminus, a Greek astronomer from Rhodes, in 70 BCE had a more accurate view: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the ‘dog days’ but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun’s heat is at its greatest.”
Still, the contemporary interpretation of “dog days” has a certain resonance, maybe even appeal, especially in non-pandemic times when one could venture to the ball park on a summer afternoon: hot dogs anyone?!
Sardinia, a land of contrasts, intense colors, and bold flavors proudly boasts its own special artistry and priceless cultural heritage. In ancient Rome is was called graffiti; today we call it street art or murals. A unique pleasure of exploring this stunningly beautiful island is to discover captivating and varied murals, even in some of the tiniest villages. These are true open-air masterpieces gifted to us by talented local and international artists, some famous and some completely unknown.
Whatever name we use for them, and whatever the technique used by the artist to decorate a public space, Sardinia’s murales serve as something of a collective memory for the community and a way of expressing the personalities and character of these quiet yet warm and hospitable people.
In surprising and colorful vignettes—often depicting historic scenes of village life 100 years ago, featuring the men’s hard work in the fields, the women’s domestic pursuits, and a menagerie of farm animals—the essence of daily life and the connection the Sards share with their beautiful land, their customs and traditions are all touchingly conveyed.
You will also discover murales with subjects that are more whimsical (even cartoony), riffs of famous paintings, or more serious depictions of political events … which is how the tradition of mural painting first began on the island: as a form of political speech in 1969 and the early 1970’s. Artistic styles vary from community to community—Naive, Realism, Impressionism, trompe l’oeil (e.g., windows, verandahs; lines of wash). Some works depict childhood paintings as well as more contemporary and abstract subjects.
Top mural towns include: Serramanna, San Sperate, Villamar, Tinnaura, Bosa, and the town where it all began, Orgosolo, which I have yet to visit. And even if you miss some of these, be sure to look around closely in any the small towns you visit … more often than not, you’ll discover lots of interesting, individualistic artistic treasures.