Gardens,  History,  Monday walks,  Sardinia

Further explorations in Cagliari: Stampace


When I took you to Castello last week I mentioned that the centre of Cagliari is divided into four districts. The remaining ones are Stampace, La Marina and Villanova. It’s time now to introduce you to the first of those.

The church of Santa Anna, Stampace

While Castello was traditionally the home of nobles, neighbouring Stampace at the foot of the hill was home to the city’s merchants. We didn’t cover as much ground here, but we did spend an hour or so wandering around its streets one afternoon. And we found a few fascinating sights here too.

The crypt of Santa Restituta

This crypt, carved out of the rock, was originally a limestone quarry. It was later used as a place for pagan worship in pre-Christian times. It was believed to have been the site of Saint Restituta’s martyrdom in the 5th century and was thus a key site for Cagliari’s early Christians. The Orthodox Christians then took it over (there are still some remnants of their frescoes) until the 13th century, when it was abandoned. It was excavated in the 17th century, when ancient relics were found, including those assumed to be of the martyr Restituta. This led to a partial restoration of the site and its embellishment with altars and statues.

In WWII the crypt was used as an air-raid shelter, although many died while sheltering here in February 1943. You can still make out the wartime graffiti that covers the walls.

After our visit to Santa Restituta we spent a bit of time exploring Stampace’s streets, ending up in front of the church of San Michele. It has an impressive front and dome but was unfortunately closed, I think for restoration.

Orto Botanico

Stampace was already inhabited in Roman times and their amphitheatre can still be seen and visited; however we ran out of time for this. And the reason we ran out of time is that we were seduced by the botanical gardens and spent too long there! But they have a Roman relic of their own, an ancient Roman cistern, which you can enter. The channels along the sides where water once ran are still visible.

Of course the main point of visiting the gardens however is to see the plants. The gardens are split into three areas: Mediterranean plants, succulent plants, and tropical plants. I found lots to enjoy and photograph, and the shade in some areas was welcome on this hot afternoon.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Monday Walk through Cagliari’s oldest district. And if you’re wondering about the name, its origins are said to be rather gruesome. It is thought to be derived from a shortened form of the Italian ‘stai in pace’ (‘rest in peace’), which was the phrase that executioners used whenever they had to kill someone. In Castello they were paid to execute whoever would have been found outside their homes after the sunset curfew. And it is generally believed that they would say this when throwing the dead bodies over the Castello walls, into Stampace beyond!

In the cool shadows of the crypt something of that dark history might be felt. But finishing in those sunny gardens felt much more apt for the Stampace of today, warm and welcoming.

I visited Cagliari in April 2024


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