Thursday, November 9, 2017

Adventures on the way back--second part

Sardegna! That's Sardinia, a Mediterranean island province of Italy, though in some ways feeling like a unique country. Halfway between the mainland and North Africa, it is drenched in history from many civilizations.
Sardinia flag

Cagliari is the capital.  It's a little reminiscent of the bits of Portuguese Macau we saw (we haven't been to Portugal proper so can't compare).  Elegant 4 - 5 story OLD buildings.  Charm and a little roughness, just the real-ness of daily life of ordinary people.

From the Castello area of the city--great views.

Random ruins in Cagliari--Roman ampitheater
After exploring Cagliari we picked up a rental car and headed to the southernmost town of Sardinia, Sant'Antioco, which is actually an island connected by a causeway that has existed since  Carthaginian times, so 1200 BC.  Yup, BC.   

The drive from Cagliari was our introduction to the scenery of Sardinia. Many people visit just for the stunning beaches. There are lots of rocky outcroppings, some mountains, palms, cactii, and great views of the sea.  The island is about 50 miles wide and 150 miles long, with a couple of mountainous areas and lots of hills. Many areas are suitable for wind turbines. The vistas and vegetation reminded us of Southern California in spots.

Sant'Antioco was the first Phoenician colony in Sardinia.  We first "met" Phoenicians in Lebanon, where they manufactured the purple dye and Lebanese cedar oil so favored by Egyptian royalty, among others.
The city fell to the Romans during the Punic Wars, having sided with Pompeii against Caesar. 

It was a bit refreshing to find that hardly anyone spoke English :-) . 
We toured a volunteer-run threesome: Ethnographic Museum; Savoy fortress built in 1812 on top of the remains of a Phoenician temple, raided by Barbary pirates in 1815; and a Hypogean (underground) Village that consisted of caves that first were Punic era tombs in the 6th - late 3rd century BC, then abandoned in the 1 st century BC, then used again in the 4th century AD by Christians seeking refuge, and then by poor townspeople who needed housing and lived in them up until the 1970s.  We were to see this mind-boggling layer upon layer of civilizations throughout the island.

Carthaginian necropolis

Hypogeum home entry

Sant'Antioco was a very pleasant town with a lively evening presence along the main street.  It is closed to traffic at 9 pm and pedestrians take over. Lots of cafes, many with outdoor seating, line the streets.  Everyone disappeared mid afternoon, to reemerge at night.  We experienced a street fair one night, and a marching band another.  Street karaoke both nights!
some pavement in Sant'antioco

Sardinia is particularly known for its Nuraghe--remains of a Neolithic civilization dating from 1600 - 9th and 8th C BC.  We were able to see a number of the monuments and dwellings--incredible!

But first, Tharros, which while also a Nuraghic settlement, is better known for being a major Phoenician and then Roman town.  We stopped at Tharros on our way north to the present day city of Alghero.

Roman road


some Neolithic remains at Tharros

Tharros is surrounded by water on two sides.  There is a popular beach nearby

Arrived in Alghero, a beautiful old city with a Catalan feel, it having once been a Spanish colony (14th century).  It is a major tourist locale (lots of Spanish tourists especially) but somehow remains a very vibrant town.

We had a so-so modern hotel, but worth it for the smashing view of the old city, the port and the sea from the 9th floor
We took the "must do" boat excursion to Grotto Nettuna (Neptune Grotto) --we agree: definitely a Must Do!  

Seen in Alghero...

We left the city, the tourists and the beaches for the inland mountains.  We stopped at an important Nuraghe site, Santu Antine. One of the largest and best preserved, it was a royal palace. There was little recent reconstruction here. Absolutely amazing.  Three stories of stone from the Bronze Age, 18th C BC.

the ceiling 

An artist's rendering of the site
Onward to the mountains, and the village of Laconi, where we stayed in a B&B run by super sweet elderly couple. No English...K was able to communicate to a degree with the proprietress who spoke French.

Laconi has a wonderful, large public park (see waterfall pix below) and a remarkable museum featuring prehistoric standing stones which were found in the vicinity.

From the Menhir (standing stones) Museums

We left Laconi to head back to Cagliari for our last day in Sardinia.  We hit one more impressive Nuraghe site, Su Nuraxi, on the way.

Back to the city and a fond farewell to Sardinia.  This time we stayed up in the Castello area.

Goodbye soulful Sardinia !

One more major stop on our homeward journey:  Sicily.  Due to boat/plane timings and the desire to cover Sardinia somewhat comprehensively, we were left with only four full days for Sicilia. 

We started in Palermo, which we had skipped during our first visit to the island.  It is dramatic flying in--with the sea on one side and a sharp hill on the other. The city is in a stunning location, sitting (it seems at least) in the bowl of a large volcano, with shards of mountain peaks on 2 - 3 sides, the fourth open to the sea. 


Sicily is not quite as large as Sardinia but has many more people--5 million vs. 1 1/2 million. The topography is fairly similar. There is oleander everywhere. Wind turbines on many ridges and occasional solar arrays. We didn't notice the abundance of provincial flags as we had in Sardinia-- the Sardinian "Quatro Moori" --four Moors.

Armed only with a poor map and sporadic internet connection on a phone, we set off  through the island to the southwestern town of Sciacca.

On the way we passed a Roman Bridge.
Had to catch a photo of this sign:
Sciacca was not our fave place.  Fishing industry.  Old city up a hill, lacking some of the charm of other  historic districts we've seen. 
 We toured Luna Castle, built in 1380:

chastity belt, anyone?
We were then headed for the town of Modica in the southeast.  Intrigued by the "ruins" icon on the map we made a stop at Eraclea, ruins of an ancient Greek city but actually inhabited since the 6th C BC.  The site is on a bluff with a commanding view of the sea. Here is the forum:

Modica is an amazing town, quite large, and consisting of the Upper, the Lower, and the surrounding area which is newer. It is considered a Baroque town and is listed by UNESCO. Upper and Lower feature gorgeous old buildings, some quite ornate, with many steep walkways connecting the two.

Inside one of the many churches

We understand there is a community of British retirees here.

We visited a cave city--Cava d'Ispica, which was a Neolithic burial ground whose caves were later used a dwellings in the Middle Ages

There was even a gymnasium with stone seats around to watch the action.

Our Sicily time at an end, we drove north to Catania to catch a flight to Rome and on to the US.
Due to a planning glitch of the good sort, we had an extra day near Rome's airport, which allowed us to visit Ostia Antica, the port city of ancient Rome.  

It was amazing and a vast site. Marketplace, temples, necropolis, mosaics--frescoes with reds and some yellows still visible, preserved for so many centuries

Good bye Italia!!!!!!!