I first met Pinuccio Sciola at his home in San Sperate, Sardinia, just north of Cagliari about 4 years ago. He was standing in front of a pile of big, rough hands hewn from rock. Sardinian shepherd hands. He giggled when he compared on of them to his own.

Guide Paula Loi wanted me to meet him. As I recall, she left what he did as a surprise.

Sciola, it turns out, is one of Sardinia’s most famous sculptors. His home in San Sperate does not reflect our expectations of remuneration for fame. It is modest. It is surrounded by overgrown paths, citrus trees (the area is famous for them) and, a bit further from the house and workshop, standing stones like ancient menhirs, stones with souls, stones shaped and grooved to allow Pinuccio to access their inner resonance, their sonorousness.

I marveled as Mr. Sciola delicately ran a rock the size of a bar of soap over the top of one of these rocks and an etherial sound emerged.

This is what the Giardino Sonoro, The Sound Garden, is all about. A chorus of humongous rocks, silently awaiting the stimulus of Sciola’s soap-bar.

We spent quite a while with the master, as recounted in Pinuccio Sciola: The Man Who Make Rocks Sing. There’s a video of the man making music on the page.

At the time, none of what we’d seen and experienced was available to the public. You might have had to catch him in a bar and buy him a drink to have access to his little sound garden.

Today that garden is open to the public. If you plan a trip to southern Sardinia, the muraled town of San Sperate should be considered along with a trip to the sound garden. Here are a few pictures from when I visited.

giardino sonoro picture
Pinuccio Playing the Standing Stones
Pinuccio Sciola Serenading the Oranges
giardino sonoro picture
Giardino Sonoro, a Musical Instrument with Soul, Unplayed in the Afternoon
giardino sonoro picture
Comfy? Lounging in the Giardino Sonoro

Mr. Sciola told us he was experimenting with the couch. If he could make it look soft and inviting, would it turn out to be soft in the mind of the sitter? Would they check their email while lounging?

Giardino Sonoro

As of the time of writing, the garden is open the following hours:

*From Monday to Sunday: 10:30 – 13:30

*Saturday and Sunday additional hours: 16:30 – 20:30

The Sound Garden originally appeared on wanderingsardinia.com Aug 30, 2015, © James Martin


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What to expect when you take a vacation in Sardinia? So starts our series of photo essays, this one in the Barbagia region in Nuoro province during Autunno in Barbagia, a fall festival celebrating everything born of the hardscrabble life in the Sardinian mountains, the spiritual center of the island.

sardinian musicians pictureThere will be music

musicians waiting pictureThere will be drums and waiting

sardinian knivesThere will be Sardinian Knives, hand made of course.

pasta shapes pictureThere will be pasta shapes you've probably never seen

sardinian masks pictureThere will be masks and there will be meat

sardinian shepherd picturesThere will be proud old men

women making bread pictureThere will be women making bread in dark rooms

sardinian bread pictureAnd oh, what bread they will make!

sardinian children pictureAnd there will be another generation, too.

Sardinia Travel 101: Barbàgia: What to Expect originally appeared on wanderingsardinia.com Apr 26, 2015, © James Martin


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sacred well pictureThe Sacred Well at Santa Cristina

If you head north on the SS131 out of Cagliari, you’ll be amazed at the landscape. There’s not much worth seeing in the blur that’s passing outside your window. The Campidano plain, a malarial swamp in between Roman times and the post-war period, is now a mostly agricultural area with industry shoved to the side of the SS road so that your weary eyes can enjoy the clap-trap beauty of rusty modernity.

Then comes a little exit off the road that you might miss if you weren’t looking for it. 4 km southeast of the town of Paulilatino signs direct you to an exit marked Santa Cristina.

Take it. It leads you to a parking lot of one of the world’s most fascinating off-ramp attractions. After just a bit of walking you’ll have seen a wide range of human history, from 1200-1600 years bce to the namesake church built in the 1200s and little pilgrim houses dating to the 1700s. A sacred well, a tower nuraghe, little houses for pilgrims used on saint’s days, a souvenir shop/ticket office with decent crafts for sale, a modern bar with shaded outdoor terrace, a decent restaurant, and a well-groomed wooded area providing welcome shade round out the picture.

Getting Your Bearings

The sacred well at Santa Cristina is the thing everyone comes to see. You can go through the bar, exit left and walk down a paved street to the trail.

