The mysteries of Sardinia

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An extraordinary island located in the midst of the Mediterranean sea, ancient and unknown civilizations, imposing megalithic constructions: Indagini e Misteri comes to Sardinia to lead a fascinating adventure. Where the mother earth and the rock merge in a mystic harmony and the sea caresses the quiet banks, deep mysteries are hidden along the history of that magical place. Is it possible the mythical Atlantis, descripted by the philosopher Plato more than two thousand years ago, is located in Sardinia? Moreover, how is it possible that a Templar church exists near Sassari, in a place so far from the lands of the medieval crusades?

 

Sardinia: a magical island which origins from the earth and lives inside the hard rock, as in a millennial embrace. A place where the sea laps ancient beaches, where history, legend, mysteries merge into an arcane and irresistible call. Since ancient times the region has known powerful and prosperous civilizations, but also quite mysterious. The oldest finds date back to twenty thousand years ago, but the most important period of development of the Sardinian populations is the Neolithic (6000-4000 BC). Salient feature of this phase are the numerous ceramic finds engraved by the use of a shell.

 

Prenuragic civilizations

There is mention of some important pre-Nuragic civilizations, such as the culture of Bonu-Ighinu (about 3500 BC) and of San Michele di Ozieri (2700 BC). Particularly relevant are the spirituality and the cult of the dead, attested by finds of extraordinary importance and significance. In this time, collective burials appear (today called domus de janas or fairy houses).

The ancient Sardinians believed that after death the spirit of the dead continued to live in burial chambers. For this reason, these places were carefully adorned and had a basic importance in the pre-Nuragic cultures. Moreover, the religiosity of these peoples was exquisitely linked to the territory and nature, to fertility, including that one of women. Evidence of this cult are the statues, found in good condition, in marble or clay, of the “Mother Goddess”. It represented the heavenly transfiguration of the earthly mother, in the sense of a benign and generous nature.

 

SardiniaThe “Mother Goddess” of the Bonu Ighinu culture, representation from the Civic Museum of Cabras (OR)

 

 The menhirs, called pedras fittas in Sardinia, are linked to the same cult of the prenuragic civilizations. These are megalithic stones embedded in the ground, which represented a phallic symbolism or linked to the female fertility. In particular, one of the meanings related to the menhirs is the “Bull-God”. As the Mother Goddess propitiated the gifts and spontaneous fruits of the earth, it symbolized the fruitfulness of the land in agriculture. In Sardinia there are more than 700 menhirs, arranged in complexes called “sacred centers”, or alone. It is also possible that the menhirs were a representation of the gods. The ancient inhabitants of Sardinia went there in proximity to receive the vital energy, in connection with the mother earth.

 

SardiniaMenhir,  archeological area of Biru ‘e Concas – Sorgono (NU)

 

Sardinia

 

Sardinia

 

Nuragic age

From about 1800 BC a new civilization developed in Sardinia: it is the Nuragic civilization, mostly organized in small tribal nuclei. It takes its name from the most characteristic buildings, the Nuraghes, which still today dominate the landscape of the island.

 

SardiniaNuraghe, archeological area of Santu Antine – Torralba (SS)

 

Since their original conception, the nuraghes were circular megalithic constructions (truncated cones) made by stone. In Sardinia there are about seven thousand nuraghes, many of which are still partially or totally buried. Initially they were characterized by a single room, and were rather isolated from each other. Over time the nuraghes assumed increasingly bold and complex architectural characteristics. The buildings began to be aggregated around a central tower. They were often enclosed by a particular type of ogival roof, the tholoi. In this way nuragic villages were built, and they could contain several hundred people.

 

SardiniaNuraghe,  archeological area of Santu Antine – Torralba (SS)

 

SardiniaRemains of the nuragic village, archaeological area of Santu Antine – Torralba (SS)

 

SardiniaAn altar?

 

SardiniaInterior of the nuraghe, archaeological area of Santu Antine – Torralba (SS)

 

Tholos” cover, archaeological area of Santu Antine – Torralba (SS)

 

Corridor with vault, archaeological area of Santu Antine – Torralba (SS)

 

Models of a nuragic complex, Civic Museum of Cabras (OR)

 

Particularly discussed (and mysterious) is the function that the nuraghes had in antiquity. It has been hypothesized  they could be defensive military outposts, religious and sepulchral temples, simple houses, sheepfolds or even astronomical observation points! The scholar Mauro Peppino Zedda claims that the constructions were built according to precise astronomical rules, and were inhabited by priests-astronomers involved in the observation of the celestial vault. “The Ancient Sardinians were able to establish the timing of the seasons and had spatial references to the earth,” he said.

