There are many interesting Sardinia myths, and a number of Sardinia legends that will tickle your curiosity.
A lot of countries in the world have myths and legends regarding them – many of these countries are in Europe. Who has never heard about Loch Ness’ monster or the thousands of dragon tales sung in medieval literature? Italy isn’t any different. Some of our most famous myths include Rome’s foundation, but there also are a lot of stories about famous people, especially involving magic and alchemy.
Moreover, Italy has a lot of regional myths and legends that are typically only known to the locals. There is a good amount of tales about Sardinia which are only known to locals, but I find very fascinating and I thought it would be nice sharing them with you.
If you are curious about Sardinia myths and legends, keep reading this post!
The Most Famous Sardinia Myths And Legends
As the name suggests, Nora’s stele was found inside a wall nearby Sant’Efisio church in Pula – it was actually part of the wall – and is one of the most mysterious and debated objects in Sardinia’s history.
Nora was an important Phoenician city (and after, a Punic and Roman colony as well) and the stele is listed among the most ancient written relics of all Europe. It is also an essential tool for Sardinia-related studies’ scholars because it’s the first document ever where the name “Sardinia” (SRDN) appears.
Unfortunately, the fact that this precious stone tablet was inserted into a wall has caused a great amount of damage. A good chunk of the inscriptions aren’t readable and the others are so difficult to translate that, during the years, we have had completely different interpretations about the stele’s topic.
The most widely accepted ones are three:
- the tale of how some hero survived a storm and arrived on the island to build a new city;
- a prayer to the Gods to thank them and dedicate them to a new temple;
- the epigraph for some warrior or important figure of the time.
To further complicate the matter, some scholars think that the stone tablet is actually just a segment of a bigger inscription: whatever the case, the mystery around Nora’s stele will likely never be solved and this will remain one of the most famous Sardinia myths.
Make sure to read my post A Short Guide To Nora.
Domus de Janas
Janas are literally fairies and one of Sardinia’s typical mythologic creatures. They are small beings, usually about 25 centimeters tall, who live inside the Domus da Janas, ancient monuments excavated inside large rock formations during pre-nuragic times.
The Janas are often described as pretty, delicate beings – although some legends depict them as quite scary – but their aspect doesn’t always match their personality. They are believed to be lunatics and to help people or bring them disgrace solely depending on their mood. According to other legends, however, they usually help the honest and punish the greedy.
And what about their houses? Historically, Domus de Janas are tombs. Some population who lived in Sardinia before the Nuragic civilization excavated these small recesses in the rocks and used them to bury their loved ones.
Giants’ Tombs have always caused people’s fantasy to run wild, and for a good reason. We now know everything about these burial sites, but just imagine finding such a site without knowing anything about it: the Tombs’ main features are the tall, heavy stones – sometimes up to 4 meters tall and several tons heavy! – put at their gate.
And once you enter the tomb, the ceiling is three meters high as well! It comes as no surprise that the legend about some giants populating Sardinia before humankind has spread so well and still lives on! Moreover, there are some popular tales about big bones found inside these tombs. But these are indeed only bedtime stories to scare kids a little.
The fact that the Giants’ Tombs are massive, anyway, remains: don’t miss the chance of visiting one if you can! They are an excellent demonstration of what the Nuragic people could do with their limited resources but amazing skills.
Head over to my post The Best Hidden Gems In Sardinia.
Mont’e Prama Giants
The story of the Mont’e Prama Giants’ statues is closely intertwined with the Giants’ Tombs’ legends. These statues were found in the Sinis Peninsula by pure chance in 1974, and were a literal breakthrough in Sardinian art history: before their finding, all we had from the Nuragic populations were small bronze figurines.
These statues, however, are about two meters tall. They certainly left many scholars speechless, and gave space to some more Sardinia legends about some gigantic population inhabiting the island before humankind.
After a more in depth research (and some reluctance from the international historians’ community!) it is now known that these big statues represent warriors, especially archers, who were considered quite high in the social hierarchy at the time, and are probably some offers to celebrate their service for the community.
Santa Cristina Well
Santa Cristina Well is located in Paulilatino, in the Oristano province, inside one of the most important Nuragic sites on the island. There is a heated debate about its original function, but many scholars agree on the fact that it was built to be an astronomy observatory. Other theories suppose that it was a site for the cult of fertility, which is also highly possible, or a sacrificial pit.
No matter its real function, there are several phenomena happening on specific days which convinced the archeologists to believe the observatory hypothesis. The most famous event is the one happening during the two equinoxes: on these two days, the sun descends perfectly on the stairs and projects the shadows upside down on the wall in front of them.
There also is a Christian legend about Santa Cristina Well, which has caused the construction of a village nearby the Nuragic site. The myth says that a maiden was saved thanks to her earnest praying and that the well-formed as a consequence.
