If you are planning a trip to south Sardinia, you should really include Iglesias and the Sulcis- Iglesiente area among the places to visit. Famous for its history linked to the mining activity in the past, the Sulcis area has much to offer its visitors.
Iglesias is the most important town in the region, characterized by its many churches and its traditions linked to the medieval folklore. It’s a lovely place to explore for a day – or a week, actually. The vibe is great, and while it has a lot to offer – it’s a great base to explore the southwestern coast of Sardinia – it remains humble and not nearly as touristy as other places on the island.
Care to find out more? Then continue reading this guide, where you can find all the information you need for your itinerary.
Some Background Information About Iglesias
The town of Iglesias has an important history as well as several buildings worth visiting. In case you are thinking that the name of this Southern Sardinia town sounds Spanish, you are actually correct! The name Iglesias means “churches”, and in the past it was known as Villa Ecclesiae. It was the Aragonese who, after conquering it in 1324, named it Iglesias and made it an important city of their Sardinian domain.
Before the arrival of the Aragonese, the town was already important, as it was close to the various mining centers in the region. The first to realize the area’s potential were actually the Romans, followed by the Sardinian Giudicati of Arborea and Cagliari – Sardinia’s historic smaller reigns.
In the 18th century the Savoys, who established the Kingdom of Sardinia, became the governors of the area of Iglesias and its surroundings. During the 19th century, and until the early 1900s, the city of Iglesias and the Iglesiente territory carried on the mining activities until the closure of the mines, which were then transformed into incredibly interesting archeological sites and museums.
What To See And Do In Iglesias, Sardinia
Santa Chiara Cathedral
The Cathedral of Santa Chiara is the city’s main place of worship. The church was built in the 13th century, in the Romanesque-Gothic style. It features a façade and a rose window which reflects the Gothic style. The bell tower was built in the 14th century. The interior, restored during the 1500s, has a latin cross plan, single nave, and two chapels on either side. In the cathedral there are two altars, built in the 1700s.
Church of St. Francis
Located in a square of the same name, the church of San Francesco was built by the Aragonese in the 16th century, following the Catalan-Gothic style. Famous for the retablo by Antioco Mainas, the church was built using volcanic stone, with a single nave and seven chapels on each side.
The beautiful retablo is located in the fifth chapel on the left. The church had a troubled history, as in the 19th century, the Savoy seized the property of the religious orders, including those of the Franciscan Order. During this period, the church was used as barracks, a gymnasium, and even as a bakery. It was saved from demolition in 1928 and completely restored.
Historical walls of Iglesias
In the past, like many other medieval cities, Iglesias was surrounded by defensive walls to protect it from invasions and to hold against sieges. The northern walls are the only ones that remains, while the others were demolished in order to build new buildings and expand the city limits. About 7 meters (almost 23 feet) high, the walls are a testament to Iglesias’ glorious past and its importance on a strategic level.
Cammino Minerario di Santa Barbara
Il Cammino Minerario di Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara Trail) is a route about 500 km (310 miles) long, and is especially recommended to trekking enthusiasts. The route goes through the Sulcis-Iglesiente-Guspinese area, along well marked trails and dirt roads.
The first stage starts right from Iglesias and can be tackled either on foot or by mountain bike. It’s an excellent opportunity not only to admire the beautiful landscapes of the area, but also to discover its mining and religious traditions. Along the route, you’ll find places to sleep and eat, and plenty of chances to meet other like-minded travelers.
Read my post The Best Hikes In Sardinia.
Miniera di Monteponi
The territory of Sulcis – Iglesiente hides several disused mining complexes, transformed over the years into archaeological sites. One of the most important ones is the Monteponi Mine, which was used for the extraction of lead, silver and zinc.
The mining complex is part of the Historical and Environmental Geominerary Park of Sardinia and is located a few kilometers from Iglesias; it is also one of the many stops of the aforementioned Cammino Minerario di Santa Santa Barbara. To visit, you can join one of the tours which includes a visit of the winch and hoist room, the compressor room, the two shafts and the Bellavista building, which was used by the mine administration.
