How many interesting and trivia facts about Sardinia do you know?
Everybody knows about Sardinia’s heavenly beaches and crystal-clear waters – we have a whopping 1,850 km long coastline (that’s 1,150 miles!) and hundreds of gorgeous beaches (way way better than the ones in the rest of Italy, if I can brag a bit).
You may even have heard of the incredible stubbornness and kindness of the locals. But there is a lot of information that’s not directly related to tourism and is, therefore, less known.
And if you have visited this blog in the past, you surely have come across my posts about Sardinia’s Nuragic civilization and the unique ruins they have left: there are more than 7000 nuraghe in Sardinia, the most famous one Su Nuraxi of Barumini which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.
So now, I want to share some random facts about Sardinia. Let’s see how many things you already knew!
Table of Contents
The Most Interesting Facts About Sardinia
Basic facts about Sardinia
Judging by the emails I often get from readers who enquire about spending just a day “around the island), many don’t know one of the most basic facts about Sardinia: it is a massive island.
In fact, with its surface of 24,090 km² / 9,300 square miles, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (the largest one is Sicily, and the third one is Cyprus), and the third largest region of Italy after Sicily and Piedmont.
To put things in perspective, I often say Sardinia is actually bigger than Israel!
Sardinia is also one of the 5 autonomous regions of Italy. In theory, this means that by law Sardinia has more administrative powers than the other 15. In practice, it’s a whole different story. But let’s not make this post a political one!
The name of Sardinia
Sardinia – Sardegna in Italian – wasn’t always named like that. Ancient Greeks called the island Ἰχνοῦσα – Ichnusa. That literally meant footprint and referred to the shape of the island, which resembled a foot.
Subsequently, the island was called “Sandalia” (sandal, in English) and the name eventually transposed to Sardinia.
Nowadays, Ichnusa remains the name of Sardinia’s (and Italy’s) favorite beer.
Sardines are named after Sardinia
This is one of those facts about Sardinia I actually had to look up. One of the most frequent questions I get while I travel whenever I mention I am from Sardinia is whether we eat or there are a lot of sardines in Sardinia.
I actually used to get puzzled, and at times even a bit offended, until I eventually checked and realized the name sardines actually comes from Sardinia! The reason is that in the past sardines were found in abundance on the seas of Sardinia. And to think most of us don’t even eat it!
There is a blue zone in Sardinia
One of the most fascinating facts about Sardinia is that there is a very high life expectancy. Sardinia is home to one of the world’s fine Blue Zones – areas where inhabitants often live to be 100 years old and beyond.
Other blue zones are Okinawa Island in Japan; Nicoya in Costa Rica; Ikaria in Greece; and Loma Linda in California.
Curious to find out more about Sardinians’ secret for a long life? Head over to my post Sardinia Blue Zone: What Makes The Island So Longevous?
Sardinia is incredibly diverse
Sardinia has its specific climate conditions that sometimes make the scientists classify this island as a micro-continent.
There are some areas where the unique weather and temperature conditions have caused the origin of one-of-a-kind environments, with local fauna and flora that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Sardinia has one of the few primary forests left in Europe
You might be wondering what a primary forest is. This is a forest that hasn’t been influenced or touched by human hand, and therefore exists in its original status. It is, for obvious reasons, a very rare thing in the modern world, but there are some areas in Sardinia where, incredibly, nature has never been touched by anything.
The Supramonte area – nearby Orgosolo – is home to Sas Vaddes Forest, one of these incredible places where no man – at least in recent times – has ever stepped foot.
You will need a jeep to get there and a guide to get around, and the only trace of civilization you will meet will be some nuraghe ruins, from an era when humankind wasn’t a menace for the ecosystem.
Here, the only things you can see are secular trees and the local, shy animals. Many parts of the forest can’t be explored to preserve its state.
Another feature that’s common in Sardinia but really rare in other parts of Europe is the secular olive trees. They can be found inside several forests and are, to put it simply, huge.
