There were quite some things that I could recall of Sardinia when I last visited the island with my parents about three decades ago as a child. The beautiful turquoise sea, for example, the rocky silhouette of the Northern shoreline or the elegant fisher villages like Santa Teresa Gallura or Porto Cervo. I remembered the brisk ocean breeze that even on sunny days made you hold your hat while wandering the beautiful island and the extremely friendly local people who made you feel welcome straight from the beginning.
So I was more than enthusiastic to revisit one of the Mediterranean jewel´s back as a grown up. Catching up on what (if anything) had changed on the Mediterranean second largest island.
Cagliari in the South is the capital and at the same time largest city around. Sardinia is classified as an autonomous Italian region which makes it belong to Italy, yet operating under regional laws. Other than the mainland or Sicily, Sardinia is not earthquake-prone. The characteristic nature is of ancient geoformation and partly over 500 million years old.
Its rich history is omnipresent throughout and there are quite a number of historic sites to visit from the different colonial eras around the island. But even Cagliari holds a lot of fantastic sights to see and which I was ready to explore myself on this beautiful Spring day.
The amazing historic part of town thrones surrounded by majestic city walls above the city and is easily accessible from the port. It was established by the Phoenicians in 800 BC and underneath the rule of the Carthaginians evolved to a true urban city.
Today, there are quite a number of testimonials of the Roman period still present, like the Anfiteatro Romano, for example (you can enjoy the best view onto the premise from Via Frate N. da Gesturi).
There is an information stand right outside the cruise ship which holds city maps and very helpful locals to answer any questions you may have. A free shuttle bus is offered by the port authority to the port´s entrance, where you can directly book any excursions or beach tours from local tour operators.
As it was my first time to the city, I decided to simply discover it for myself and began walking up the hills towards Bastione di St. Remy. A striking staircase leads up to the fort from where you enjoy almost 360 degrees excellent panoramic views over the entire city and the historic neighborhoods of Villanova and Castello.
I followed up the romantic alleyway towards Piazza Palazzo where two magnificent highlights of old Cagliari were waiting for me. At first the impressive Cathedral. Built in the 13th century and stuffed with amazing sacred art dating back to the 12th, 13th and 16th centuries it also holds a beautiful crypt underneath the altar.
Just a stone´s throw up the square I payed visit to Palazzo Regio, the Royal Palace. For only 1,50€ you can visit nine rooms of the former home of the King of Italy. Built around 1337, the palace was used as a viceroy during the Pisan presence and showcases the style elegance of these times.
I followed up the hill Via P. Martini towards Cittadella dei Musei which holds the National Archeological Museum and National Art Gallery, if you are interested to dive a little bit more into the art, history and architecture of Sardinia. The complex was formerly used as a military arsenal and offers a fantastic outlook over the surrounding area and is accompanied by the gorgeous Porta Cristina.
Passing through the gate will bring you more or less directly towards the Roman amphitheatre which dates back to the 2nd century AD. But first, take a seat in the shadow on one of the iron cast benches and get yourself a little refreshment at the little kiosk. The view from up here is simply beautiful.
Make a turn around the Amphitheatre and follow Via S. Ignazio da Laconi down the hill again. This will bring you directly towards the city´s Botanic Garden. The entrance to the garden only is 4€ and can be combined with a visit to the Municipal Art Gallery. This is a tranquil retreat and popular hideaway for the locals to enjoy a little shadow from the sun. Apart from that, the park gives great insight into the various flora of Sardinia.
From the garden, it is only a few minutes walk to the gorgeous Church of St. Michele. This typical Jesuit church was consecrated in 1738 and is considered to be the finest example of Baroque architecture in Cagliari. Beware its opening hours though! Mo – Fri 08:00 – 11:00, 19:00 – 20:30, Sun 09:00 – 12:00, 19:00 – 21:00.
Up the hill lies the public hospital Ospedale S. Giovanni di Dio. Even though I could not tour this wonderful neoclassical building as it is still in service as a hospital, it is still recommendable to pay at least visit to the entrance hall. The walls date back to 1842 and it is one of these buildings that fascinate by the morbid atmosphere. It could well be used as a film set for a horror movie.
Crossing the parking lot in front of the hospital´s main entrance and taking the little path up the hill led right back into the beautiful Castello neighborhood. I took a moment to enjoy the gorgeous view from up here before I entered the historic area once again.
The map stated an area called the “Jewish Ghetto” which I was interested to visit. When researching for this post, I found out though that the name was an attribution error and that it referred to a single building only. Indeed, near the barracks lied an area where a Jewish community used to live, right in between Via Santa Croce and Via Stretta. Presence of Jews in Cagliari is attested since 1492!
Nevertheless, this area was in my opinion one of the most picturesque zones of ancient Cagliari and I took quite a while to inhale the strongly present history in the narrow alleyways.
By the time I was finished with my exploration, I was hungry and craving for a healthy Mediterranean lunch snack. To my rescue came the wonderful Caffe Libarium Nostrum with its gorgeous outdoor terrace and an amazing view over the entire city and the port. I chose a refreshing caprese and the salad of the house with bresaola in an orange juice dressing. Delizioso!
After being re-energized, I slowly mounted down the hill towards the port again. The side streets around Piazza Yenne, the city´s main square, feature lots of stylish boutiques and shops that are worth having a look at. The La Rinascente branch on Via Largo Carlo Felice shortly before Piazza G. Matteotti is also a great tip for shopping Italian homewares or kitchen goods. Most of their department stores also feature a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a cappuccino or a drink in a stylish atmosphere.
The day had passed far to fast! And as I stood by the reeling watching Cagliari getting smaller and smaller before disappearing on the horizon, one thing was absolutely clear: I would come back sometimes. Ciao, bella, a presto e tanti saluti!