Sardinia, land of mystery. Part 1: Tales and unexplained facts
September 12, 2011 Angela Corrias 35 Comments
Bronze-Age stone tower called “nuraghe”
There are many places in the world that are known for their rich culture, oral traditions and unexplainable facts that happen on their soil.
It goes without saying that so far, the most colorful country I’ve been to is Incredible India, with Her unbelievable religious tales, historical heritage and picturesque customs.
I don’t know if it’s because I go straight looking for the quirky side of a destination, or because always more people try to reconnect with their origins, but I’m finding that almost everywhere natives like to indulge in mystery tales that inevitably have that sense of ancestral we need in order to understand where we come from.
Even if with less colors than India, Europe too has its fair share of mystery, and my hometown, Sardinia, the big Italian island off Lazio’s coast, can be certainly included right on top of the list. Here, nobody is surprised when strange things happen.
Interior of the Cathedral in Cagliari, Sardinia’s main city
Natives not only strongly believe it, but they also like to remember them at night during some family reunion, in part to carry on with the oral tradition, in part to keep children from running too far by scaring them with stories of ancient monsters.
Apart from the tales of fantastic creatures, particularly popular here are the legends involving real people and unexplainable events they experienced first-hand, the kind of stories the island definitely doesn’t lack of.
Sardinia is dotted with nuraghi, Bronze-Age stone towers that in the prehistoric nuragic era were used both as stronghold and as habitation. During the summer solstice, for about a week, in the nuraghe called “Aias” in an area known as Mandra Edera, near the town of Abbasanta, around noon the sunlight comes in through the open roof and lights up the interior of the tower.
If during this process a photo is taken inside the nuraghe, it would come out as negative, as opposite of any other moment when photos would come normal. It has happened that a man was photographed during this particular moment, and the pictures showed not only his skeletal system like an x-ray, but also that he had a cancer. This person, in fact, died some months later.
According to some, there are other nuraghi around the island, especially in a region known as “Barigadu“, in central Sardinia, with the same properties, and the only assumption I’ve heard so far is that there are radiations on the stones of this area, and that the very first natives of the island knew about it.
The Cross, core symbol of the Catholic religion
Another unexplainable fact happened in a village near my hometown to a woman nicknamed Zuanna Surda, “Zuanna” meaning “Giovanna” in the local language, and “Surda” meaning “deaf”, again in the local language. Every night, and sometimes daytime too, there was the noise of soldiers marching in her house.
Of course, being Zuanna deaf, she couldn’t hear them, but she could see her furniture shaking, while her son could hear them, and her small daughter even see them parade. After the description, they understood they were German soldiers, and the elderly of the town remembered that during World War II, the village was a camp where German soldiers were based.
Her small daughter fell sick and soon died terrified. As it happens in Italy in these cases, the priest was called many times to bless the house, but since nothing worked, the house was abandoned and is still empty, as nobody wants to live in it anymore.
Sanctuary of “San Costantino”, where apparently the German camp was during World War II
Heading north-east, a while ago another fact happened, and it still makes people shiver. In many villages in Sardinia there is the tradition, on the night between November 1st and 2nd, to leave the table set up and even prepared with food. This is because it’s the night of the dead, and the food is meant for the dead people of the family to have a meal.
This tradition is carried out in central Sardinia, in villages such as Sedilo, but not in the towns of Nuoro province. The morning of the 2nd of November 1987, the relatives of a woman who lived in Nuoro went to visit her, and since she hadn’t picked up the phone nor opened the door, they broke in the house, finding her dead on her bed. They also found the table set up and prepared with a meal.
This woman, in fact, had heard about this quirky tradition that was used in many places, and although in her village nobody had ever done it, she got curious and wanted to try it for the first and obviously only time in her life. Still now her family and friends comment that she has participated herself to the meal she organized for the deceased members of her family, since it was established that she died right after having prepared everything.
Main altar in Cagliari cathedral, Sardinia
These are only some of the countless tales of this kind Sardinia’s oral tradition is rich of. Obviously there can be scientific explanations for all of them, such as that the people involved dreamed everything, or that the woman who died on the night of the dead would have died anyway at the same time, but also these are hypothesis.
Natives don’t even try to give a scientific explanation to such events, which contribute to enriching our already abundant oral tradition, and of course retain the very useful effect of keeping children close to their parents during night-time family gatherings.
In Sardinia, all festivals date back to pagan times, and although they were all incorporated by the Catholic religion, they still keep their ancestral sense of a connection with Mother Nature, exactly like our predecessors meant them to be. Like the festivals, also our oral tradition relates to its pagan origins that the Christian rule, despite all its efforts, didn’t manage to erase.
Sardinia, land of mystery. Part 2: Atlantis’ lost civilization?
September 21, 2011 Angela Corrias 28 Comments
“Nuraghe Mannu” meaning “big nuraghe” in local language, in Dorgali territory
Last week I wrote the first of this two-part series about Sardinia‘s mysteries, and I focused on popular tales, legends and unexplained facts that from time to time still happen. This second and last chapter is devoted to some studies that academics, journalists and researchers are carrying out on the island’s most ancient history.