 

Giants’ grave

Another characteristic monument of the nuragic age is represented by the “tombs of the giants”, so defined because of their megalithic dimensions. These are collective burials with a particular architectural structure. A typical tomb of the giants was surrounded on the outside by a wall and an enormous exedra stone, which served as an imaginary gate to the world of the dead. The deceased could ideally access this afterlife dimension through a small opening at the base of the door. Internally the burial was characterized by a mound in the shape of an upturned boat.

 

SardiniaTomb of the Giants of Imbertighe, Borore (NU)

 

Tomb of the Giants, archaeological area of Corruoe Aidu – Cossoine (SS)

 

Burial of the tomb of the giants, archaeological area of Corruoe Aidu – Cossoine (SS)

 

Near the tombs of the giants were placed sacred stones with a very special meaning. They, called betili, represented the abode of the gods of the afterlife, who had the task of facilitating the passage of the dead. The cult of the dead, and the spirituality connected to it, were deeply felt by the ancient Sardinians, and have no equal in the rest of the world.

 

Betili, archaeological area of Tamuli – Macomer (NU) 

 

Is Atlantis located in Sardinia? 

Is it possible that the legendary Atlantis, the island described by the philosopher Plato, is in Sardinia? It is the thesis proposed by some scholars, among them the journalist Sergio Frau,  which needs a more in-depth study.

In the dialogues Timeo and Crizia (360 BC), Plato describes the mythical island of Atlantis:

 

For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean“.

 

 

According to the story of the philosopher, Atlantis would have been a huge continent located beyond the Pillars of Hercules. For a long time it was believed they were located at the Strait of Gibraltar, but according to Sergio Frau the ancient Pillars of Hercules corresponded to the Sicilian Channel, because this was the last Greek outpost in the Mediterranean Sea. Only after the Romans were they ideally located near Gibraltar.

If the Pillars of Hercules really corresponded to the Channel of Sicily, what great island was there beyond them? Certainly Sardinia! Sardinia is precisely the island that the Greeks believed to be the largest in the Mediterranean Sea (in reality it is the second after Sicily, but this was not known in antiquity).

Historical setting and symbolism

Plato dated the civilization of Atlantis about nine thousand years before the Athenian jurist and poet Solon (about 9600 BC). However the date could be symbolic. Moreover the philosopher reported what Solon wrote while returning from one of his journeys. Solon would have learned of the existence of Atlantis in Egypt. In short terms, the nine thousand years of Plato are unreal, and the epoch in which the legendary island is described could correspond to the period of the pre-Nuraghic civilizations of Sardinia, or even of the Nuragic one.

In fact, it is known from historical sources that the Egyptians fought against a mysterious people of highly skilled sailors and pirates. It was a people coming from the west and from northern Egypt, called “Shardana” or “Sherden”. The assonance with the term “Sardinia” is remarkable.

 

Who were the Shardana?

The existence of the Shardana is attested firstly in the letters of Amarna, a correspondence between the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton and Rib-Hadda. It is certain that Ramesse II succeeded in defeating this people (1278 BC), which was part of a “coalition of sea peoples”. The pharaoh was so impressed by their military ability that he decided to hire a group of them as a personal guard. In a stele in Tanis it is written:

“The Shardana rebels that no one ever knew how to fight, came from the center of the sea boldly sailing with their warships, no one has ever managed to resist him”.

Nowadays there is a lively discussion about who the Shardana were and their area of origin. The most quoted archaeological thesis is that they really belonged to some tribes of the Nuragic civilization of Sardinia.

In support of this thesis, there are numerous Nuragic Sardinian bronze sculptures. They could really depict the brave warriors described by Ramesse II.

In 1974 a casual find at Mont ‘e Prama allowed to know some of the most ancient statues of the whole Mediterranean area. They were called “giants” because of their enormous size, although they were found in fragments and it took several years to reconstruct them. They are the Giants of Mont ‘e Prama. Is it possible that these statues, which once guarded a burial complex, represent Shardana warriors? Is it possible that these are the same warriors described by Plato and Ramesse II?

 

Statue of Mont ‘e Prama, Civic Museum – Cabras (OR)

 

Giant of Mont ‘e Prama, Civic Museum – Cabras (OR)

 

Moreover, even Plato describes the inhabitants of Atlantis as skilled sailors and as grandiose tower builders: just like the numerous nuraghes that characterize the Sardinian landscape.

