City (pop., 2001 prelim.: 158,351), capital of Sardinia, Italy. Located on the southern coast of the island of Sardinia, Cagliari was founded by the Phoenicians. Held successively by Rome, the Saracens, Pisa, Spain, and Austria, it passed with the rest of Sardinia to the house of Savoy in 1718. Long the military headquarters of the island, Cagliari was bombed heavily in World War II. The rebuilt harbour is Sardinia's principal port.
Learn more about Cagliari with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Cagliari (Casteddu) is the capital of the island of Sardinia, a region of Italy. Cagliari's Sardinian name Casteddu literally means the castle. It has about 160,000 inhabitants, or about 500,000 including the suburbs (metropolitan area): Elmas, Assemini, Capoterra, Selargius, Sestu, Monserrato, Quartucciu, Quartu Sant'Elena.
Under the name of Karalis it was established around the 7th century BC as one of a string of Phoenician trading colonies in Sardinia, including Sulcis, Nora, and Tharros, that were founded from Tyre. Its foundation is expressly assigned to the Carthaginians (Paus. x. 17. § 9; Claudian, B. Gild. 520); and from its opportune situation for communication with Africa as well as its excellent port, it doubtless assumed under their government the same important position it occupied under the Romans. It passed with the rest of the island first sothhe ther utyr they. No mention of it is found on the occasion of the Roman conquest of the island; but during the Second Punic War, it was the headquarters of the praetor, T. Manlius, from whence he carried on his operations against Hampsicora and the Carthaginians (Livy xxiii. 40, 41), and appears on other occasions also as the chief naval station of the Romans in the island, and the residence of the praetor (Id. xxx. 39).
Florus calls it the urbs urbinum, or capital of Sardinia, and represents it as taken and severely punished by Gracchus (ii. 6. § 35), but this statement is wholly at variance with the account given by Livy, of the wars of Gracchus, in Sardinia, according to which the cities were faithful to Rome, and the revolt was confined to the mountain tribes (xli. 6, 12, 17). In the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey, the citizens of Caralis were the first to declare in favor of the former, an example soon followed by the other cities of Sardinia (Caes. B.C. i. 30); and Caesar himself touched there with his fleet on his return from Africa. (Hirt. B. Afr. 98.) A few years later, when Sardinia fell into the hands of Menas, the lieutenant of Sextus Pompeius, Caralis was the only city which offered any resistance, but was taken after a short siege. (Dion Cass. xlviii. 30.)
No mention of it occurs in history under the Roman Empire, but it continued to be regarded as the capital of the island, and though it did not become a colony, its inhabitants obtained the rights of Roman citizens. (Plin. iii. 7. s. 13; Strabo v. p. 224; Mela, ii. 7; Itin. Ant. pp. 80, 81, 82, etc.) After the fall of the Western Empire it fell, together with the rest of Sardinia, into the hands of the Vandals, but appears to have retained its importance throughout the Middle Ages.
Claudian describes the ancient city as extending to a considerable length towards the promontory or headland, the projection of which sheltered its port: the latter affords good anchorage for large vessels; but besides this, which is only a well-sheltered road-stead, there is adjoining the city a large salt-water lake, or lagoon, called the Stagno di Cagliari, communicating by a narrow channel with the bay, which appears from Claudian to have been used in ancient times as an inner harbor or basin. (Claud. B. Gild. 520-24.) The promontory adjoining the city is evidently that noticed by Ptolemy (Κάραλις πόλις καὶ ἄκρα), but the Caralitanum Promontorium of Pliny can be no other than the headland, now called Capo Carbonara, which forms the eastern boundary of the Gulf of Cagliari, and the southeast point of the whole island. Immediately off it lay the little island of Ficaria (Plin. l. c.; Ptol. iii. 3. § 8), now called the Isola dei Cavoli.
Subsequently ruled in turn by the Vandals and the Byzantine Empire, Cagliari became the eponymous capital of an independent kingdom or giudicato, ruled by a giudice or judike (literally "judge"). However, there is some evidence that during this period of independence from external rule, the city was deserted because it was too exposed to attacks by Moorish pirates from the sea. Apparently many people left Cagliari and founded a new town (named Santa Igia) in an area close to the Santa Gilla swamp on the west of Cagliari, but distant from the sea. The giudicato of Cagliari comprised a large area of the Campidano plain, the mineral resources of the Sulcis region and the mountain region of Ogliastra. There were other three independent and autonomous giudicati in Sardinia: Logudoro (or Torres) in the northwest, Gallura in the northeast, and in the east the most famous, the long-lived Giudicato of Arborea, with Oristano as its capital.