Traveling to different countries and continents, made me realize that not many people know Sardinia, some confuse it with Sicily, the other big Italian island, more famous, apparently due to Hollywood’s Godfather, others just ignore its existence. I don’t blame them, why should they know about such a small place with all the huge and more exciting countries, cities, regions of the world? They sure don’t have to know it, but one thing is out of doubt: once they come here, they are not very likely to forget about it any time soon.
These researchers, the most committed being journalist Sergio Frau, have been studying the connections between Sardinia and the lost civilization of Atlantis, nonetheless. By all means this Italian island has hidden aspects that travelers can hardly catch and even locals can’t explain. In the first post I wrote about some radiations on the stones of some Bronze-Age towers that can be found in central Sardinia, but this is not the only issue currently under debate.
The Giants’ Tomb in Dorgali territory
Speaking about magnetic fields, in fact, some of the most interesting sites are the so-called “Giants’ Tombs”, prehistoric stone constructions that can be found all over the island. It is believed that lying on one’s back at the main entrance of the tomb for about ten minutes, in total silence and chasing away all thoughts, one has many benefits thanks to the positive energies that the stone releases. Such benefits last quite long, but natives like to repeat the process often, preferably during sunset. Moreover, it’s tradition to take a little stone from the square before the entrance and keep it at home to enjoy its positive properties.
According to historical research, Giant’s Tombs had funerary purposes, but since they are too big to be a single grave, they probably had also other functions that historians are still trying to understand. Maybe more than one corpse was laid there after the burial ceremony, or maybe personal objects of the dead were buried with the owner. Whatever their original purpose was, natives still now enjoy their positive benefits, that may or may not actually exist.
Myself underneath the Giants’ Tomb, in the lookout for some anti-stress effect
The ancestral sense of mystery that covers the island is perhaps due to its tangled history and very much enigmatic origins. Journalist Sergio Frau has been researching our most ancient era and civilization. As he points out, while by reading Homer we can learn the ancient Greek oral tradition carefully reproduced in his writing, the geography he managed to reveal was confined to the Eastern Mediterranean, as it was the only part they knew at his time. In fact, beyond their usual routes, tales become hazy, and the only references concern the Pillars of Hercules, where the known world ended and the Ocean began.
Some of the first mentions of the world beyond the Pillars of Hercules come from Greek philosopher Plato around 360BC, who makes Timaeus say [my translation into English]: “beyond the strait that you call Pillars of Hercules there is an island“, and tells about a huge cataclysm that happened “when the sea flooded Europe“. Still in his dialogues, Plato makes Critias (who seems was either Plato’s great-uncle or his second cousin) talk about the sea of Atlantis, beyond the Pillars, where “there was an island, and from this other islands could be reached, and from these the land that surrounds everything, a real Continent.”
The Giants’ Tomb from behind
Since an exact location for the Pillars of Hercules hasn’t been identified yet, many are the hypothesis. While many tend to associate them with the Strait of Gibraltar, Sergio Frau wants to place them on the Strait of Sicily. Why? Because since they were the edge of what was the known world at the time and the southernmost Sicilian coast was the westernmost end of the Hellenic colonization, it would be logic to consider them in Sicily and the Tyrrhenian Sea as the mentioned “ocean”.
The first Greek geographer to place the Pillars of Hercules on the Strait of Gibraltar was Eratosthenes, despite this fills with mistakes all the reports of successive writers. According to Sergio Frau, ancient Greek writers used to associate the Pillars of Hercules with the Strait of Sicily, between Sicily and Tunisia, but after Alexander the Great’s conquests Eratosthenes felt compelled to “move” the Pillars location to Gibraltar in order to keep Greece as “the center of the world”, despite all the errors this entails.
In fact, if the Pillars were in Gibraltar, it seems like the Western Mediterranean Sea didn’t even exist, since all descriptions mention lands beyond the pillars, which would result right in the Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, distances, rivers’ springs and mouths and durations of trips don’t correspond to reality. For example, how could the “Eridanus“, today’s Po River, flow into the North Sea, since oceans were beyond the pillars? Or how could Sardinia be next to the ocean and the Rhone flow into the Atlantic Ocean while we know for sure its mouth is near Marseille?
A view of the island of Sant’Antioco
So Sergio Frau tried to place the pillars where originally were known to be, in the Strait of Sicily, and walked through the world known by the ancient Greek vicariously through the descriptions given by the writers prior to Eratosthenes, documenting that the myth of Hercules Pillars, like many other legends, has a real place in our planet’s history. Assuming a drop of the sea level of 100 or even 200 mt, Sicily and Malta would be connected to Tunisia by a double strait, other than Gibraltar, placed just at the end of the world known by the ancient Greek at the time, just beyond Agrigento, the westernmost tip where the Greek managed to establish their settlements, since they could have never reached the Tyrrhenian Sea due to the presence of other great sailors such as the Phoenicians.