Some are thought to have lived thousands of years and are among the symbols of the island. One of the most famous ones is the Luras Olive in Gallura: it is said to be 4000 years old!
There are three National Parks in Sardinia
We really care about our land here in Sardinia, which is why 25% of the island’s surface is protected. There are three national parks in Sardinia – Asinara National Park, Arcipelago di La Maddalena National Park and Gennargentu National Park.
In addition to those, there are many other regional parks.
To find out more about Sardinia’s parks, head over to my post 17 National Parks And Nature Reserves In Sardinia.
Sardinia is very mountainous
If you think of Sardinia as a tropical paradise with palm trees and sandy beaches, think again. Sardinia is actually very mountainous – 13.6% of the island is actually made of mountains.
We may not have the dramatic peaks of the Alps, but we have several mountain chains which actually affect the shape our roads (in other words, there are lots of windy roads in Sardinia).
These are the main mountain ranges in Sardinia:
- Sette Fratelli
- Monte Limbara
- Monte Albo
- Sulcis Iglesiente range
The highest mountain is Punta La Marmora, part of the Gennargentu range, which reaches an elevation of 1,834 meters (6,017 feet).
Curious to find out more about the mountains of Sardinia? Then read my post A Quick Guide To Punta La Marmora, The Highest Mountain In Sardinia.
Roads in Sardinia are very windy
If you get car sick, brace yourself. Being so mountainous, roads in Sardinia can be very windy.
Years ago, when a friend from Israel visited, he actually asked me if there are no straight roads at all in Sardinia (there are, I promise). My sister and I were once driving from Sassari to Tempio Pausania. It was only a short drive but we kept switching seats to drive, because whoever was not driving would get car sick!
Sardinia is also the only region of Italy that does not have toll roads. In fact, there is no highway in Sardinia, but just some major motorways (called strada statale, and abbreviated as SS).
The speed limit on the motorway is 110 km/h (around 70 mph).
Head over to my post 10 Most Scenic Roads In Sardinia.
There are canyons
Su Gorropu Canyon, between the territory of Orgosolo and Urzulei, is one of the deepest canyons in Europe. It measures 450 meters (1,476 feet) from the base, and in points it is only 4 meters (13 feet) wide.
However, this is not the only canyon in Sardinia. Not far from Cagliari, for example, you will find the Is Cioffus canyon, a smaller gorge where there are several hiking trails.
You should definitely read my post A Guide To The Gorropu Canyon Hike.
Sardinia has lots of caves
Sardinia is home to a number of caves (around 300 have been counted). It’s one of the paradises of speleologists.
Other notable caves are the Ispinigoli Cave Complex near Dorgali and the Is Zuddas Cave in the Sulcis region down south.
You should also read my post 9 Must-Visit Caves In Sardinia.
Sardinia’s diversity is also seen in the many swamps found on the island. Prime examples include Bidderosa, a beautiful oasis right by the sea in Orosei; Molentargius in Cagliari, which is there pink flamingos nest and live; Mistras Lagoon near Cabras in the Sinis Peninsula and Su Stani Saliu in Serdiana.
There is only one natural lake
There actually is only one natural lake in Sardinia – Lago di Baratz, in the Nurra region near Sassari. All other lakes on the island are artificial lakes.
The larges one is Lake Omodeo, which was created in 1924 with the construction of a dam on the Tirso river and is the 9th largest lake in Italy, measuring 29 km² (11 square miles).
Other lakes are the beautiful Gusana Lake and Mulargia Lake.
But lots of sand dunes
Sand dunes are found all around Sardinia and are among the highest in Europe. The most impressive ones are the dunes of Piscinas, which can reach an elevation of 100 meters (328 feet). These are located in Sardinia’s Costa Verde, one of the wildest and most pristine areas of the island.