During the 11th century, the Pisan republic which had previously seized the Sulcis region in the south east, conquered the Giudicato of Cagliari and re-built the town itself. Pisa was one of the four Italian "maritime republics" that during the Middle Ages fought for control of the Mediterranean Sea and its commercial routes. The other maritime republics were the short-lived Duchy of Amalfi, Genoa, and Venice. Pisa and Genoa had a keen interest in Sardinia because it was a perfect strategic base for controlling the commercial routes between Italy and North Africa.
Some of the fortifications that still surround the current district of Castello (Casteddu 'e susu in the Sardinian language) were built by the Pisans, most notably the two remaining white limestone towers designed by architect Giovanni Capula (originally there were three towers that guarded the three gates that gave access to the district). Together with the district of Castello, Cagliari comprised the districts of Marina (which included the port), Stampace and Villanova. Marina and Stampace were guarded by walls, while Villanova, which mainly hosted peasants, was not.
In 1089, Constantine Salusio de Lacon appeared with the title of rex et iudex Caralitanus ("King and Judge of Cagliari").
By the end of the 18th century, after the French Revolution, France tried to conquer Cagliari because of its strategic role in the Mediterranean sea. A French army landed in the Poetto beach and moved towards Cagliari, but the French were defeated by Sardinians who decided to defend themselves against the revolutionary army. People from Cagliari hoped to receive some concession from the Savoys in return for their defending the town: for example, aristocrats from Cagliari asked for a Sardinian representative in the parliament of the kingdom. When the Savoys refused any concession to the Sardinians, inhabitants of Cagliari rose up against the Savoys and expelled all representatives of the kingdom and people from Piedmont. This insurgence is celebrated in Cagliari during the "Die de sa Sardigna" (Sardinian Day) on the last weekend of April. However the Savoys regained control of the town after a brief period of autonomous rule.
During World War II Cagliari was heavily bombed by the Allies in February 1943. In order to escape from the bombardments and the misery of the destroyed town, many people left Cagliari and moved to the country or rural villages, often living with friends and relatives in overcrowded houses. This flight from the town is known as "sfollamento" (deserting).
After the Italian armistice with the Allies in September 1943, the German Army took control of Cagliari and the island, but soon retreated peacefully in order to reinforce their positions in mainland Italy. The American Army then took control of Cagliari. Cagliari was strategically important during the war because of its location in the Mediterranean Sea. Many airports were near Cagliari (Elmas, Monserrato, Decimomannu, currently a NATO airbase) from which airplanes could fly to Northern Africa or mainland Italy and Sicily.
After the war, the population of Cagliari rebounded and many apartment blocks were erected in new residential districts, often created with poor planning as for recreational areas.
In the last years a great urban development was started in Cagliari. New projects include the new Betile museum for Nuragic and modern art, designed by the Prizker Award winner Zaha Hadid: it will rise on the Sant'Elia promenade. Another already started project is the Cagliari metro: the first line is already running from Piazza Repubblica to Monserrato, one of Cagliari suburbs, and will be soon connected to University campus; works for other lines to all the city suburbs and the airport will be soon started. The promenade from the old harbour to Sant'Elia will be totally restored. The old port in Via Roma, now to be used only as tourist and cruise port (where the cruise terminal is already finished), will be closed to ferry-boats, which will be moved to the new port in “porto canale”.
All Sant'elia district will be changed, the old ruined palaces will be demolished and a new district designed by Rem Koolhaas will rise. Also the Stadium will be demolished and rebuilt as a new stadium, with 25,000 covered seats, usable for concerts and events too. On the promenade will also rise a great amphitheatre (20,000 seats) for concerts, as well as an aquarium where now is the old salt production plant. Other projects include the new district near the Santa Gilla pond (Piazza Santa Gilla), a luxurious beauty-center on the Poetto beach, where now is the old abandoned “Marino” hospital, the new university campus, designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, and the new “Parco della musica”, a great park with an amphitheatre and fountains, channels and water-games, between T-hotel and the Civic Theatre; the latter will be finished by the end of the year, while the other works will be finished by 2010-2011.
