Ruined stone tower with wildflowers in front
Photographing Public Art,  Ruins,  Sardinia

The ancient stones of Sardinia

Sardinia too offers just such an experience, or rather, 7,000 of them! The Nuragic civilization reigned in Sardinia from about the 18th century BC to the 2nd century AD. Their legacy can be found in the imposing conical stone towers that today still dot the landscape of the island, known as nuraghi (singular nuraghe). Built between 1600 and 1200BCE, these mysterious Bronze Age strongholds were constructed by carefully placing huge, roughly worked stones, weighing several tons each, on top of each other somewhat in the manner of ice blocks in an igloo. Impressively, no mortar was used in the construction.

Looking up at stones forming a dome
Looking up to the apex of one of the subsidiary towers of Su Nuraxi di Barumini

They stand guard over ancient trade routes, river crossings and sacred sites, and can be found nowhere else. So of course we were keen to visit at least one during our short stay in Cagliari. We booked a tour through Get Your Guide and spent a fascinating morning in the company of Dirk, a German but resident in Cagliari for over 30 years. This was officially a group tour but we were the only customers that morning turning it into a private one!

Su Nuraxi di Barumini

Ruined stone tower and low walls
Su Nuraxi di Barumini

The main purpose of the tour was to visit Su Nuraxi di Barumini, one of the best preserved of the nuraghi. The site is UNESCO listed, and their website explains the huge significance of these Bronze Age structures:

Megalithic defensive structures known as nuraghi date from the Middle to Late Bronze Age (c. 1600-1200 BCE), and are unique to Sardinia. Nuraghi are characterised by circular defensive towers in the form of truncated cones built of dressed stone with corbel-vaulted internal chambers. Nuraghi are considered to have initially been built by single families or clans. As Sardinian society evolved in a more complex and hierarchical fashion, there was a tendency for the isolated towers to attract additional structures, for social and defensive reasons.

The Su Nuraxi nuraghe consisted of a massive central tower of three chambers connected by a spiral staircase, originally over 18.5 metres high. The uppermost chamber is no longer standing. The central tower was enclosed within a quadrilobate structure consisting of four subsidiary towers linked by a massive stone curtain wall. The courtyard created by this wall was later sealed with a roof thereby restricting access to the central tower. Surrounding this are the remains of second outer wall and a settlement of circular huts.

Source: UNESCO
Looking up through a ruined stone tower
Looking up through the partly collapsed main tower

Dirk gave us a thorough tour which involved climbing some steep stone steps and squeezing through narrow passages, sometimes both at once. I was pleased I managed everything!

On the top of the main tower a small platform has been constructed (you can just make it out in my photo above). From there we could really appreciate the layout and sheer number of the small dwellings that surrounded it.

Nuraghe Piscu

On the way back to Cagliari Dirk detoured to show us another great example of a nuraghe. The Nuraghe Piscu is a much less extensive site and consequently free to visit. The tower sits in a field of glorious wild flowers, with dark red clover dominating. It made for some great photo ops, especially as by now the early clouds had mostly dispersed and we had it to ourselves for most of our time here. My feature photo is one of many I took!

Village murals

One feature of this area is the large number of murals in the villages. The most famous ‘mural’ village is San Sperate, which we didn’t have time to visit. Back in 1968 a local artist, Pinuccio Sciola, got together with friends to create scenes of village life on its walls. Today it has over 200, but there are many other villages with fewer but nevertheless worth seeing. Some depict historical events, some were part of political protests, and many simply show the rural life of the region.

Villamar is one of the most famous of these villages, and we stopped there briefly on our way to Barumini. We also saw some good examples in the villages near Nuraghe Piscu. So I’ll finish with a small gallery of these works, a reminder to myself that we really should try to go back for a better exploration of them one day! It’s a while since I’ve contributed to Natalie’s Photographing Public Art challenge; maybe these will fit the bill.

NB: a couple of these photos were taken by Chris as I was on the wrong side of the car and Dirk didn’t always allow time for us to get out for a closer look

I visited Sardinia in April 2024


  • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter

    Like Jude, I enjoyed your pictures of the second site more because of the beautiful floral settting. The murals are great too, my favourite being the artist – I really had to look twice to work out what was real and what wasn’t!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, the second site was definitely more photogenic, I was really pleased Dirk stopped there (it wasn’t originally on the itinerary). And I agree, that particular mural has a bit of a trompe l’oeil effect!

  • Heyjude

    I know what you mean about visiting ancient sites. There’s a kind of hush about them. I love the second site you visited (probably because of the flowers) but admire you managing the tricky bits in the first site and sharing them with us. I have never thought of visiting Sardinia, but what you have shown looks rather splendid.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Jude 🙂 These two sites each had their plus points. We learned more history at the first and could appreciate the construction as there were parts that were more intact, and we could explore more thoroughly. But as a photographer I found the second more rewarding, because of the flowers, and we could soak up the atmosphere more as we had it to ourselves until we were about to leave when just one other couple arrived.

  • Teresa

    Wow looks like a wonderful place to visit. The rock formations are great. And love the murals too especially the old man and the old woman, bot with their walking stick.

  • restlessjo

    I love it when you end up on a ‘private’ tour! That happened to us in Braga. The murals are quite unexpected, Sarah, and overall Sardinia looks like a great place to visit. Well done for managing the ‘tricky’ bits and thanks for sharing. Happy weekend!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret 🙂 To be honest, this ancient history was news to me too, until I started to investigate what we could easily visit outside the city of Cagliari!

  • Natalie

    Sarah, What a beautiful island to visit. I’d love to go to Sardinia. The murals are stunning; I especially love the ones with a painter and the woman carrying hay. Your photos of the Nuraghe Piscu also look amazing. Thank you for your PPAC contribution.

  • Marie

    Was looking at Sardinia a few months back but it didn’t work out – it’s still on the radar though and you’ve just confirmed it for me!! I think we’d love it…

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think you would too 🙂 And if you’re going for a full visit rather than a city break, you could spend a few days in Cagliari and then hire a car to tour independently. From what we saw the roads were pretty good and not busy.

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