According to Sergio Frau, by placing the pillars “correctly” on the Sicily Strait, all descriptions of ancient Greek writers start to make sense. Actually this thesis was also brought up by geographer Ptolemaeus, who re-describes in his Map the travels of Rufo Fiesto Avieno, and suddenly all the descriptions of Greek writers that at first sight seemed wrong become right. Why? Simply because of the correct location of the pillars.
With this description the result is, for example, that Tartesso, previously situated in Andalusia, seems to be more logic to be placed it in Sardinia, and is precisely the settlement of Nora; the Estrimnidi Islands actually seem to be the island of Sant’Antioco, and the sea around it, so low that it’s impossible to navigate is simply the shoals around Sant’Antioco, the “ocean” is actually the Tyrrhenian Sea, so it makes sense that Sardinia was “next to the ocean” and that the Rhone flows into “the ocean”. All together it makes sense also to believe that beyond Hercules Pillars there is an island, from which it’s possible to reach other islands, and from these the land that surrounds everything.
So, what if Sardinia actually were the lost Continent of Atlantis?
A view of the lagoon of Sant’Antioco island
In Plato’s dialogues Critias tells a story belonging to the oral tradition that lawmaker Solon had heard from a priest of Sais of ancient Egypt. The priest described Atlantis as a beautiful land full of fertile plains and high mountains that protected it from the cold northern winds, populated with wild and domestic animals, rich in precious metals and plentiful of hot and cold water springs. The island of Atlantis is pictured as a land that enjoys the benefits of a mild climate and that gives more than one harvest per year, and dotted with stone towers, very likely referring to the nuraghi, that now are about 5000 but at that time must have been around 10,000, and must have been undoubtedly noticed by travelers.
In his book, Sergio Frau collects countless analogies between Sardinia (now and in the past) and the Atlantis described by Plato, from the weather to the architecture, from the kings to the army, from the trades to the natives’ loyalty to Poseidon God of the sea. It’s mentioned the great ability of local sailors, the games, the dances, the thermal baths, the elderly, green everywhere, dates concur, as well as the mud that covered the island and the malaria that tormented it.
Architect Paolo Marcoratti has presented a study following the analysis of Plato’s writings and of the land to confirm that the city of Atlantis can be placed between the Gulf of Cagliari and the Plain of the Campidano. The only conflict with Plato’s writings concerns the dates: if Plato by ‘9,000’ meant 9,000 years earlier, it would have been impossible that at the time there could be men who already knew metals and writing, but Critias talks about all this and arms, bronze, carts, so how could this be possible? If instead of years we read ‘9,000 weeks’, that becomes about 750 years prior to Critias, and the discrepancy disappears, since the period of Atlantis’ greatest glory corresponds to the moment of Shardana‘s civilization heyday. Moreover, the similarities between the equipment of warriors Shardana and Sardinia’s nuragic civilization make many researchers claim that Shardana was Sardinia’s local population of sailors, and they can also be the people Plato always refers to as coming from the sea.
A “domus de janas”, literally “fairies’ house”, another prehistoric construction, probably a tomb, but still shrouded in mystery
Another thing that Plato reports is the devastating flood that would have determined Atlantis’ destruction. This too makes sense. In fact this deadly flood can be identified with the huge seism that happened around 1200BC, causing the tsunami that very likely involved all southern Sardinia, completely flooding the Campidano and destroying most of the nuraghi of the area, which, if we visit them today, we still see they are half destroyed (unlike in other areas where they are perfectly preserved) from their southern part and less damaged on their northern side.
In Rome, the prestigious Accademia dei Lincei devoted a conference to such topic, and Sergio Frau explained his theory in front of many researchers, historians and archeologists such as Louis Godart, Mounir Bouchenaki, General Director of the ICCROM, and Mario Tozzi, geologist of the CNR, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, public agency aimed at promoting research on many fields. All the researchers agreed with Sergio Frau‘s thesis of placing Hercules Pillars on the Strait of Sicily as ancient Greek writers had claimed before Eratosthenes, but the theory that identifies Atlantis with Sardinia met the skepticism of Louis Godart, while the geologists of the CNR are on Frau’s side, confirming the tsunami that four centuries before Christ devastated the southern part of the island, bringing to an end the nuragic civilization and maybe the city of Atlantis.
The research carried out so far is very convincing, both scientists and historians are more or less agreeing on moving the Pillars from Gibraltar and don’t rule out the possibility of associating Sardinia with Atlantis. The island fits this explanation also due to the presence in its past of a lost civilization, the nuragic, and geologists support Frau’s argument that one of the biggest nuraghi (Barumini) has been found under a thick layer of mud (after the tsunami).
Land of mystery and unspoken customs, Sardinia never fails to charm travelers, as behind every corner there is something to be discovered. Apart from these researches, which I will keep following, I love to think this is true: how cool would it be to say I come from Atlantis?