Archaeologists have settled upon a date of construction for the sacred well to around 1100-1200 years before Christ. Today it consists of steps down to a spring-fed, shallow well, which is covered by a cupola. In the past it had a temple on top, as evidenced by the keyhole-shaped stone wall around it and other examples of sacred wells on the island. The basalt stones are very finely worked.

santa cristina pictureStaircase to the Sacred Well, Santa Cristina, Sardinia

Look at the workmanship as you exit the Sacred Well:

sacred well pictureSanta Cristina: Looking up the staircase

Head straight out the bar terrace and you’ll be in the center of the “modern” Christian complex with small habitations (called Muristenes o Cumbessias) used by the faithful during the saint’s day on the second Sunday in May and for Archangel Gabriel celebration on the forth Sunday in October. these houses sit on the edges of a fine piazza. The plaque on the house in the picture is dated 1730.

pilgrim house pictureA pilgrim house

What remains of the nuraghe stand 6 metres high, with a short entrance corridor that leads into the main circular chamber with domed roof (tholos), which opens onto three smaller niche chambers. Surrounding the nuraghe are the remains of an extensive village. Behind the nuraghe is a long “barn” or hut.

The nuraghe is oriented so that the inside is illuminated for most of the day. Here is a shot from inside looking out:

nuraghe-viewView from the front opening in the Nuraghe

The bar offers snacks, drinks, and a view. The restaurant is quite good and reasonably priced, and offers “piattone”, a one plate special with all the trimmings if you don’t want a full Italian meal.

Santa Cristina: The World's Best Off-Ramp Attraction? originally appeared on wanderingsardinia.com Oct 16, 2014, © James Martin


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It’s darned near Halloween time. Time to scare the little ‘uns with a fearsome mask. Well, ok, from the alps, a mask from the Mamoiada Mask Museum:

mask pictureFruili Mask

Mamoiada is a small town in the Nuoro region of Sardinia tucked into the Barbagia mountains. Shepherd country. Living by the land and discovering its secrets were always part of the deal.

As the Bible tells us, shepherds are the backbone of religion. God likes the good ones better then farmers and rewards them because their moral values include being nice to their flock, providing them health care, and protecting them from predators. Then they get killed by the farmer. Jealousy. The end.

But shepherds were also the backbone of a thing we call paganism, the idea that nature had rhythms to follow and would reveal its secrets to those who listened very carefully and passed the word along. At times folks would get together to tell stories of the earth and stories of the old ways getting torn apart and disposed of by the young with new ideas. This might happen around Carnival time—or after the harvest.

Mamoiada is the land of Mamuthones and Issohadores. Once a pageant created in late fall, after the harvest, it now has become a Carnival celebration. Dressed in black sheepskins, men shrouded in black masks, big lipped, mouths wrinkly and distorted, the 12 haggard Mamuthones stoop under the burden of the enormous collection of heavy bells on their backs. They are controlled by an Issohadore, a young man in white with a red scarf. It is time for the old ideas of the old, broken men to give way to new ideas. This is a classic tragicomedy of death and rebirth. The figures are shown below in a mural on the main street of town.

Mamuthones and Issohadores pictureMamuthones e Issohadores

But this masculine, Cain-and-Abel, herdsman-take-all festival cannot take place without the feminine. It is about (re)birth after all. So the Issohadore brings a rope which he uses to lasso young women who’ve come to watch the ceremony, bringing them into the world of men. The other female symbol is found in the scarf he displays. You thought he seemed a little feminine, eh?

Throughout the town of Mamoiada you’ll find mask stores where masks like you see in the museum are handcrafted to be sold. Traditionally they’re made of easily-workable pear wood, but some exotics are starting to appear. Below is a mask displayed at the workshop of a mask maker.

mask pictureMamoiada Mask

You’ll find other types of masks and costumes in the Mamoiada Mask Museum. Here’s a fact you can tell your kids about those idiotic, neck-ruining things business men and politicians are required to wear to fool you into thinking they’re really worth their decoration. The necktie tradition seems to have evolved from the extended tongues of the costumes from many cultures, as we might see below:

mask picturenecktie mask


Resources on Masks in Sardinia

MaschereSarde The Masks of Sardinia
Museo delle Maschere Mediterranee Piazza Europa 15 in Mamoiada

A Time for Masks: The Mamoiada Mask Museum originally appeared on wanderingsardinia.com Oct 14, 2014, © James Martin


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