Domus de Janas are truly unique sites found in Sardinia. A bit out of the way in most places, they are truly worth visiting.
A trip to Sardinia usually means heavenly beaches, swimming in pristine waters, and relaxing under a big umbrella, with a fresh drink in your hands – at least for the majority of visitors. But there is so much more to Sardinia than just sand and water! The Island has a unique archeological heritage, well worth your time and so interesting that you won’t regret visiting Sardinia off season.
Being a somewhat isolated island, Sardinia has hosted several indigenous cultures who created some stunning monuments that can only be found there. These ancient tribes had their art, religion, and architecture and are still a huge object of study from both local and international scholars.
The most famous remains are the nuraghe, the cone-shaped towers left by the Nuragic civilization, but there are even more ancient buildings, made by pre-historic tribes several centuries before Nuraghi. These are the Domus de Janas, and you can find several of them throughout Sardinia.
In this post, I will explain what Domus de Janas are, how they came about, and where to see the prettiest ones.
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What Are Domus De Janas?
Domus de Janas are prehistoric tombs, excavated inside the natural rocks of Sardinia, usually granite and limestone. They can be isolated, single tombs or you can find them grouped in sorts of ancient cemeteries. Domus de Janas were built between 3400 and 2700 BC, which means they are from a culture that ruled over Sardinia before the Nuragics: it was called Ozieri Culture.
From the outside, Domus de Janas might seem just small recesses in the rocks, maybe big enough to host an urn, but in reality, they are much more spacious inside: they were designed to resemble the dead’s house – the one they had when alive – but on a smaller scale. They were often decorated with pictures, tools that the deceased might have needed for his new life, and bulls’ horns, which represented fertility and power.
How Were Domus De Janas Created?
The name itself – meaning “House of Fairies” indicated that there’s a tradition and a bunch of legends around the Domus de Janas. The tales say that these small crevices in the rocks are home to small, tiny supernatural beings, that can’t be quite considered fairies, but more like faes, or leprechauns.
Janas are usually busy with threading on their golden looms and have a unique, mischievous personality. Several legends tell about benevolent Janas gifting riches to people who deserved them and about an equal number of these creatures punishing the greedy humans. However, Janas are also described as moody, prone to create chaos for the fun of it.
Anyway, all the legends and popular tales agree on one thing: Janas live inside those small niches and don’t like being disturbed. To be fair, despite the now modern society we are living in, Janas are still quite a funny – and scary! – story for many kids.
How they were actually made
Domus de Janas, however, have nothing to do with small, fairy-tale creatures, and were made by humans, for humans. The prehistoric tribes who excavated these tombs on the rocks only had some rudimental tools, yet they managed to create things that lasted for over five millennia.
These burial grounds were very important for the Ozieri culture and for several populations after them – some were even turned into chapels by the Christians!
There supposedly were rites to accompany the deceased to their tomb: the bodies were laid down in a fetal position and painted with red ochre, as a symbol of the new life waiting for them. Prayers to the local deities were also involved but we don’t know what they consisted of: however, water and the cult of nature were likely a huge part of the rites.
Guided Tours To Domus De Janas In Sardinia
Some Domus de Janas are actually quite off the beaten path and if you don’t know where to look, you may have a bit of a hard time finding one. More than that, if you visit one without a guide, you won’t really make much sense of it. Here’s why I recommend joining a guided tour: they will be easier to reach, and you will have a more insightful experience.
For a guided tour departing from Cagliari, click here.
The Prettiest Domus De Janas In Sardinia
This Domus de Janas is a unicum in all of Sardinia. Located inside the homonymous village, not too far away from Castelsardo, this ancient tomb has two special features that make it different compared to all the others on the island: first of all, it’s located in the center of the village and not in an isolated area, and secondly, it’s built on a huge stone on the surface, not dug deep underground.
Sedini’s Domus de Janas, thanks to its central position, has been used throughout the centuries, for various uses, and is now an ethnographic museum.
