There are an astonishing 7000 nuraghi and other pre-historic structures dotting the Sardinian landscape. These constructions, including menhirs, complex graves, sanctuaries and the famous towers form part of the view as much as the towers of mediaeval churches punctuating the flat lands of East Anglia. A nuraghe is basically a round tower, but as the centuries went by, they became increasingly complex, often with additional, smaller towers around the central one, connected by curtain walls, containing wells. Essentially they are castles, built thousands of years before feudal Europe discovered the need for such things.
One of the best preserved is Santu Antine near Torralba; there are some more pictures in the album
. The complex sits in the middle of pasture and hay fields, the next tower in clear sight a few miles away. In the picture above we are on the top of the central tower, which was originally about 80 feet and three storeys high. The separate floors are still obvious inside, with various mysterious niches, slitted windows and high stairs. There are then three two-storey towers connected by thick walls. Tunnels run inside the walls, which with light and plaster would be high, narrow corridors. Around the main nuraghe were about ten huts.
These complex constructions started to be built in the early Bronze Age, in 1800-1500BC, and continued through to the early Iron Age, in 900-500BC, Santu Antine's main central tower going up in around 1600BC. This makes the heavy, dressed stones that make the upper layers all the more remarkable.
Nuraghi were obviously defensive in nature, in a society which has seen millennia of local warfare and vendetta. Their spiritual and social context is much less well understood. Such buildings obviously required organisation and direction, but whether the builders worked in any sense co-operatively, or were serfs driven by overlords, isn't known. They left buildings and statues and bronze pieces, but not writing.
It s clear that there was trading and cross-cultural fertilisation between Sardinia and other cultures, for example the similarity of Santu Antinu to Mycenean Tiryns, or bronze grave gifts that are very similar to work from Minos and Cyprus.
The nuraghe is a strange place, filled with wind and time. They are so old, so much mirror and maker of the landscape, have seen so much and yet held their secrets. We scrambled around, nattering about history, memory and imagination, finding it almost impossible to see what life had been like in this stone pile, surrounded by rich farmland and constant enmity.
This was the highlight of a couple of days car-touring. We made ourselves car-sick on the beautiful twisty roads of the centre of Sardinia, but enjoyed visiting some of the smaller centres. Nouro is particularly nice, with a sweet old town. It is the birthplace of Nobel laureate, novelist Grazia Deledda. It now prides itself as a home to makers, artists and writers and we saw some good, original work, particularly in ceramics.