If you are planning a trip to South Sardinia, you’ll probably have already thought about visiting Cagliari. Other than being a historical city, Cagliari is also a great place to stay, since from there you can reach almost every beach in the southern part of the island.
You have probably read about Cagliari in one of my other posts, in this one I will focus on Cagliari Underground. That’s right! Cagliari is an ancient town built on limestone hills, therefore there are plenty of natural caves that lie beneath.
Through history, the city has seen the passage of many civilizations such as the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Romans. These civilizations had a great influence on the town structure, as they built various burial grounds and dug other caves in order to extract stones. Other tunnels where created during WWII, to protect citizens from airstrikes. In fact, Cagliari was heavily bombed by the Allied forces in 1943.
All these caves and tunnels intertwine in the underground part of the city and they are an important part of its history.
I recently joined a guided tour of the underground city (you can check it out here) and thought it was so interesting that I decided to write about it. Curious to find out more? Continue reading!
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Cagliari.
What To See In Cagliari Underground
The underground part of the city has various monuments to visit. Not all of them are included in a guided tour of Cagliari Underground.
Crypt of Saint Ephysius
As the legend has it, the crypt was used as a temporary prison for Saint Ephysius (Sant’Efisio in Italian), the patron of Cagliari, before his execution. In the crypt, you will see an altar, decorated with Spanish “azulejos” and the stone column used to tie and whip the Saint, in order to make him renounce his faith. The cave was probably pre-existent, used by the Carthaginians as a temple for the goddess Isis.
Crypt of Santa Restituita
A testimony to the history of Cagliari, the crypt of Santa Restituita, found in the Stampace District, was a place of worship for the Phoenicians and then for the Christians.
Like many other underground caves, the crypt was transformed in a shelter during WWII. After the war, the crypt was abandoned until the 1970s, when it was finally renovated.
The crypt used to have sacred paintings on the walls, of which the renovation managed to save only one depicting Saint John. There are two altars in the crypt: one with the statue of Saint Restituita and the other with simulacrums of other saints.
Head over to my post A Quick Guide To Stampace, Cagliari.
“Don Bosco” bomb shelter
An old 18th century underground tunnel made for military purposes, the “Don Bosco” bomb shelter transformed in a bomb shelter during WWII. The tunnel was built in a wall of rock and consists of corridors that can be accessed via secondary (invisible unless you know where to look) entrances.
These entrances were closed at the end of the war, but it is interesting that most of them were accessible from private courtyards – the main gate was in the yard of the Don Bosco school, which is open to date.
The “Don Bosco” bomb shelter has also rooms, built to ensure the safety of the citizens. Of course, the comfort was at minimal levels, with only a few benches where people could sit and wait for the bombing run to end.
An ancient Carthaginian necropolis in the earth of Cagliari, Tuvixeddu holds a part of the city’s ancient history. It is the largest necropolis in the Mediterranean basin, with burial sites made from the limestone. Moreover, archaeologists discovered many wall paintings of Carthaginian origin, depicting flowers, animals and mythological beasts.
In the modern age, the Tuvixeddu Necropolis became a residential and industrial area until the people living there were finally evicted at the beginning of 2000, when new excavation and renovation works started.
Well of San Pancrazio
Dating back to the 13th century, the well of San Pancrazio and its fountain were an important water supply for Cagliari until the 19th century, when the well was rebuilt underground and then closed for the high maintenance costs. For those times, the underground well was a complex work of engineering, especially for the creation of tunnels and galleries that hosted machinery, beasts of burden and workers. The entrance to the underground well is in Piazza Indipendenza, close to the National Archeology Museum.
Sacello del Santo Sepolcro
Located in the Church of Santo Sepolcro, this underground crypt was discovered in 1992, during the renovation works carried out on the church. It was used for the burial of the poor and marginalized citizens, and it is still one of the most fascinating places to see in Cagliari.
The crypt is divided in three chambers where the dead were buried on the floor. The black coal used to cover the walls and the painting of the reaper with a scythe and a hourglass, create an eerie yet solemn atmosphere. On the scythe, you can see a writing: “Nemini Parco” (I spare no one).
Check out my post The Most Beautiful Churches In Cagliari.
One of the most important in Cagliari, the Sant’Eulalia Museum, located in the historic district of the Marina, is a great place to discover the city’s ancient history. The exposition comprehends many relics and artefacts, as well as vestments and paintings from Italian and Flemish artists. The museum also hosts an archaeological area from the Roman and Carthaginian periods, with a 13 meter long road which was probably used to connect the area to a dock.
Check out my post A Guide To La Marina District, Cagliari.
Guided tours of Cagliari Underground
While almost all the attractions in Cagliari Underground can be visited independently, some can only be seen on guided tours. In fact, to make sense of what you see and put everything in context, I recommend joining a guided tour. A tour of Cagliari underground is offered daily in various languages – including English and Italian. It lasts about two hours (or four if you also add a guided tour of the historic center of Cagliari).
You can book your guided tour of Cagliari Underground here. The guided tour does not include the ticket to the Sant’Eulalia Museum and to the various crypts.
What to wear
The temperature underground is actually quite stable so you will find it is warmer than the temperature above ground during the winter months, and colder during the summer months. You may need a light sweater. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as there’s quite a bit of walking to do, in some cases in very dark spaces too.