March 8, 2022 59°F/15°C
A huge Italian flag greeted us as we entered the harbour this morning in Cagliari.
We found out two days ago that current regulations in all Italian ports require us to stay “bubbled” within our excursions, i.e. no independent exploration. I know that’s disappointing to many people, especially those who have been here before and would have liked to plan their own visits, but it really doesn’t impact Ted or me, because we’re guided tour fans the first time we visit anyplace new.
We’re in yet another place with history that dates way, way back. There are relics from inhabitants during the Neolithic period. The Phoenicians established colonies in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, followed by the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Vandals (Germans), and the Byzantine Empire. After that, the Moors, Pisans, Spanish (from Aragon), and even Hapsburgs and (French) Savoys had periods of rule. Just wow.
Cagliari was the capital city of Sardinia until the mid 1800s, when Turin took over that role.
We were really pleased that most of our tour was on foot, since that always allows for the best photos, as well as giving us more of a feel for the place were in, but before that we had a panoramic drive with a couple of photo stops.
We only drove past Santuario di Nostra Signora di Bonaria (Church of Our Lady of the Fair Winds). Note the similarity in the name to Buenos Aires.
We had a short stop at the overview at Parco Naturale Molentargius Saline (Molentargius Salt Nature Park), which was a salt processing lagoon until the mid 1980’s when it was cleaned up and became a nature reserve and, shortly thereafter, home to up to 30,000 flamingos! It’s easy to see how shallow the lagoon and salt pans were when you realize that the feeding flamingos are standing on the bottom.
Overlooking the park and the Mediterranean Gulf of Angels beyond it is a bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi, protector of all animals, erected in the 1990s to watch over the flamingos.
Cagliari still has another active salt processing area, the Conti Vecchi salt pans on the banks of the Santa Gilla pond, from which 300,000 tons of sea salt (“white gold”) are evaporated annually, most of which is exported.
From Molentargius Park we headed uphill into the walled old town, the Castello. Like Rome, Lisbon, and Istanbul, Cagliari is built on 7 hills, which mean that roads and sidewalks all seem to be sloped.
Our guide pointed out two different kinds of fortification walls: straight ones built by the Pisans, and “newer” ones (built by the Spaniards) that have thicker bases than tops to better repel/absorb cannon balls.
We entered the Castello through the Cristina Gate near the white limestone St. Pancras Tower. The neoclassical Porta Christina (Christina gate) dating from 1825 in the Savoy period leads in and out of the Piazza Arsenale. King Carlo Felice (Charles Felix, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy) had it erected in honour of his wife, Queen Maria Cristina.
The walled and fortified old city is home to two huge towers dating back to the Pisano period in the 14th century; a third, the Lion Tower, no longer exists, although there are remnants of the lions. The Tower of St. Pancras is unadorned, but has an interesting if gruesome history. It was originally built as an open-sided 4 level watchtower, fortification, and lighthouse, but when the Spaniards (Aragonians) arrived during the period of the Spanish Inquisition (which lasted from 1478 – 1834, although they were replaced in Sardinia before the end of that period) the tower was enclosed and used as storage, but also as a prison. Prisoners sentenced to death were served their last meal on silver tableware before being clothed in a white shift and escorted to the gallows, accompanied by the tolling of the tower’s bells, which soon became known as the “bells of death”. The tower’s history as a prison did not end until the 20th century, when it was restored to its original open-sided configuration.
The square is also home to Cagliari’s cathedral, whose exterior façade was restored to its original design in the 1930s, after a period of being remodelled in the Baroque style. The interior of the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria del Castello was not accessible, due to Italy’s Covid regulations related to cruise ship passengers. Such is the world of travel in 2022. This cathedral, like most of the important buildings in Sardinia, is constructed of the island’s native limestone.
From the Castello we could look down on Stampace, which along with the other two districts of Marina and Villanova make up the modern city of Cagliari. Our guide told us that Stampace’s name MIGHT come from the fact that the area has lots of caves and depressions (“stampe”/imprints) OR it might come from the fact that commoners found inside the walled city after dark were thrown over the wall and landed with a splat, thereby “stamping” their print (“stampe”) onto the ground. Folklore. Yecch.
We had a break in the city’s commercial district to grab a real Italian coffee, so Ted and I ordered a cappuccino and an espresso, respectively, along with a generous slice of cinnamon panettone with orange and lemon peel, all for 5.7 Euros ($8.60 Canadian), and the coffee was WONDERFUL. Naturally, after that, when we returned to the ship our “lunch” consisted of 3 ricotta and mascarpone-filled cannoli each (and an Aperol spritz for me). Don’t judge. We’ll eat nutritiously when we become adults.
We only had a few hours in Cagliari, setting sail for Valetta Malta just before 3 p.m. We’ll be spending the next two days there. The Mediterranean en route so far is not particularly calm; we can always tell that there are ocean swells because the water in the pools sloshes noisily back and forth with each roll of the ship, and it’s sloshing away!
The advantage to leaving in daylight was this view, which looked more like what we’ve seen in travel brochures featuring Sardinia: beaches and sailboats.
After a lovely dinner in Manfredi’s tonight, Viking had two more treats in store for us: a live show of Nat King Cole classics sung by guest vocalist Paul Emmanuel, and a “ladies only” cocktail party for International Women’s Day.
What made that second event so special is that it was for passengers AND CREW. It was an absolute delight to see my favourite young women: Yoyo, Bybit, Lorraine, Ruth, Ely Rose, Zoi, Maria, and Charina dressed in their own beautiful clothes instead of uniforms, and briefly unmasked during cocktails (our ship continues to maintain a zero Covid case count) so that we could truly smile at each other!