Santa Cristina: The World's Best Off-Ramp Attraction?

sacred well santa cristina pictureSanta Cristina: The Sacred Well

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.

The Stairs Down the the Sacred Well

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 Oct 16, 2014, © James Martin


A Time for Masks: The Mamoiada Mask Museum

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 picture

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 picture

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 picture

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 picture


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 Oct 14, 2014, © James Martin


Making Culurgiones

Sardegna Turismo tells us that Culurgiones, a typical stuffed pasta “bundles” are:

Culurgiones are a variety of ravioli, typical of the Ogliastra district, prepared with a simple water and flour dough and a filling consisting of potatoes and acid cheese (casu de fitta), shaped in the form of an ear of corn ending in a sort of pointed horn.

I’ve never seen them as ears of corn, but as a very interesting form of ravioli, made by pinching the dough so that it appears to be stitched together without the seams showing.

In any case, thanks to book learnin’, a couple of cooks in Philly were able to master Culurgiones in but three months. Here’s how they did it:

Making Culurgiones originally appeared on Dec 12, 2013, © James Martin


Ever Try Orziadas? It's Fried Sea Anemone Time!

What do you miss when you only travel to Italy during the warm summer months? Well, lots of seasonal foods, that’s what. Take Orziadas, for example, Sea Anemone we might call them, specifically Anemonia sulcata. This is their time. To be eaten I mean.

Here’s how you can have them, according to Orziadas, il sapore del mare

  • fried
  • Spaghetti with orziadas and bottarga di muggine, gray mullet roe
  • Pizza with orziadas (with bottarga or sea urchins)
  • Crostini with a cream of orziadas
  • Spaghetti with orziadas and cherry tomatoes

You’re more likely to find them along the coast between Cagliari and Oristano, as they are found in the waters around Oristano.

And just in case you wanted to learn about the life of Anemonia sulcata related in French (it’s your lucky, multicultural day!) look down below:

Ever Try Orziadas? It's Fried Sea Anemone Time! originally appeared on Nov 12, 2013, © James Martin


Unusual Pasta Shapes: Lorighittas

lorighittas pictureI like handmade. For the most part, Americans don’t like handmade food because it’s not cheap food. But, handmade employs people, and if you don’t think a few extra cents makes a difference, you need to come to Italy and get educated.

Last week I discovered Lorighittas. Ring pasta; the Sardinian word for ring is “lorigi”. Look at them in the picture, they’re a thing of intense beauty, symmetry, and all the things “ring” stands for. The double strands hold a sauce like nothing else. You can click the picture to see it bigger. They are perfect. They are handmade.

Get this: They’re only made in a single city: Morgongiori. Say it fast three or four times. It’s a tiny village near Monte Arci, where the oldest inhabitants of the island got obsidian for arrow and spear points.

My guide and mentor Paola Loi writes, “Originally the lorighittas were made on All Saints’ Day and the originally recipe was to serve them with a thick tomato sauce and chicken wings or legs. Nowadays they can be cooked with zucchini and shrimps, or artichokes and so on.”

Also: “In Morgongiori there is the Sagra delle Lorighittas on the first week of August with free tasting of lorighittas dishes.”

We had them at the fine restaurant in Cagliari called Sa Piola, Vico Santa Margherita, 09124 Cagliari. It’s in our app, Sardinia Inside Out.

Unusual Pasta Shapes: Lorighittas originally appeared on May 05, 2013, © James Martin


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