There are four historic cafés in Cagliari, and a few extra ones that throughout the years have maintained at least some of their historic charme.
Nowadays we Italians drink coffee at what we call a “bar”, often drinking it in a hurry during the lunch break or perhaps in the morning, before getting to work. In fact, coffee bars as we know them are an evolution of old cafes, which originated in the Middle East.
Those cafes where places where people used to drink beverages (coffee and tea mainly), but were also places where they could listen to live music, read, take part in debates and play games such as chess.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, cafés finally arrived in Europe, although they became important only in the 18th century, when they became the meeting place of the bourgeoisie. Cafes where the birthplace of many literary, musical and even political movements. But while in Europe they were frequented mainly by the bourgeoisie, many cafés in Italy strictly meant to be for the aristocrats. The oldest café in Italy, the Florian, opened in 1720 in Venice’s Piazza San Marco and still in activity.
Some historic cafés closed with time, others were destroyed during World War II. The ones that remained or were rebuilt, and most preserved the style of their time. Nowadays, cafés have often lost their social role (well, we still love meeting friends over a good cup of coffee, but cafés are hardly places where we talk about politics: the debate is now mostly about soccer). However, many have retained their charm, thanks to the antique furniture, their position (often in the main square) and to their history.
The Sardinian capital is no different in this sense: there are still a few historic cafés in Cagliari, beloved by the locals, in nice and easy to access locations. They lovely places to sit for breakfast or to have a break while exploring the city. Continue reading to discover the charming historic cafés of Cagliari.
Make sure to also read my post Where To Have A Good Coffee In Cagliari.
The Savoy Family, Founder Of The First Cafés In Cagliari
Coffee and with that cafés arrived in Cagliari thanks to the Savoy family. Charles Emmanuel IV arrived in Sardinia with his family members and collaborators, although not by his own will. In fact, he was exiled to Sardinia by Napoleon Bonaparte, who invaded Piedmont at the end of the 18th century. The newly established Savoy court in Sardinia brought new cultural habits to the city of Cagliari, and that included drinking coffee and sitting at a café.
The construction and subsequent opening of cafes in Cagliari allowed the bourgeoisie to gather in these meeting places. Among the various types of cafes, in the past you could also find café-chantants, known in Italy as café-concerts or café-chanteuses. These cafés held artistic performances, mainly theater-like and musical, during which the clientele could consume food and drinks.
The Four Historic Cafés In Cagliari
Of the several historic cafés in Cagliari, only four of them remain: the Caffé Svizzero, the Caffé Tramer, the Antico Caffè, and the Caffé Genovese. Keep reading if you are planning on visiting Cagliari and want to visit one of them, or all.
One of the best known historic cafés in Cagliari, Caffé Svizzero was founded in 1901 on the first floor of Palazzo Accardo, in the Largo Carlo Felice, where there was (and still is, albeit close to visits) an underground chapel that housed the ancient crypt of St. Augustine. As you can surely imagine the name is a direct reference to the origins of the first founders and owners of the café.
The café is famous for some legends, such as that of Bishop Fulgentius who brought St. Augustine’s relics to Cagliari in order to save the city from the plague and from paganism. In fact, during the 5th century, paganism was actually returning to Cagliari, which is why the Church believed that God punished the city with the plague. Once the relics of St. Augustine were brought into the crypt, clear water began to flow from the floor. The water was considered miraculous by the inhabitants and used to heal the people struck by the plague.
But this is not the only legend of the Swiss Café. The most famous concerns the seven ghosts that haunt the place. The ghost of Mr. Devoto, the cafe’s former owner, apparently still roams the tables in his elegant suit, intent on serving his customers. Witnesses to the apparition say that Mr. Devoto’s ghost is not a soul in distress; on the contrary, it seems very happy to work in his café.