 

Nuraghe of Santu Antine – Torralba (SS)

 

 

The fate of Atlantis

According to Plato, the fate of Atlantis was marked by an immense tragedy. A catastrophic event caused it to sink into the sea in one day and one night. In fact, the philosopher continues the story in the Timaeus dialogue:

 “But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea“.

Is it possible that the legendary continent of Atlantis was invaded by water, or is it only a myth? If that was the case, and the thesis of this article was correct, Sardinia would also have had a very similar fate.

The journalist Sergio Frau argues that the Nuragic civilization of Sardinia was really hit by a catastrophic event, like a tsunami, that would have submerged the Campidano plain. From this point of view it is actually ascertained the presence, in Sardinia, of some areas submerged in ancient times  and the raising of the sea level by about two and a half meters, so that some cities (like Nora) are still submerged today.

  

Tharros

The city of Tharros could be revealing. The official historiography states that it was an important Phoenician city, but it cannot be excluded that it was built on a pre-existing settlement of the Nuragic age, of which there are no well-preserved traces (village of Su Muru Mannu). Certainly it is known that a portion of the city is still submerged, due to a marine event not yet well specified, which happened at the end of the Nuragic civilization. Furthermore, most of the finds in the city of Tharros were stolen, because the archaeological area was accessible to all and excavations began only in the 1950s. In particular, most of the building material was reused for the construction of the nearby city of Oristano.

It is possible that any findings from a previous settlement, perhaps from the Shardana, have been lost? If this was the case, the thesis that the ancient civilization of Tharros was really swept by the waters remains plausible, just as Plato said about the mythical Atlantis.

 

Tharros

 

 

 

Tharros, on the left the Aragonese Tower

 

Sardinia

 

  Sculpture in Tharros

 

The city of Tharros, after the Phoenician period, experienced Carthaginian and Roman domination. In the Byzantine era it was completely abandoned due to a period of great decline. Of those years (sixth century) remains the wonderful early Christian church of San Giovanni in Sinis, one of the oldest in Sardinia.

 

Sardinia

The church of San Giovanni in Sinis

 

San Giovanni in Sinis

 

Sardinia

San Giovanni in Sinis

 

The correspondences between the marvelous island of Sardinia and the Atlantean myth described by Plato are remarkable. Beginning with the ancient peoples, made up of skilled sailors, builders of towers and brave warriors; continuing with the historical and catastrophic events narrated over time. The investigation has just begun.

 

 

A Templar Church in Sardinia?

Although the early Christian religious buildings in Sardinia are particularly significant, such as San Giovanni in Sinis or the graceful Santa Maria Iscalas in Cossoine, extraordinary examples of unusual architecture are not lacking.

 

Santa Maria Iscalas in Cossoine (SS) 

 

Santa Maria Iscalas in Cossoine (SS) 

 

Among these we mention the Romanesque cathedral of San Pietro di Sorres, located in Borutta. The building probably dates back to the 12th century, in particular between 1171 and 1178.

 

Sardinia

San Pietro di Sorres

 

The Cathedral, and particularly the facade, is characterized by the two-colored alternation formed by basalt and sandstone, typical of the Tuscan Romanesque style, to which San Pietro di Sorres is inspired. The interior consists of three naves with cross vaults.

 

San Pietro di Sorres

 

Beautiful is the Gothic pulpit, located in the right aisle.

 

Sardinia

The pulpit

 

The holy water font

 

An extraordinary peculiarity of the Cathedral of San Pietro di Sorres is it could have belonged to the Order of the Temple in Jerusalem. Numerous stylistic elements of the building would seem to confirm this hypothesis.

 

A Cross Pattée

 

The Knights Templar in Sardinia?

But how would the Knights Templar arrive… in Sardinia? Some scholars propose, looking at the style of the Cathedral, that they arrived together with the Pisans, in defense of the Judicate of Torres, which was under attack by the Saracen raids. It is attested that Gonario II, judge of Torres, was a friend of Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian monks and spiritual guide of the Templars. At the age of forty the judge moved to the abbey of Clairvaux, where he became a monk.

At the beginning of the left aisle of the church there is a stone sarcophagus where another Cistercian monk, Goffredo, bishop of Sorres, is buried. It is interesting to note that a striking cross is carved on it. Is it perhaps a Cross Pattée, so dear to the Knights Templar?

 

Sardinia

A Cross Pattée in the center?

 

If this hypothesis were confirmed, it would represent another important element for understanding the history of Sardinia.

 

Samuele Corrente Naso