A Quick Guide To The Ancient City Of Nora, Sardinia

Located inside the Pula Archaeological Park, Nora has been one of the most important Sardinian cities during ancient times and it is still considered one of the best-preserved, most important historical sites on the whole island. If you are traveling around South Sardinia, it’s definitely worth a visit!

Located in a promontory just a few kilometers from Cagliari, Nora offers much more than some old ruins: located right next to the sea and partially submerged (it was first casually discovered because of a storm surge which brought out an ancient cemetery!), it’s the perfect mix between the breathtaking Sardinian beaches and a history-filled city with 3000 years on its shoulders.

In fact, this city of Nuragic origins has been inhabited by several populations throughout the centuries, and each of them contributed to making it unique and keeping its central role in the Mediterranean sea.

Several teams of archaeologists have been working on excavations and studying the city since about the late 1800s.

FUN FACT: There is a ton of beautiful Roman mosaics underwater, and you can see them if you book a snorkeling tour!

Curious to know more about this city and how to get there to see it with your own eyes? Keep reading and I’ll give you all the information you’ll need!

beaches near Cagliari
Nora is home to a beautiful archeological site

A Guide To Visiting Nora

As I previously said, Nora was founded by the Nuragic people and there’s still some Nuraghe in its proximity, but it reached its golden age a little later when Punic people built a new city with the Nuraghe’s remains. Nora was the crucial exchange point for every merchant who wanted to sell their goods to Sardinia and was therefore well-known by the people of that age.

The most important relic we have from that period is the Stele di Nora, a stone tablet written in an alphabet very similar to the Phoenician-Punic one which is proof of the inhabitants’ constant contact with their motherland.

The stone tablet is the most ancient written document in all western civilization (VIII century BC). It is now located in Cagliari National Archaeological Museum and it’ s the first-ever relic with the name Sardinia (Shrdn) written on it, making it a priceless historic find.

On a hill in the middle of the site, you can see a structure that is commonly acknowledged as the Tanit Temple. Previously thought to be a fort of some sort, more recent studies agree on the hypothesis that it served a religious role rather than a defensive one. Unfortunately, time and the following civilizations haven’t kept the temple in good shape and, nowadays, only the base structure and a pyramid-shaped, 56 cm tall stone (thought to be the altar) can be seen.

You can also still admire the original Tophet (cemetery), which has partially gone underwater. The Stele of Nora was found here. The Tophet served as a cemetery and as a generally sacred area devoted to the Punic Gods Tanit and Baal; it was, like most Tophets, located slightly outside the city.

After winning the Punic Wars, Romans began to colonize Punic cities, and Nora was one of those. Starting from the V century BC, the city became a flourishing Roman colony and, during the Imperial Era, it counted around 8000 inhabitants. Roman buildings and relics are easy to find in the area, with an abundance of private houses adding to the numerous religious and public structures: another sign that Nora was at its peak now.

As soon as you enter the site, you can see a thermal complex (Terme di Levante), which is not the only one in the area: the city was, in fact, famous for its beautiful thermal baths, and four of them are still left there nowadays, in different stages of preservation. The other three are called Piccole Terme, Terme a mare and Terme Centrali.

Once you begin to stroll on the eternal, unbreakable Roman streets, you can see several public buildings: the Foro, a very wide court, the beating heart of Roman politics, which shows once again the importance of the city in the island; the aqueduct complex, essential to the private houses as well as to the public places (especially the thermal baths); an amphitheater that’s yet to be fully excavated and, most important of all, the theater (Teatro Romano).

Nora

This is the only Roman Theater in all of Sardinia and is extraordinarily well-preserved, so much that it’s still used for concerts and shows during the summer. Built in the city center, close to the Foro and the Tanit Hill, it was an essential meeting place for the locals throughout the centuries and has therefore been constantly repaired and modified, causing some irreparable damage as well. It is commonly thought that, during the Roman era, it could host between 1000 and 1200 people.

Another extremely important building is the Santuario di Esculapio. It was built on a previously sacred Punic area, on the southern far end of the Nora Peninsula. You will notice the different building styles when you’ll visit it: the temple has been used throughout all the Punic, Roman Republican, and Roman Imperial eras.

The city began its decline around 500 AC and was completely abandoned in the VIII century because of barbarian and pirates’ constant incursions. The slow but unstoppable rise of the sea level contributed to its depopulation as well.

There is much more to see in Nora than the few sites I mentioned: keep reading and let’s find out how to visit this city!

Sant'Efisio church, Nora
The tiny church of Sant’Efisio in Nora

Practical Information

How to get there

You have several options to get to Nora – so whether you are driving or using public transportation you have the option of visiting this beautiful site.

BY CAR: From Cagliari, take SS 195 towards Pula-Teulada, drive for around 30 kms. Once you reach Pula city center, Nora is just another 3 kms away. Total driving time: around 45 mins.

BY BUS: From Cagliari ARST station, in Piazza Matteotti, take the bus to Pula (Bus Cagliari-Sant’Anna Arresi). There’s one every hour. Once you’re in Pula, you will find a shuttle bus called “pollicino” that will bring you to Nora in around ten minutes. Shuttle buses run roughly every hour from 7:13 am to around 6:00 pm.

Another option is to visit Nora on guided day trips from Cagliari. You can book yours here.

Nora Opening Hours

The site observes the following opening hours:

Summer: Every day from 9.00 am to 9:00 pm.
Other times of the year: Every day from 9.00 am to one hour before sunset.

Tickets

Admission fee for Nora Archeological Site is €6 for adults. Kids under 6 years of age can visit for free; whereas up to 18 they pay €3.50. Students pay €3.

Groups of more than 20 people pay €5 per person, but must book in advance by sending an email to norascavi@gmail.com.

Other Useful Information

Please make a not of this other important information:

  • It is forbidden to walk on the mosaics and to touch the walls.
  • It is not allowed to enter the site wearing only a swimming suit.
  • Dogs are admitted if kept on a leash.

Other Nearby Places to Visit

Not far from Nora Ancient City you will find other interesting places to visit, to make this a full day trip. Here they are:

NORA BEACH – Famous for the cliffs that keep its water crystal clear and always calm, blocking the strong winds.

SANT’EFISIO CHURCH – A Romanic Church which is an important part of the Sant’Efisio rituals that are celebrated each May in Cagliari and Pula.

TORRE DEL COLTELLAZZO – A fort specifically built to protect the area from pirates.

Further Readings

Make sure to read my other posts:

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Read what you need to know about the ancient city of Nora - via @c_tavani

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