This week, we travel to Sardinia with Angela Corrias of Travel Calling. Although currently based in London, Angela hails from Sardinia and still calls the Italian island her home. In this guest post, we’re lucky to have her take us on an insider tour of her hometown of Ghilarza.
A WALK THROUGH HISTORY IN GHILARZA
Recently I undertook a rather unusual stroll around Ghilarza. This little village in Sardinia has been my hometown for some nineteen years. Yet now that I’ve been living abroad for quite a while, it feels strange seeing places and people I hadn’t seen for ages.
Even though I’m currently based in London, I still think of Ghilarza as my hometown. Yet when I’m here I somehow have the impression that I’m a stranger. It may be because when I come back I stay for a week or two and then run away again. Now that I’ve decided to stay a little longer, I’m rediscovering my past.
Researching articles about Ghilarza and its surroundings is helping me remember my childhood. I am also learning what life was like here in the past centuries, acknowledging that things have surely evolved but not changed that much.
My guide in this walk through history was Diddi, Antonio Gramsci’s niece, nonetheless. Gramsci is one of my favourite philosophers/political thinkers and definitely a national pride. So traipsing around Ghilarza’s main road with his sister’s daughter was a true pleasure, further enhanced by the scoop that I am related to their family. I’m lucidly aware of what “family” means in Sardinia, so I know we are (very) far related. Yet it was more than enough to make me appreciate the little tour even more.
The expedition gained value thanks to Diddi’s memories – she is eighty years old – that made us able to compare today’s Ghilarza to the town from almost seventy years ago. Priceless. Hearing “Oh, here we have lived all together for years! Oh, here there was the post office where my mother was employed!” and in the meantime looking at the buildings and picturing the evolution process sparked my love for history.
Ghilarza’s main road today is named Corso Umberto, in honour of the former king Umberto I. I would have surely preferred it to be named after Gramsci, to whom was dedicated only a tiny piazza off the main street, just opposite his house.
“How many memories from your house,” says Diddi going past my home, known as Palazzo Corrias. It was built by Agostino Sini in 1870. Since its birth, my house has been one of the main hubs of community life, hosting important offices such as the Land Register, and being the home of well-known land owners. Despite Sardinia’s stormy past and the hard times of the Second World War, Ghilarza’s inhabitants haven’t suffered from hunger as much as its neighbouring villages such as Sedilo, only 13km away.
Like all other Sardinian towns, Ghilarza is very jealous of its own traditions. Religious festivals are literally “sacred”, not as much in a biblical sense as for the social purpose of meeting up, hanging out with friends and updating on the latest news (ie gossip). Every occasion to party is a must, and the benefits of a long warm season and a mild winter make things sweet and easy.
This picturesque town is surrounded by pint-sized ghost villages known as novenari from nove (Italian word for “nine”), as the villages are only inhabited nine days per year for the saint celebration. Each devoted to a different saint of the Catholic calendar, the hamlets come back to life every year exactly when the holy figure is to be celebrated. Religious gatherings are definitely less solemn than in the past and celebrations carry on all night long.
Among the four novenari, the most famous is San Serafino. I find San Michele’s story way more mysterious. It seems that, while other similar novenari were specifically built for religious reasons, San Michele is an ancient built-up area whose history came to a tragic end due to the Black Death around 1400, when the village was named Urri.
Gramsci’s house aside, Ghilarza is not visited by many tourists. This is a real shame, as it’s surrounded by heritage sites from lost civilisations and prehistoric times. Neighbouring villages such as Abbasanta and Paulilatino, for example, boast the presence of Nuraghe Losa, a nuragic village dating back the Bronze Age, and Pozzo di Santa Cristina, a sacred well named after Saint Christine. The well is the temple of a prehistoric area named after the saint. It’s one of the most beautiful examples of nuragic architecture: every 18 years and 6 months the moonlight is reflected on the bottom through the hole at the top.
Known as Guilcer, the area where Ghilarza lies is extremely rich in heritage sites. Besides this historic aspect, its inhabitants have the inner ability to make their guests or tourists feel at home. This is one of the common features of Sardinia. Since it’s more evident in areas foreign civilisations didn’t manage to colonise, we like to think that it’s the legacy our very ancestors left us.