If you are in the south of Sardinia, you can check out the dunes of Chia Su Giudeu beach, whereas on the northeastern coast of Sardinia, not far from Orosei, there are the dunes of Capo Comino.
Dunes are actually protected in Sardinia, and you are not meant to walk on them. Most beaches were dunes are found will have signs saying it is forbidden to go on the dunes, and there will be rangers patrolling the beach to make sure nobody walks on them. Please respect the local regulations – even if you so want to take that photo!
Sardinia has diverse flora and fauna
The island has a whopping 2,400 species of plants, with 322 plants that can only be found here. Moreover, there are some animals such as eagles and – probably – monk seals that still live in some secluded areas of the island.
Unique to Sardinia, you’ll also find the Giara Horses, tiny horses that can be spotted in the Giara Plateau. Don’t think of them as ponies though: they have the same slender shape of a regular horse, but they are just tiny!
Sardinia is also home to albino donkeys. These are mostly found in Asinara National Park, a small island off the northwestern coast of Sardinia where around 120 white donkeys have been counted; but there also are some in other parts of the (main) island.
If that is not enough, living on the beautiful Mediterranean waters that surround the island there are dolphins and whales. Whale watching expeditions are one of the newest offers; whereas dolphins can be regularly spotted. They are not an uncommon sighting even in Cagliari’s Poetto beach!
Finally, Sardinia doesn’t really have snakes – the only ones found are grass snakes. However, there are plenty of spiders, with 495 recorded species living on the island, of which 54 are native.
It’s an ancient land
Another factor that makes Sardinia special is its geology: compared to the rest of Italy, the rocks and the volcanic activity of the island are dated way, way earlier. While the Italian Peninsula is still sometimes subject to earthquakes and other cataclysms, Sardinia’s underground is rather stable.
The island is in fact more ancient than the “mainland”: you can clearly see it if you observe Sardinia’s mountains and compare them to the taller, pointier Alps that have formed millennia later.
The fact that Sardinia is such an ancient land has made some scholars think that it could be the lost continent of Atlantis!
Check out my post The Most Interesting Sardinia Myths And Legends.
It has been ruled by several civilizations
Sardinia has an excellent geographic position, right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea: this has made the island an important base for business and military activities since very ancient times.
The local Nuragic populations were already skilled with sailing and even used to be pirates, but the first outsiders to ever set a colony in Sardinia were the Phoenicians.
Some of their biggest cities, like Nora (nearby Cagliari) and Tharros (just some kilometers from Oristano) are still standing and can be visited – this is also because, after the Phoenician, the Punic and Romans used the same areas to live and strengthen their grip over the island.
While the Punic kept mainly living off trade nearby the coasts, the Romans dared to venture deeper in the mountains, all the way to Barbagia – where they met strenuous opposition from the locals – which took several decades to be conquered.
A big chunk of the road system we still use was built by the Romans and only renewed as time passed and improvements were needed.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, several Barbarian populations came and invaded the land, which was plagued by pirates for centuries. During the Giudicati era, Sardinia was heavily influenced by Pisa and Genoa which constantly tried to overthrow each other with treaties and small riots.
After that, the island was ruled by the Spanish, the Aragonese, and the Catalan – all in different areas where their influence is still clear – and then became part of the Savoy Kingdom until the creation of modern Italy.
Head over to my post The History Of Sardinia.
It’s been a land of shepherds since the beginning of time
There are more sheep than people in Sardinia. I mean, literally! We are only 1.6 million people, and there are almost 2.9 million sheep (which rise to more than 3 million if you also include goats). That means there proportion is of roughly 2 sheep for each Sardinian.
But why is that?
Sardinians have lived off sheep (and goat) herding since pre-historic times, and the activity is still a big part of the Island’s economy and culture nowadays, especially on the hinterland. Some sheep species are only found in Sardinia.
There also are several foods based on goat and sheep that couldn’t be more “traditional” and even festivals dedicated to this activity – mainly to show off and taste the cheese and other goods and drink some wine together.
