I often get asked about the meaning of the Sardinian flag and – shame on me! – despite being born and raised on the island I can never give an accurate answer. 

You see, we Sardinians love our flag. Known as “I Quattro Mori” (The Four Moors), you can often see us sporting one – stitched to our backpack (in fact, we even have Sardinian flag themed backpacks!); as a beach towel or umbrella; waved during concerts and events (I swear there’s no concert in the world without a Sardinian flag making an appearance); in the logo of our beloved Sardinian Ichnusa beer; in the logo of Cagliari Football Club; in photos we pose for whenever and wherever we travel. 

To answer all your questions – as well as mine – I thought I’d do a bit of research and explain everything there is to know about the Sardinian flag. Continue reading to unveil the mystery. 

Sardinian flag

Posing with the Sardinian flag in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Everything You Need To Know About The Sardinian Flag

Some basic information about the Sardinian flag

The Sardinian flag consists of a red St. George’s cross. In each of the four partitions, you can see a black head – that of a Moor, facing left in the old flag (pre-1999), or right in the more modern one. That’s the basic about the flag of Sardinia, whose look – as we will learn in this post – slightly changed across time. 

A quick history of Sardinia

The first thing to keep in mind when trying to understand the origins and the meaning of the flag of Sardinia is that there still is a lot of mystery and uncertainty about it. I will try to give as accurate an account as possible.

To properly understand the meaning of the Sardinian flag, you need to have at least some basic knowledge of the history of Sardinia. I certainly can’t go through all of it here (Sardinia is too old an island!) – I will just report the bits that are relevant to understand the significance of the Sardinian flag.

In 1096 Peter I of Aragon and Navarre (modern day Spain) defeated the Saracens army of Al-Mustra’in II of Zaragoza in Alcoraz (a city located in the north-east of Spain). Once the battle was over, the king was donated a crusader’s shield which depicted the cross of Saint George, and he was also surrendered the heads of four Moorish Princes.

According to legend, Saint George himself appeared during the battle and led the army to victory. Some legends even seem to believe that he himself decapitated the four princes.

The four decapitated Saracens (the moors) quickly became the symbol of the war that raged in Southern Europe against the Muslim invaders. 

INTERESTING FACT: The four moors were painted in a 16th piece by Filippo Ariosto titled “The Wedding of Petronilla,” which represents the wedding of Petronilla and Raymond Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, which occurred in 1150. 

Parallel to this story, it’s interesting to note the history of Sardinia, which between the 9th and the 15th century was divided into four kingdoms, known as the Judicates, or Giudicati. These were the the Judicate of Cagliari, the Judicate of Arborea (corresponding to the current province of Oristano), the Judicate of Gallura (in north-western Sardinia) and the Judicate of Torres (in northern Sardinia).

Each of the Judicates had a ruler – known as a judge and having the powers of a king. 

While the Judges ruled over the various kingdoms of Sardinia, Pisa and Genoa were already threatening invasion of the island. Other threats were the pirates coming from Northern Africa, and the Saracens from Spain – which the Judicates somehow managed to keep at bay.

At the end of the 13th century, in an attempt to put an end to the everlasting fight between the Angiò and the Aragon family over the control of Sicily, Pope Bonifacio VIII founded the kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica, and donated it as a feud to King Jacob II of Aragon. 

Sardinian flag

The first official appearances of the flag of Sardinia

When Sardinia became part of the Kingdom of Aragon, the Four Moors which already were a symbol of Aragon became the official Sardinian flag. Aragon is west of Sardinia, which is why in the earliest version of the Sardinian flag the four moors are looking west, to the left.

INTERESTING FACT: The Aragonese were the ones who built defensive towers along the coast of the island – many of them are still visible today. There even is a trail that links them all – known as Cammino Cento Torri. 

The first document attesting to the fact that the Four Moors was indeed the flag of Sardinia is a manuscript called “Armorial of Gerle,” which is currently on display at the Royal Library of Brussels. The manuscript was compiled between 1370 and 1414 by Claes Heyenen, a herald working for the Duke of Guelders. It displays some 1700 coats of arms from all over Europe, including that of the Kingdom of Sardinia, interestingly represented without the white blindfold on the foreheads of the four moors. 

In 1572 the Parliament of Sardinia officially adopted the flag – however, the four moors in the new flag had their faces turned right, and wore a blindfold on their forehead, as a symbol of Royalty.

The flag of Sardinia changed again with the domination of the Savoy over the island, in 1720. Back then, the four moors were represented in various different ways: with a blindfold over their eyes, facing left, wearing earrings etc. It’s likely that this version of the Sardinian flag was due to a mistake in the reproduction of the original flag – alas, it remained as such until the official adoption of the flag of Sardinia.

Sardinian flag

Proudly showing the Sardinian flag on top of Table Mountain, South Africa

The meaning of the Four Moors on the Sardinian flag

As already explained, once Sardinia became part of the Kingdom of Aragon, the Four Moors flag started being associated with it. 

Given the history of Sardinia (and that of the Kingdom of Aragon), there are three main theories about the meaning of the Four Moors on the Sardinian flag.

According to the first theory, the four moors on the flag of Sardinia represent the four Moorish princes defeated in battle.

Another theory suggests that the four moor heads represent the four victories of Aragon against Zaragoza, Valencia, Murcia, and the Balearics.

Finally, a third theory suggests that the four heads represent the four medieval Judicates of Sardinia.

Ichnusa

The Four Moors as represented on the most popular beer in Sardinia

The official adoption of the Four Moors as the Flag of Sardinia

The Sardinian flag showing the four moors with a blindfold over their eyes and facing left was adopted by the new Partito Sardo d’Azione (Sardinian Action Party) in 1921.

On June 19th, 1950 the newly elected Regional Council of Sardinia approved a decree according to which the Four Moors were to become the official flag of Sardinia.

Two years later, on June 5th, 1952, the President of the Republic of Italy ratified the decision and the Four Moors officially became the coat of arms of Sardinia. In the officially adopted coat of arms, the four moors are represented looking left, but the blindfold is no longer covering their eyes, but placed on their forehead.

The new Sardinian flag

The final and current version of the flag of Sardinia was adopted on April 15th, 1999. This sees the Four Moors wearing a blindfold on their foreheads and facing right, towards mainland Italy.

Today, the Four Moors, or Quattro Mori, are the symbol of Sardinia – one that we proudly take with us around the world.

INTERESTING FACT: Corsica, a Mediterranean island north of Sardinia and that belongs to France, has a flag that is similar to ours, showing a single moor head with a blindfold on his forehead and on white background.

Further readings about Sardinia

Are you planning to visit Sardinia? Make sure to check out my posts for help in planning your trip:

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Discover everything you must know about the Sardinian flag - via @c_tavani

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