Wandering Sardinia

San Salvatore is a dusty little village you might pass on a drive to some of the Sinis Peninsula’s fine beaches. Stop in. Kick your shoes off. There are surprises in store.

San Salvatore

Updated Aug 23, 2023

I can imagine the moment Sergio Leone set his eyes upon San Salvatore’s dusty central square surrounded by the little cumbessias, pilgrimage houses used during religious festivals. It was the American southwest—or at least it was close enough for his quickly produced, low budget cowboy films. Leone’s credentials on this location issue were sound, the man was called the “father of the spaghetti Western” in the 1960s.

san salvatore sardinia
San Salvatore: A Row of Cumbessias, Houses Used During Religious Festivals.

San Salvatore is a bump along the road to famous beaches on the Sinis Peninsula like Is Arutas. When we visited San Salvatore in the 1980’s there was a wooden replica of a typical southwestern saloon right in front of the church. It really rocked at night. You could order a beer and it came with peanuts you shucked then swept the refuse onto the floor like a real badass. Alas, the place was lost in a fire and never rebuilt. Quite a pity for San Salvatore.

While the saloon is history, two restaurants remain in San Salvatore. Get the blue plate special.

The Hypogeum

So about now you’re mumbling, “why is this guy sending me to a town that’s seen better days?” Ok. Fair enough. If you’re passing by San Salvatore, take a few minutes to park on the outskirts of town and go to the church. It’s adjacent to the town square. You’ll hardly recognize it as a church. There is no grand facade carved with saints. Go in anyway—if the doors are open. It’s run by volunteers so opening times may be hit or miss. Let your eyes adjust to the light, then go down the stairs.

Watch the first stair. It’s a doozy.

If you haven’t taken a header on that first stair, you are descending gracefully to a place built in the 4th century BC. Christianity was just being explored. There are Punic and Roman scratchings on the walls. There are altars and some drawings they’ve restored, as you can see in the picture below.

san salvatore hypogeum
San Salvatore Hypogeum

Let’s just say that you now have a reason for going to the spaghetti western town of San Salvatore. Walking around is also a pleasure. The little hamlet is somewhat unique.

san salvatore
San Salvatore di Sinis, Sardinia

And speaking of getting around on foot…

Festa San Salvatore di Sinis: La Corsa degli Scalzi di Cabras

On the first Saturday in September, young men in white tunics called Is Curridoris grab the wooden statue of San Salvatore from the parish church in Cabras and take off on a very long run—barefoot. 7 kilometers. The surviving arrive in San Salvatore to be resuscitated with the local Vernaccia wine. The next morning they will run back.

You may wonder why they do this. It all has to do with refreshing the memory of an Arab pirate attack in 1506 in which the faithful of Cabras were compelled to save their saint by whisking it away to a hiding place in little San Salvatore. The dust alone made the pirates think they were seeing a huge, advancing army.

Just in case you think this is just a thing for runners, there is way more to the celebration. There is traditional Sardinian music featuring the Launeddas as well as the harmonica. There are celebrations of the local foods, like the muggine, the grey mullet fished from the Stago di Cabras. There are exhibitions, theater and even fireworks throughout the week of the festival.

Running with Faith is a brilliant description of the run by an expat Quaker living in Sardinia.

See, San Salvatore isn’t such a cowboy backwater after all.

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