From Dervishes to Samba - Fall 2011 travel blog

Nora bathouse

another view

mosaic floor

a view of the sea

Cagliari panorama

huge fortifications

narrow lanes

Norman church


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making cheese

We’ve never been to Sardinia before and one brief visit doesn’t make us experts, but our stop here today was to an island that is busy living life rather than catering to tourists. The fact that it only gets about ten cruise ship visits a month rather than eight a day like in Malta could be a factor. This second largest island in the Mediterranean is about as close to France as it is to Italy. While locals speak Italian today, it has some French mixed in and the original local language Sardon is the closest to ancient Latin of any living language. While a third of the 1.7 million residents live in Cagliari the capital, a quick drive out of town took us past vast marshes that have become a favorite breeding place for flamingos. Unfortunately for us nearly all of them left last month to travel to warmer climes for the winter.

We drove to the archeological ruins at Nora, a city founded in the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians. Nora faced Tunis only 150 miles away rather than Rome, which is twice as far away. It was the first commercial harbor in Sardinia and the original capital. As various conquerers came and went layers were added on to the city. For example, once the aqueducts brought in running water the cistern collection channels were covered over. Our guide described it as a giant lasagna. At is height Nora had about 25,000 residents. However, it had two major mishaps that lead to its downfall. First its politicians chose the losing side in the competition between Pompey and Julius Caesar. By the seventh century it suffered frequent attacks by Islamic pirates and the city was moved inland for safety and the port area was abandoned. Unlike many archeological sites in this part of the world, no modern city was built there and the remains are here for the digging. Today’s sea level is considerably higher than it was then and archeologists are still finding significant building sites under the waves. Nora was a spot that clearly was inhabited, but is in such bad shape today, that we had to use our imaginations to visualize the baths, apartment buildings, and cisterns our guide seemed to see in the rubble. As our guide said, it would have been much more impressive if it had been covered over with lava like Pompeii.

Our next stop was to a local vineyard which makes its own bacon, sausage, bread, and cheese in addition to great wine. Huge trays of samples were laid out for us and we ate so enthusiastically one could not guess that we had just spent a week pigging out the cruise ship. The shepherd brought a few gallons of sheep’s milk and made pecorino cheese on the spot. Normally the cheese is aged from two to eighteen months, but the samples we had as soon as he finished were fresh and sweet. The extensive vineyards were all covered with white netting to keep the birds away from the crops.

Our final stop was a walk through Cagliari. Every invader that came along added to the thick walls, fortifications and gate structure of this fortified city. Photographs cannot convey the mass of all these structures. Today cars struggle to wend their way between the thick walls down the narrow ancient lanes.

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