Each of them has its roots in the past centuries, steeped in family struggles, power games and stories of conquest. The castles of Sardinia are several, scattered from north to south of the island.
1. Castle of San Michele (Cagliari)
Located on the hill of San Michele, it is now perfectly restored and hosts exhibitions, conferences, and cultural events. The structure dates back to the tenth century, at the beginning of the era of the Judicates. Over the centuries, the castle had different functions: it was a point of protection for Santa Igia, the private residence of the Carroz, a noble Aragonese family, a hospital for the sick of the plague in 1652, a barracks for the disabled between 1820 and 1848. Purchased in 1895 by Roberto di San Tommaso, a wealthy private citizen, it was restored by Dionigi Scano and embellished by a pine forest that still extends into the surrounding garden. Many years later, marble slabs from the basilica of San Saturnino, used by the Carroz family to reinforce the structure, were found inside.
2. Castle of Monreale (Sardara)
The Castle dominates the Campidano plain and the view stretches up to Cagliari. It rises on a hill about 280 meters high. It has a pentagonal shape, is surrounded by square and round towers and the ruins of the village that stood at the foot of the hill. The castle had two entrances: one from the north gate, towards Sardara and the Baths of Santa Maria Aquas and one to the west, towards the town of San Gavino.
The first certain documentary evidence of Monreale, the place where the Castle stands, is its transfer to Mariano and Andreotto – judges of Arborea- and to their heirs by King Giacomo II in 1309 so that they could preserve their property. We also know that the castle was inhabited for a long time because of the healing properties of the nearby thermal waters. But the castle was also a prison and a place of execution: Mariano IV had two people executed, in fact, charged of the murder of two Catalan prisoners. It was also a refuge for William of Narbona, after the defeat of the Arborensi in the battle of Sanluri (Sa Battalla) in 1409.
Today only the external walls and the ruins of the ground floor remain visible, but the view from the top of the hill along the entire Campidano is worth a visit, especially at sunset.
3. Castle of Malaspina (Bosa)
At the top of the Serravalle hill, the Malaspina Castle has been guarding the enchanting town of Bosa since 1112. Only the imposing walls and towers remain of its original structure, but the breathtaking view and the frescoes of the small church of Our Lady of Regnos Altos, make it one Sardinia’s most evocative view.
The Malaspina of Spino Secco, simply called “Malaspina” by locals were a Tuscan family, settled in Sardinia in the eleventh century. The choleric character and jealousy of Marquis Malaspina (and apparently also of his ancestors) fed the imagination of the inhabitants of Bosa so much so as to give rise to legends about the structure of the castle itself. A legend says that to avoid that his young wife could be seen on the way to the church, the Marquis built a secret passage under the castle that came out just below the cathedral.
In reality, so far no underground tunnel has ever been found to connect the castle to the city and only many macabre stories remain to this day to frame the Malaspina family.
4. Castle of Doria (Castelsardo)
Contended for centuries by the Genoese, Aragonese and Piedmontese, Castelsardo preserves the magnificent Castle of Doria. Built-in 1102, it is surrounded by walls and 17 towers. The interiors, kept in excellent condition, now house the Museum of the Mediterranean Weave.
The Castle of Doria also has its share of mystery and legends, like any self-respecting castle: it is said that a woman from Bosa, in love with Andrea Doria, was rejected for her excessive exuberance. She became a witch, after having made a pact with the Devil, and took revenge by transforming the valley of Coghinas in a hoard of horses and green knights and foretelling the end of the dominion of the Doria. Seeing the result of the curse from the terrace of the castle, Andrea Doria committed suicide by launching himself into the void.
5. Castle of Acquafredda (Siliqua)
The Castle of Acquafredda is for all Sardinians the castle of Ugolino della Gherardesca, the Tuscan nobleman mentioned by Dante in the Divina Commedia Inferno. The tragic fate, the accusation of betrayal and the condemnation to starvation together with his sons and his two nephews, made him forever a dark character, evocative of death and cannibalism.
Ugolino lived in the castle from 1275, becoming the owner of the vast area from Cagliari to Villamassargia and Iglesias. He chose the castle as his main residence for its favorable location on top of a hill overlooking the surrounding valley.
Today the castle has become a natural monument, as well as an artistic and historical place of great value: its name, established by decree of 1993, is Domo Andesitico di Acquafredda Natural Monument.
6. Castle of Quirra
The Castle of Quirra lays on a hill at 290 meters above the beach of Murtas, a few kilometers away from the small town of Villaputzu.
Today only the perimeter walls and the cistern remain, but even the dirt path towards the top of the hill shows the strategic importance of the Castle in ancient times. The construction of the castle of Quirra dates back to the time of the Judicates: it then passed into the hands of the Pisans and the Aragonese. It remained in the possession of the Carroz family for many centuries and was inhabited by a person we have already seen: the same Violante Carroz, called “the bloody”, who lived for long periods also in the luxury castle of San Michele in Cagliari.
There are still many castles to explore in Sardinia: which ones have you visited? Which ones would you like to visit? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Photo credit Castello di San Michele: Valentina Cugusi