Apparently, she was being chased by an unknown man and begged God to help her: suddenly, the ground opened and she managed to run away through a tunnel, leaving a trail with her skirt (the well’s stairs). Of course, it’s very easy to deem this legend as just another of the many Sardinia legends: the well was already there way before Christianity was born.
However, this didn’t stop the worshippers from suggesting the girl (Cristina) was a saint (and pressing it would be recognized as one) and build a church and even a village in her honor.
Read my post The Best Archeological Sites In Sardinia.
The myth of Atlantis
The myth of Atlantis can be applied to a lot of civilizations in the world – and a version of similar myths appears in almost every ancient culture.
According to Plato, the first one who mentioned this legend, Atlantis was an advanced civilization on a continent beyond the Pillars of Hercules and whose people, because of their power and technologies, thought themselves to be superior to their gods. These gods, as a punishment for human arrogance, destroyed their continent in one day and one night.
According to the modern location of the Pillars of Hercules, which is supposed to be Gibraltar, Atlantis has always been thought to be in the Atlantic ocean, somewhere deep, deep on the bottom of the sea.
But many theories suggest that the landmark was somewhere else during more ancient times: apparently, the Pillars of Hercules were located in Sicily strait… which makes Sardinia an excellent candidate for the role of the lost island!
Further on, the cataclysm that according to the literature and popular culture destroyed Atlantis, made us think that it was a terrible tsunami that sank the island underwater. But in reality, nothing like that was ever mentioned. It could have been anything, from a meteorite to a volcanic explosion which left the land floating, but wiped out any signs of civilization.
Sardus Pater and the foundation of Sardinia
When the Nuragic culture started to decay, their cults based on fertility and often feminine deities representing nature started to fade as well. It was during this delicate time that the legend of the Sardus Pater, a hero or a god who came to the Island to bring civilization, was born.
Historically, the switch from feminine deities to masculine ones can be justified by the fact that Sardinia was starting to be involved in tribe wars and was also being colonized by Phoenicians. These two factors both brought attention to male figures (warriors and sailors) who became essential in the newly forming society.
There are several legends about the Sardus Pater, from different civilizations. Both Greek and Latin historians wrote about a hero (male or female) called Sardus or Sardò, who came from another country to build a colony in Sardinia.
The Latin Sardus was thought to be a son of Hercules who was sent to build his personal city on the Island; while the Greek Sardò was running away from a city (Sardis) in modern Turkey and arrived all the way to Sardinia.
A third hypothesis, which is the most historically correct, identifies the Sardus pater with the Phoenician God Sid Addir, a warrior and hunter who was believed to be extremely benevolent. Its cult was brought to the Island by the merchant and sailors and was incorporated into the Sardinian pantheon; Sid Addir was venerated as a warm-hearted divinity and believed to have brought tons of benefits to the Island.
A temple dedicated to this deity (which was renamed Sid Addir Babai and the Sardus Pater Babai during the centuries) can still be seen and visited near Fluminimaggiore, in the Sulcis area: if you have time, go and pay a visit to Antas temple.
The Scultone’s myth is a popular tale in Baunei. Apparently, centuries ago, the Golgo Plateau (part of Baunei municipality) was plagued by an enormous snake, or dragon, that could kill people by petrifying them if they looked into its eyes. The only thing that could pacify this basilisk was sacrificing young maidens to him every year.
The legend says that St. Peter, during his travels to evangelize the world, one day came to Baunei and found a girl who was crying, desperate, because she had been chosen as the next sacrifice to the monster. St. Peter then promised the villagers that, in exchange for a church on its name, he would have freed the land from the monster, forever.
After the locals happily agreed and promised to honor the vote, the Saint went to the plateau and, grabbing the basilisk by its tail, shook him so violently that the ground above them opened: he then threw the monster in the newly formed cave, all the way down to Hell. The cave, now known as Su Sterru, can still be seen nowadays and, nearby, the Church dedicated to St. Peter still stands and hosts Mass every year to thank the Saint.
The myth of Sella del Diavolo
One of the most fascinating Sardinia myths is the one surrounding Sella del Diavolo (the Devil’s Saddle) and Golfo degli Angeli (Angels’ Gulf), right at the outskirts of Cagliari. The peculiar rock formation has always caused the locals’ fantasies to run wild.
The legend says that Lucifer, enchanted by the beauty of Cagliari’s sea, tried to conquer the area and claim it as his own but God sent a legion of angels to fight him back.
After a long and strenuous battle, Lucifer was defeated. The rock formation is believed to be either his saddle that, falling from the sky, was petrified with time, or the print of Lucifer’s body that was thrown from above. The sea was called Angels’ Gulf to honor the holy beings who, supposedly, are still protecting the area nowadays.