Many traditional carnival costumes are also made with sheep wool or goat fur. If you happen to be in Mamoiada, I recommend you visit the Museum of Mediterranean Masks so that you can appreciate Sardinian folklore to its fullest and know more about it.
If you look for the definition of Nuragic people on the Internet, many sites say that they were “warrior-shepherds” which ironically sums up two of the main features of the locals, their traditional activities and their infamous belligerence.
Sardinia has its own language
Although many think of it as a simple dialect, Sardinian is officially recognized as a language and is protected as a minority one.
The reason for this is that, compared to other Italian dialects, Sardinian has its proper grammar rules, lexicon and has developed autonomously for centuries before the country became part of Italy. There even are dialects of Sardinian: this makes it a whole language with its variations.
Since it’s a language that’s being forgotten – young people don’t know it as well as the older generations – there are programs to teach it at school; some guided tours are also held in Sardinian; and there is a general effort to preserve this unique language, which is still considered quite a symbol of the island identity and authenticity.
Read my post The Language Of Sardinia.
Some people speak Catalan or Tabarkine
Since Sardinia was ruled by several different countries during the centuries, it comes with no surprise that some of them left quite an impact on some parts of the Island. Alghero is an excellent example of the foreign influence on a city.
If you stroll down the streets, you will clearly notice how the buildings, their arrangement and decorations, and just the general feeling are different from any other Sardinian city. This is because Alghero was the stronghold of the Catalans on the island and is still a special Catalan municipality.
If you listen carefully, you will also notice another thing: the language is different! In Alghero, many people don’t commonly speak Catalan (though don’t worry: everyone speaks Italian, and many also speak English). This shows how deeply rooted the conquerors were during their time there.
Another – smaller – part of Sardinia where they speak another language is Carloforte. Here, they speak a variation of the Genoese dialect, called Tabarkine. The name recalls the island of Tabarka, nearby Tunisia, where the Genoese had built a colony to farm and trade corals and other goods.
Unfortunately, at some point, the island became dangerous because of the continuous pirates’ incursions and the people living there had to run away and seek shelter somewhere else. Carloforte became their new home and their descendants still speak the dialect nowadays.
Many movies are filmed in Sardinia
Finally, let’s look into some fun facts about Sardinia!
Did you know that many famous movies have been filmed in Sardinia?
For example, James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me” was filmed in Sardinia, and more specifically in the glamorous Costa Smeralda. The scene in which James Bond drives out of the sea in his Lotus Esprit was filmed in Romazzino.
But this is not the only famous international movie filmed in Sardinia. More recently, the Little Mermaid was filmed in several beaches in the area of Golfo Aranci, as well as Santa Teresa di Gallura and Castelsardo.
For more movies, head over to my post 30 Great Movies Filmed In Sardinia And About Sardinia.
(Some) Sardinians eat rotten cheese
One of the most fun and random facts about Sardinians is that we eat a cheese that is called “casu marzu” in Sardinian – literally rotten cheese in English.
However, let me start by getting the facts straight here. First of all, not all of us eat casu marzu. I don’t, and nobody I know does. In fact, this is not exactly the kind of cheese you get off the counter at the store.
How so? You are likely wondering.
Because it’s actually illegal to sell according to EU health regulations.
Indeed, casu marzu is a very strong pecorino cheese – nothing exotic until now. Except that when the cheese is almost ready it is cut open and left outside. Flies are obviously attracted by its smell, and they lay their eggs on it. When the maggots hatch, they feed on the cheese.
And that’s when the cheese is meant to be eaten by people.
Some say it’s a real delicacy. Others refuse to try it. You decide what to do when you visit, but in case you are curious, you will have to really look around for it!
You should also read my post Is Casu Marzu Cheese The Best Sardinian Cheese?
How many facts about Sardinia did you already know?
For more facts about Sardinia, make sure to read the following posts: