Sardinian castles, hidden treasures

YiS Team: Roberta Ricci

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Sardinian castles, hidden treasures

There were about a hundred of them, some are intact, others ruins, they carry stories and legends, ghosts and mysteries from the Middle Ages.

From promontories overlooking the sea they looked down on heavenly beaches and from mountain ridges they dominated valleys, at their feet picturesque villages and coastal towns. The castles of the Judicates were built between the 11th and 14th centuries, housing military garrisons and sometimes also serving as noble residences. Having given up their defensive role, they were gradually abandoned: many have been lost, others are now intriguing ruins immersed in the rugged Sardinian landscape, and many have come down to us almost intact.

Every castle has its own mysterious legend, ever-present ghosts, controversial and compelling tales, fed by popular imagination and reworked from generation to generation. Sometimes these tales have been distorted over time, but all of them bear a grain of truth. Stories of bloody battles, unsolved ‘mysteries’, love affairs, prisons, voluntary retreats, kidnappings, torture, escapes and betrayals are told, stories that pervade the watchtowers, the underground passages, the dark halls, the beautiful weapons rooms and the sumptuous dining rooms. The myth that often unites them are the riches stored in coffers hidden in rooms through secret passages. Treasure hunting was always tricky and to discourage the more daring adventurers, the treasure chest was placed next to a similar one but full of muscas maceddas, giant and monstrous stinging flies. Endless labyrinthine tunnels, on the other hand, would have been the escape routes to dodge enemy sieges. Not just stories of men, weapons and ghosts of varying degrees of credibility, in Sardinian castles the protagonists are often women, sometimes mythical figures such as the janas or extraordinary women from history, above all the Judge Eleonora d’Arborea, to whom the fate of many Judicial fortresses is linked.

1. Castle of Serravalle or Malaspina, Bosa

From Serravalle hill it towered over Bosa: from here it surveyed the Temo valley, which runs all the way to the sea. Little has changed since the 12th century, when the castle of the Malaspina nobles was built: the structure is almost intact and the village retains the medieval charm of its history intertwined with that of the castle nobility. It tells the story of the obsessive jealousy of a marquis who had an underground passage built so that his beautiful wife could reach the church away from prying eyes.

2. Castle of Burgos

From the top of a rocky peak, the castle dominates the village of Burgos and the entire Goceano area, with its thousand-year-old forests, now a nature reserve. The inhabitants of the fortress lived through troubled events within its walls, from the sad stories of two beautiful women, Prunisenda, wife of Judge Constantine, and Adelasia, the last queen of Torres who retired to the castle in exile, to those of William of Cagliari and Don Blas of Aragon, whose ghosts are said to still haunt the ruins.

3. Castello della Fava, Posada

The Judges of Gallura built this castle to defend Posada from Saracen pirates. Exhausted by yet another attack, the villagers took refuge in the castle. Aware that they could not hold out for long, they fed a pigeon with a handful of broad beans and wounded it. The bird fell into the Turks’ camp, who, seeing its belly full, gave up the siege, convinced that the castle still had plenty of food reserves. In reality, it was just a few beans.

4. Castle of Sanluri

Outside conventional canons, it is a one-of-a-kind castle, camouflaged among the streets of a welcoming town in the Medio Campidano. It is also the only one that is still inhabited in Sardinia, by the last descendants of the noble family that began converting some of its rooms into a museum at the beginning of the 20th century. Arborensians and Catalans fought for control of the castle for a long time, its position was strategic and its land bountiful, then as now.

5. Castle of Marmilla, Las Plassas

Its name originates from the myth that Mother Nature provided nourishment for the people through her mammae, the gentle, fertile hills of Marmilla. Where else could its castle be built if not atop the most beautiful and perfect hill, overlooking the small village of Las Plassas? Just over 250 inhabitants but home to an innovative digital museum that will immerse you in the daily life of the Middle Ages.

6. Castle of Acquafredda, Siliqua

Charm is its signature feature, whether it be its panoramic position over the valley or the gentle hiking trail to reach the top of the hill, itself a natural monument known as the Domo Andesitico di Acquafredda. Or maybe it’s because of its Dantesque inhabitants: Count Ugolino, the castle’s most famous owner, actually lived here. Vanni Gubetta, one of his torturers, is thought to have been imprisoned in the watchtower, which stands in front of the central keep and is known not surprisingly as the ‘hanging tower’.

7. Castle of San Michele, Cagliari

The view from up there was so beautiful that the Aragonese renamed it Bonvehì. On the hill of San Michele there was once a Byzantine church, then a Christian convent. The feudal lords built an imposing fortified castle on their walls, which has now been given a new lease of life in the name of art, culture and nature. The restoration brought to light the ancient settlements and a network of tunnels whose destination is unknown; this is not unusual for Cagliari, as there is a parallel underground city beneath its surface.

Sardegna Turismo
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