The old part of the city (called Castello, the castle) lies on top of a hill, with a wonderful view of the Gulf of Cagliari (also known as Angels Gulf). Most of its city walls are intact, and feature the two 13th century white lime-stone towers, St. Pancras Tower and the Elephant Tower. The local white lime-stone was also used to build the walls of the city and many buildings. D. H. Lawrence, in his lively memoir of a voyage to Sardinia, Sea and Sardinia, undertaken in January 1921, described the effect of the warm Mediterranean sun-light on the white lime-stone city and compared Cagliari to a "white Jerusalem".
The Cathedral was restored in the 1930s turning the former Baroque façade into a Medieval Pisan style façade, more akin to the original appearance of the church. The bell tower is original. The interior has a nave and two aisles, with a pulpit (1159-1162) sculpted for the Cathedral of Pisa but later donated to Cagliari. The crypt houses the remains of martyrs found in the Basilica of San Saturno (see below). Near the Cathedral is the palace of the Provincial Government (which used to be the island's governor's palace before 1900). In Castello is also the Sardinian Archaeological Museum, the biggest and most important regarding the prehistoric Nuragic civilisation of Sardinia. Finally, Castello hosts many craftsmen workshops in its tightened and scenic lanes.
The Basilica di San Saturnino is one of the most important Palaeo-Christian monuments in Sardinia. Dedicated to the martyr killed under Diocletian's reign, Saturninus of Cagliari (patron saint of the city), it was built in the 5th century. Of the original building the central part remain and the dome, to which two armes (one with a nave and two aisles) was added. A Palaeo-Christian crypt is also under the church of San Lucifero (1660), dedicated to Saint Lucifer, a bishop of the city. This has a Baroque façade with ancient columns and sculpted parts, some of which found in the nearby necropolis.
The Chiesa della Purissima is a church from the 16th century.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria was built by the Aragonese in 1324-1329 during the siege to the Castle in which the Pisan had took shelter. It has a small Gothic portal in the façade and in the interior houses a wooden statue of the Madonna, which was thrown off by a Spanish ship and landed at the feet of the Bonaria hill. The cloister of the convent is home to the Marinery Museum.
The other early districts of the town (Marina, Stampace, Villanova) retain much of their original appeal and still seem to function as distinct villages within the town.
Considerable other remains of the ancient city are still visible at Cagliari, the most striking of which are those of the Roman Amphitheatre, carved into a block of rock (the typical lime-stone on which Cagliari is built), and of an aqueduct; the latter a most important acquisition to the city, where fresh water is scarce. There exist also ancient cisterns of vast extent: the ruins of a small circular temple, and numerous sepulchres on a hill outside the modern town, which appears to have formed the necropolis of the ancient city. (Smyth's Sardinia, pp. 206, 215; Valery, Voyage en Sardaigne, c. 57.) The Amphitheatre still stages open-air operas and concerts during the summer.
The districts built in the 1930s spot some nice examples of Art Deco architecture and some controversial examples of Fascist neoclassicism, such as the Justice Court (Palazzo di Giustizia) in the Republic Square. The Justice Court is close to the biggest town park, Monte Urpinu, with its pine trees and artificial lakes. The park includes a vast area of a hill. The Orto Botanico dell'Università di Cagliari, the city's botanical garden, is also of interest.
Cagliari has one of the longest beaches in an Italian town. The Poetto beach stretches for 13 km and was famous for its white fine-grained sand. A recent controversial intervention to save the beach from erosion has slightly altered the original texture of the sand.
Tourism is also one of the main economical intakes of the city.
Cagliari has a Mediterranean Climate, with hot and dry summers and very mild winter. Its climate is comparable to the South-Californian one, but it is often refreshed by north-westerly winds. It is close to other beautiful seaside locations, such as Maddalena Beach, Chia or Villasimius, still relatively unspoilt by tourism and is also close to mountain parks, such as Monte Arcosu or Maidopis, with large forests and wildlife (Sardinian deers, wild boars, etc.).
Life in Cagliari has been vividly depicted by Sergio Atzeni, who set many of his novels and short stories, such as Bakunin's Son, in ancient and modern Cagliari.
A church in Cagliari gives its name to Buenos Aires. The Spaniard who founded Buenos Aires visited the church of Bonaria (fair winds) and asked for help from the Mary of Bonaria, to whom the church is dedicated. The church faces the sea and was allegedly built where a sailor landed after the Mary of Bonaria appeared in the midst of a tempest and saved the sailor and his ship from sinking.
It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Cagliari.
The main opera house of Sardinia, Teatro Lirico, has its quarters in Cagliari.