Among the other ghosts, many people saw a boy named Luigi looking for his shoes. According to legend, the boy died during a terrible storm in Cagliari – he had found shelter in the crypt. His body was found much later, apparently without shoes. It was the current owner who got this legend going, after consulting a psychic and having a team of paranormal scientists visit the café.
Ghost stories and miracles aside, Cagliari’s Caffè Svizzero is a place of great elegance, where the bar counter and shelves with high-quality drinks are protected by the ancient stone vaults of the crypt. In the café you can admire prints dating back to the late 19th century, perhaps while drinking a cup of hot coffee and enjoying a good dessert.
Formerly called Offelleria Svizzera – di Vittorio Tramer & Co, today it is known simply as Caffé Tramer. This elegant establishment founded by a Swiss man living in Cagliari in 1857 was pretty famous for its offelle – a sweet emmer flatbread.
Featuring a small but cozy interior (don’t worry though, there are plenty of tables outside), Caffè Tramer is located in Piazza Martiri D’Italia, just off Via Manno, one of Cagliari’s main shopping arteries, and it is still loved by its customers for the excellent pastries and coffee.
Meringues are a house specialty, with a recipe handed down from founder Vittorio Tramer to current owner Giovanni Olianas. The two parts of a golden meringue are joined together thanks to the softest whipped cream, a real treat that sells out every weekend. It is said that political thinker Antonio Gramsci often stopped at Caffè Tramer to eat those excellent meringues whenever he stayed in Cagliari.
I wouldn’t be surprised: they are legendary! I only tried them for the first time a couple of years ago, when my brother in law brought some home. I never used to be a fan of meringues, but Tramer’s are truly out of this world!
Antico Caffè Cagliari (formerly Caffè Genovese)
Antico Caffè Cagliari was founded by Lazzaro Canepa, a man from Genova who moved to Cagliari in 1838. The café started out as Bar Lazzaro and until 1855 it wasn’t a particularly popular or important place in town. After some renovation works, the place took the name of Café Genovese and became a favorite among the city’s artists, writers and bourgeoisie.
Located in Piazza Costituzione, at the foot of the Bastion of St. Remy, the Antico Caffè Cagliari boasts an Art Nouveau hall and white marble tables that over the years were occupied by several important people, such as Grazia Deledda, Sibilla Aleramo, Gabriele D’annunzio, Salvatore Quasimodo and popular Italian actor Totò. The exterior iron gate was made in 1890 by inmates of the San Bartolomeo penal colony.
Having survived World War II, Caffè Genovese was the object of contention among two families. It was eventually refurbished in the 1990s, and taken back to its old glory – though much of the antique furnishing was taken to the place that is now called Caffé Genovese, in another part of the city. In 1998 it was finally renamed Antico Caffè.
The café is still known in the city for its excellent Sacher cakes and Ligurian-style pine nut cake, as well as cocktails and aperitif drinks. The soft lighting and candles create that classic retro atmosphere, enveloping and relaxing. There are plenty of tables outside too, for when the sun is shining.
Caffé Genovese 1838
In 1997, Cagliari’s Caffé Genovese was moved to Via Logudoro by Giuseppe Rivara, heir and owner of the café for several decades. The café in Piazza Costituzione was renamed Antico Caffè, retaining the historic location.
Despite a less charming interior than the one of the original location, Caffè Genovese still retains that old 19th century elegance, thanks to some of the furniture that was moved here from the Antico Caffè.
Its location in front of the Basilica of San Saturnino proves to be strategic, as many citizens and tourists stop for coffee and breakfast after attending a mass or visiting the Basilica. Among the specialties, the Caffè Genovese offers traditional Ligurian pastries and excellent ice cream cassatas.
BONUS! Caffè Torino
In addition to the mentioned establishments, Cagliari had another important caffè: the Caffè Torino. Not much remains to see of the original historic café, apart from the original sign, found after some renovations took place in its location in Via Roma. A pastry shop will be opened in the premises, and who knows if the owners will revive the old café business that many Cagliari residents remember fondly.