The museum can be visited every day from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 3:00 to 7:00 pm. Tickets are €2,50 full price, €2 reduced price; guided tours are €8.
Pottu Codinu, Villanova Monteleone
Located in Villanova Monteleone, this Domus de Janas is composed of nine “houses” with various numbers of rooms, to demonstrate once again that everyone in the tribe had the right to be buried, but the burial site was still hugely different depending on the deceased’s social status.
As it’s common among these monuments, the chambers are in different states of preservation, due to robberies and later use of the ancient tombs.
Montessu’s necropolis isn’t too far away from Santadi and, with its 40 chambers and other prehistoric monuments, it is considered a great archeological park and the biggest Domus de Janas in South Sardinia.
The many tombs all differ in the number of rooms, but are all still well-preserved and keep many decorations in a great state. The spirals and bull pictures are still very clear on the walls. Several relics have been found throughout the years inside some of these crypts.
Tickets to Montessu Archeological Park are €5.
You should also read my post A Guide To Santadi, Sardinia.
Sant’Andrea Priu, Bonorva
Located in Bonorva, 10 km (6.2 miles) away from Sassari, Sant’Andrea Priu is a necropolis composed of several Domus de Janas in different conditions: some are excellently preserved and easy to visit, while others are completely impossible to access.
The main attraction of this Domus de Janas complex is the three tombs called The Chief’s Tomb, The Chamber’s Tomb, and the Shack Tomb.
Anghelu Ruju, Alghero
Anghelu Ruju is one of the most famous necropolis in Sardinia. Located just a few kilometers away from Alghero (and inside Sella e Mosca Winery’s property!), it’s easy to reach and similarly easy to appreciate. There are guided tours, audio-guides and very informative panels scattered around the site.
Composed of about 40 tombs, this is one of the largest necropolises on the island. Several chambers still look quite good and have preserved the paintings and decorations they were originally made with.
Monte Siseri, Putifigari
The Domus de Janas located in Monte Siseri, to be more precise in Putifigari, which is 15 km (9.3 miles) away from Alghero, is called “S’Incantu – The Enchantment” for all the good reasons. Incredibly well preserved, this tomb is still painted with the original decorations, mostly blue and red, and looks like it was reserved for someone very important to the tribe.
Many visitors have been – guess what? – enchanted by the beauty and the sense of wonder that visiting this monument creates. It indeed is a unique experience, being able to see something from such remote times.
Roccia dell’Elefante, Castelsardo
If you happen to visit Castelsardo, you probably already have the Elephant Rock on your bucket list. This unique rock, shaped by time and wind, is already an attraction per se, but not many know that underneath the funny looking elephant rock lies a Domus de Janas.
Despite it not being the biggest or best-preserved among the thousand tombs on the Island, Roccia dell’Elefante is quite famous, both because of its curious shape and for its proximity to Castelsardo, which is a rather known travel destination for one-day or weekend trips, especially for the ones staying in Sassari.
Read my post The Best Guide To Castelsardo.
Mesu ‘e Montes, Ossi
Located 10 km (6.2 miles) away from Sassari, this is another necropolis with lots of tombs, and most of them have more than one chamber. They are filled with religious references to bulls and other fertility symbols and, judging by the complex’ dimensions, were probably either dedicated to important people or part of a big cemetery, likely property of a big village.
Mesu ‘e Montes Necropolis is one of the scholars’ favorite places to observe and determine what these prehistoric people’s houses looked like. In fact, there is a huge variety of styles, in a sort of ancient collection of local architecture.
Check out my post A Complete Guide To Sassari.
Genna Salixi, Villa Sant’Antonio
Genna Salixi is a necropolis nearby Villa Sant’Antonio, in the Oristano province. It’s made of 14 chambers excavated on the rocks, and it’s easy to spot and reach. In fact, it’s not an isolated monument, but part of a bigger group of prehistoric remains that include a Nuraghe and menhirs. Guided tours of the whole area are available.