Check out my post 9 Sardinian Mines You Should Visit.
Speaking of mines, Porto Flavia is definitely one of the most special places to visit close to Iglesias. It is a 600-meter (1968.5 feet) tunnel, dug by miners into the rock and that ends on an overhang over the sea. In the past, Porto Flavia was used to load minerals directly onto ships, in order to transport them to smelters in northern Europe.
From Porto Flavia, you can also admire the beautiful stack called Pan di Zucchero, which rises from the sea. The best view of Porto Flavia itself, on the other hand, is from the sea. You can see it on guided boat tours that depart from the nearby beach of Masua, or on kayak / SUP expeditions.
Head over to my post A Guide To Visiting Porto Flavia.
Grotta Santa Barbara
A natural cathedral carved into the mountain, Grotta Santa Barbara was discovered in 1952 by a group of workers while they were digging a tunnel inside the San Giovanni Mine. The cave offers a spectacular array of dark barite crystals, ceroid limestone and other formations dating back some 500 million years.
Make sure to read my post The Nicest Caves In Sardinia.
Museum of Mining Art
If you are interested in learning more about mining in the Sulcis-Iglesiente region, you can visit the Mining Art Museum in Iglesias, founded in 1998. The exhibit allows you to discover tools, mining techniques, and the social and economic life of that historical period.
Folklore and Traditions
Iglesias is home to many festivals. If you are traveling to the island during Sardinia’s Easter season, you cannot miss the Rites of Holy Week, which begin with the procession “of the mysteries.” During this day, various statues representing the passion of Christ called simulacri are carried through the town. Adults and children participate in the procession, dressed in a traditional white garb with a hood, that resembles those of the flagellants.
Another major folkloric event is the Festa of Sancta Maria di Mezo Gosto, which is organized on the fifteen day of August. During this medieval feast you can admire the Candelieri, 4-meter-high (little over 13 feet) votive machines carried by porters and accompanied by other historical figures, played by the citizens of Iglesias, dressed in traditional medieval clothing.
Guided tours of Iglesias
Iglesias is fairly small and you can definitely explore it on your own without any issues. However, it is rich in history and it may be interesting to join a guided tour to get a bit more insights into what you see, the town’s past and its culture.
I recommend this tour of the historic center of Iglesias. It lasts two hours, after which you can continue wandering around on your own, and it’s fairly conveniently priced.
Where to stay in Iglesias
Iglesias is actually quite close to Cagliari and you can visit on an easy day trip. However, it’s a nice, pleasant place to spend a few days and explore the nearby beaches (ie Masua Pan Di Zucchero, Cala Domestica) and sites such as the Mines of Nebida. There is a good choice of places to stay and a few nice restaurants, and the atmosphere is pleasant. So definitely consider spending the night.
In Iglesias there are several hotels and B&Bs to choose from for overnight stays. Here is a quick selection
Euro Hotel Iglesias
This is definitely one of the best places to stay in town. Rooms are massive and comfortable, furnished and decorated in a very classic style. The hotel is pet friendly, there is free parking space on site, and a good breakfast is served every morning, to kick start your day.
Domos La Corte Ghibellina
There are only a few rooms at this very conveniently priced guest house in the center of Iglesias. They are all modern, spacious and comfortable. Bikes are available for rent.
If you prefer self-catering accommodation, this is definitely a good option. It’s very classic in the way it is decorated and furnished, and very cozy!
How to get to Iglesias
Iglesias is roughly 60 km (37 miles) from Cagliari. The easiest way to get there is by car, leaving from Cagliari and taking the SS 130 in the direction of Iglesias. The exit for Iglesias is at km 47. It should take you about 55 minutes to get there.
If you don’t want to drive, you can actually also get there by train. There are regular departures from Cagliari’s main train station located in Piazza Matteotti. There are also regular bus departures from Cagliari ARST bus station, also located in Piazza Matteotti. Take like 801 Calasetta – Carbonia – Iglesias – Cagliari.
You may want to also read my posts How To Travel By Train In Sardinia and How To Use Public Transport In Sardinia.